Friday, January 17, 2014

Recent Archival Discoveries

The calendar year of 2013 brought us a large number of discoveries; each giving us a reason to cheer. Three archives housing transcription discs were opened for collectors of old-time radio braodcasts. Of the estimated 2,000 recordings, about 220 were formerly classified as "lost" recordings and not available in collector hands for decades. Among them: The Witch's Tale, The Mysterious Traveler, all the missing second season episodes of The Big Show, a few The Lone Ranger, Mr. I.A. Moto, A Date with Judy, and Hop Harrigan among others. Details regarding their release cannot be made available yet but in 2014, do not be surprised if a number of these recordings become available either commercially or as round robin sales among collectors. (Please do not e-mail me asking for details. The only answer you will get is "see my blog post." When details are available, I will post them on my blog. (Hopefully that will curb the numerous e-mails I get every week.)) It just goes to show you that after all these decades, "lost" recordings are still bound to be found.

Doctor Who combats a robot Yeti.

Speaking of "lost" recordings… Doctor Who fans will be able to buy nine early episodes of the series not seen since they were screened in the 1960s, after tapes of the lost adventures were discovered in Nigeria. Regarded as the most significant haul of missing Doctor Who episodes for three decades, they feature Patrick Troughton, the second actor to play the itinerant Time Lord in the long running sci-fi show. The recovered material includes four episodes of a six-parter, The Web of Fear, a "quintessential" Doctor Who story in which the Time Lord battles robot Yetis spreading a poisonous fungus on the London Underground. Since one episode existed prior, that means only episode three is still missing. It also features the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, a popular recurring character on the series and its spin-off The Sarah Jane AdventuresAlso included were five episodes that now complete the six-part 1967 Doctor Who story, The Enemy of the World, also starring Patrick Troughton. The BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, made the episodes available on Apple's iTunes store for sale in advance, but the DVD releases (England gets first dibs) are slated for 2014.

Patrick Troughton in an episode of "The Web of Fear."

There have been rumors that other episodes, including the final episode with William Hartnell (the first Doctor), was among the find but whether or not this is true remains improbable at the moment. Reason is because too many people began reporting the details of the archival find and exaggerations began hitting the internet faster than they could be corrected. The Troughton episodes above were confirmed by the BBC so for now, that's all we have to report. But thankfully we have something to look forward to on DVD in 2014.

The notorious Clara Bow painting that was not.

Days before Thanksgiving, Bonhams in New York auctioned off a rare Clara Bow painting… an often-rumored painting of the actress in the nude. Okay, maybe we are not surprised that the "It" girl posed in the nude. But the history of the painting may be of amusement. According to the auction house, in 1929, "stage and screen actor Bela Lugosi was touring the United States appearing in the play Dracula, soon to be optioned by Universal for a film adaptation. One of the audience members at a Los Angeles performance was the silent film star Clara Bow. Sound films had recently taken hold in Hollywood and Bow was anxious about whether her thick Brooklyn accent would appeal to audiences. Having read in the press that Lugosi spoke his lines phonetically without knowing English, Bow was determined to find out more about the Hungarian actor. Bow biographer David Stenn describes their meeting: "Clara sat transfixed through Dracula, and when the final curtain fell, she made a beeline for Lugosi's dressing room. 'How d'ya know your lines?' she immediately asked him. Lugosi, who still spoke no English, gesticulated that he learned from cues by other actors. Without further ado, Clara invited him home'" (Stenn, Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild, NY: 1988, p. 140)."

Their relationship was brief but apparently had a lasting impact on Lugosi as he commissioned a fellow Hungarian, artist Geza Kende, to paint this portrait of Bow. It has been verified that this painting did in fact hang in the living room of Bela Lugosi's house. But it is not believed that Bow posed for the painting herself, and Bow historian David Stenn states she never posed nude. In short, this painting is not of Clara Bow. She could have been the inspiration and it remains possible that Lugosi commissioned a portrait in her likeness. The companion painting, a portrait by Kende of Lugosi himself, sold at Heritage Auctions in 2004 for $86,250. The beautiful Clara Bow painting has on occasion been debated whether or not it really was Clara Bow -- even though the most knowledgable historians says it is not so. The buyer has only the auction house catalog to go by and this reminds me of the old adage that if you are going to spend a lot of money buying something, do your research first.

Thomas Edison's Frankenstein from 1910?

