I am so excited to share a project that I have had in the works since March. Silent movie fans probably know that crowdfunding obscure releases is a popular activity and I decided to throw my hat into the ring.
And here’s my preview/pitch video:
The Short Version
I want to release Kidnapped (1917) on DVD, making it available to viewers for the first time in a century. And I want to release it with all four of the short films that originally accompanied it. (I know!)
There’s a belief that Edison had lost its oomph in the feature film era but they were actually making some of the most creative movies in the business. Good, solid entertainment.
Kidnapped is sometimes listed as a lost film, which makes this release all the sweeter. I’ve seen it and can tell you that it’s an exciting and well-made swashbuckler.
The films will be professionally edited and each will have an authentic, custom score by Ben Model. Please donate and/or spread the word by linking to the campaign and using the #EdisonConquest9 hashtag!
An enormous thanks to Ben Model for all his assistance and to Chris Bird for signing on and adding his expertise. A huge shout out to Rob Stone and the wonderful staff at the Library of Congress, who have been so encouraging throughout this process.
The Long Version
Like most good things, this story starts with a bag of tapioca pearls. I had just completed Francis X. Bushman’s mushroom soup (don’t ask) and was left with most of a bag of organic tapioca. I wanted to use it up so I skimmed through my collection of vintage celebrity cookbooks, as one does, and came across this recipe from a 1916 publication:
I had never heard of Robert Cain, so I fired up IMDB to take a look at his resume. One title caught my eye: Kidnapped. The novel Kidnapped is my favorite work by Robert Louis Stevenson and Alan Breck, the character Cain plays, was one of my first literary crushes.
Did it survive? The Library of Congress’s database said that it did. The complete film on 16mm was part of their collection and as it was made in 1917, it would obviously be in the public domain in the United States. I emailed and asked if it was available for transfer. It was.
I was started to get excited. Ben Model and Edward Lorusso (among many others) had enjoyed success releasing rare films using crowdfunding, could I attempt the same thing with Kidnapped?
As the icing on the cake, Kidnapped was directed by Alan Crosland, who would find much success with synchronized sound as the director of Don Juan and The Jazz Singer. In fact, as far as I can tell, this is the first film in which he is the credited director.
And, naturally, there is a lot of misinformation about Kidnapped floating around. Besides claiming the film is lost (it has actually been held in the Library of Congress’s collection since the 1940s), people who have never seen the film see fit to claim that it leaves out most of the story.
(Puts on best Miranda Richardson Queenie voice.)
I have seen the film and in my capacity as an ACTUAL VIEWER, I can say that while the story is streamlined, it is no more condensed than your average movie adaptation. In fact, it’s pretty darn faithful.
As I researched the film, I discovered that it had been part of something called Conquest Programs. Basically, they were designed to be a family-friendly night at the movies with entertainment and education. The usual program consisted of a 3, 4 or 5-reel feature, a comedy, a dramatic short and some educational materials like travelogues, nature footage, puzzles, etc.
Kidnapped was originally released with four short films:
Friends, Romans and Leo (slapstick comedy)
Little Red Riding Hood (fairy tale)
Microscopic Pond Life (science)
Quaint Provincetown, Cape Code (travel)
So, I checked and… EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE FILMS SURVIVES. Okay, I was getting pretty excited. Plenty of silent releases have included shorts but they were usually the best guess of the producer, not the actual material that was released alongside the feature.
This was a time capsule, a way for modern audiences to transport back 100 years and experience cinema exactly as an average American of 1917 would have done. I felt like I had discovered the skeleton of Richard III.
So, that’s the beginning of my story. How it ends will depend on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. If you can back me, it would be lovely. If you can’t, I understand but please consider spreading the word about the campaign. Any mentions or shares would be enormously appreciated.
This is my first ever project of this kind and I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little nervous but everyone has been lovely and I have a lot of help. Here’s hoping that this is the first of many!
Feel free to ask questions about the project in the comments! All stills courtesy of the Library of Congress. Here’s the link to donate one more time.