Exhibition Reel of Two Color Film (ca. 1929)

An experimental color short in Brewster Color, preserved by George Eastman House and presented on the More Treasures DVD set.

More early American films among the finds

Contact: Annette Melville (415-392-7291, info@filmpreservation.org)

San Francisco, CA (August 3, 2011)—Just in time for the filmmaker’s 112th birthday, the New Zealand Film Archive (NZFA) and the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) announced the discovery of The White Shadow (1924), thought to be the earliest surviving feature from Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), the celebrated master of suspense. A wild, atmospheric melodrama starring Betty Compson in a dual role as twin sisters, one angelic and the other “without a soul,” the lost film turned up among the cache of unidentified American nitrate prints safeguarded at the archive. The first three reels of the six-reel feature were found; no other copy is known to exist.

Hitchcock broke into the film industry in 1920 as a title-card designer. Within three years, he was writing scripts, designing sets, and taking every production role thrown his way. For The White Shadow, a British feature picked up for international distribution by Hollywood’s Lewis J. Selznick Enterprises in 1924, the British/American filmmaker is credited as assistant director, art director, editor, and writer.

“This is one of the most significant developments in memory for scholars, critics, and admirers of Hitchcock’s extraordinary body of work,” said David Sterritt, Chairman of the National Society of Film Critics and author of The Films of Alfred Hitchcock. “At just twenty-four years old, Alfred Hitchcock wrote the film’s scenario, designed the sets, edited the footage, and served as assistant director to Graham Cutts, whose professional jealousy toward the gifted upstart made the job all the more challenging. Hitchcock’s own directorial debut came only two years later. These first three reels of The White Shadow—more than half the film—offer a priceless opportunity to study his visual and narrative ideas when they were first taking shape.”

The tinted print of The White Shadow was discovered during the NFPF’s second round of research to identify early American films at the New Zealand Film Archive. (For a slide show on how the film was identified, click here .) The title will be preserved at Park Road Post Production in New Zealand and a new preservation master and exhibition print sent to the United States. Plans for the “re-premiere” screening will be announced later this week.

More than 60 other titles were also identified, including the two-color Technicolor The Love Charm (1928), early narratives from pioneering woman directors Muriel Ostriche and Alice Guy, a 1920 dance demonstration by ballerina-choreographer Albertina Rasch, a tantalizing fragment from the Keystone Kops’ lost slapstick comedy In the Clutches of the Gang (1914), and a number of other shorts and newsreel stories long unavailable in the United States. This final group of films will join the 75 discovered last year and now in the NFPF’s preservation queue, thanks to private donations and the support of a Save America’s Treasures grant, funded by the National Park Service and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Hitchcock film was among the many silent-era movies salvaged by New Zealand projectionist and collector Jack Murtagh. After his death in 1989, the highly flammable nitrate prints were sent to the New Zealand Film Archive for safekeeping by Tony Osborne, the collector’s grandson. Many of the treasures uncovered by the NFPF team, including John Ford’s Upstream and Maytime with Clara Bow, owe their survival to Murtagh’s passion for early cinema. For more about the 2010 discoveries, click here.

The “lost” films will be preserved over the next three years and accessed through the five major American silent film archives which are collaborating with the NFPF on the project—the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, and UCLA Film & Television Archive. Copies of the complete films will also be publicly available in New Zealand. Many will be viewable on the NFPF Web site. An additional print of The White Shadow will be presented to the British Film Institute in honor of its Hitchcock rescue project.

The National Film Preservation Foundation is the nonprofit charitable affiliate of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. Since starting operations in 1997, the NFPF has helped save more than 1,810 films at archives, libraries, and museums from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.

The New Zealand Film Archive / Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua, an independent trust established in 1981, preserves and protects hundreds of thousands of moving images documenting New Zealand, from its first movies to contemporary television and cutting edge avant-garde. The NZFA runs an active screening program at its headquarters in Wellington and other sites throughout New Zealand.

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