Speaking of doing your research… a 35mm nitrate master of Thomas Edison's Frankenstein went up on eBay in December with a starting bid of $100. The seller, Interfilmartentertainment, had a feedback rating of 21 at the time the auction went up online. Their description of the item stated: "Up for bid is an original 35mm nitrate motion picture print from Thomas Edison's "FRANKENSTEIN" - there is a version currently on DVD but this print far exceeds the running time on this original archival film print which is an amazing 32 minutes of undiscovered rare lost footage.  This is a unique opportunity to own an authentic uncut original version of this lost vintage classic. The copyright status of this film is in the Public Domain.  The print is basically in acceptable if not good condition.  Remarkably, there are no sprocket holes torn.  There is no fading but given the age of this vintage print, it is considerably much better than the current releases on DVD.  SERIOUS BIDDERS ONLY. I am looking for a qualified and verified buyer whom is willing to go as high as $15,000.00.  Otherwise I am not interested in counter offers unless it is a fair offer.  Payment is by PAYPAL ONLY.  FREE SHIPPING!"

While they do sell 35mm reels, the Edison film was a bit questionable for a number of reasons. No one knew of a 32 minute version and a screen capture of the film short, posted alongside a can of film (pictured above) was a screen capture of a recent DVD release and that was a reconstruction of a title/dialogue card, not from the original film. Needless to say, the auction ended early and no bids were placed. So was there really a 35mm master of Thomas Edison's Frankenstein from 1910? Film historians found many reasons to question the auction but if a real print did exist, the lucky buyer probably got their money's worth. Time will tell.


Jim said...

I've been listening to old radio shows the past few months. Or trying to. My problem is that it seems like most of the shows circulating out there sound like crap. What's with all the ultra low-grade, 32 kbps encodes? And most of these are not good encodes. They're full of digital artifacts and garbage. People keep trying to excuse that to me by telling me how primitively these shows were recorded and how they just aren't capable of sounding very good. But I know that's not true because there are shows out there that do sound good. Downright excellent. But unfortunately, those shows are in the minority. Most of it, I'm sorry to say, is poorly encoded junk. And to be honest, I'm finding it more and more not worth the trouble of trying to find good-sounding shows to listen to. Somebody told me the problem is that my generation's standards are too high. I think the problem is that too many people in the old radio community are content to put up with old radio shows that are near unlistenable. Quantity over quality. Not caring how bad it sounds as long as they've got it.

All the low kbps encodes puzzle me. With high speed connections and external hard drives, there's no excuse for those. It's not like most people are using dial-up modems and storing all these on their laptops, as used to be the case.

I'm grateful for those dealers who do put out mp3s that are well-encoded at high bit-rates. It can't be too profitable for them, considering how much competition there is from the availability of low-quality free encodes on the internet. Guess it's true what my dad says, you get what you pay for.

I enjoy a lot of old radio. I really do. I'm just finding it hard to enjoy having to wade through all the crap that's out there.

Thanks for letting me say my piece.

Martin Grams said...

Superb sound quality is available for 99 percent of the old-time radio shows in collector hands. I have over 80,000 in my collection and almost all of them are re-mastered with superior sound. Jim, what you need to do is forget about the mp3 format. While it might be nice to get 1,000 shows for $50 in mp3 format, it's the compression issues. (People who prefer to download mp3 files for free might argue with me over this.) Ove the last 20 years, I have been buying audio CDs with two shows on each disc, (which is what we refer to as wav files). I do not collect mp3s. And I go to the sources, financially supporting the vendors who spent hundreds of dollars buying the transcription discs so what I buy is first-generation.

Your complaint is valid but it's a complaint I hear repeatedly over and over. The solution is as simple as what I do. Buy from Radio Spirits, Radio Archives, Audio Classics and other venues that sell CDs, not mp3s.

While this can cost between $5 and $16 per CD, I do not have to worry about duplicated files with alternate titles and dates, or poor sound quality.

Randy said...

I'd like to recommend

No connection other than being a very satisfied customer. Their catalog is available on CDs and very high-quality (194 kbps) MP3s.

Trey said...

I don't own a single CD, myself, music or old radio. It's all mp3. All I want myself are good quality mp3s of old radio that don't sound like crap. And I'm willing to pay for them. But I know the problem is most people don't want to pay for anything, old radio shows or otherwise. I don't see how any otr dealers stay in business at all anymore.

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