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OUT OF THE VAULTS AND ONTO THE SCREEN

October 14, 2010  |  To Save and Project 2010
Out of the Vaults and onto the Screen

The Story of Temple Drake. 1933. USA. Directed by Stephen Roberts

The Story of Temple Drake. 1933. USA. Directed by Stephen Roberts

To Save and Project, MoMA’s international film preservation program, is celebrating its eighth year with glorious masterworks and rediscoveries of world cinema. My involvement with To Save and Project began two years ago, when I began working at the Museum. I was hired as the Film Collections Manager and given my background in preservation and exhibition of archival film, I was honored when my colleagues Anne Morra and Josh Siegel asked me to join them on this exciting project.

This year’s festival comprises over thirty-five films from thirteen countries, virtually all of them having their New York premieres, with some being shown in versions never before seen in the United States. Putting together this type of program is not an easy task. In addition to keeping in touch with our archival colleagues throughout the year, the organizers of the festival spend time attending film festivals such as Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Italy, and the Pordenone Silent Film Festival (also in Italy) in order to program the films you will be seeing starting this Friday. It is important that our community of preservationists, scholars, and archivists work with one another to keep these treasures alive. Given the cost of film preservation, we often find ways to collaborate with one another. This may mean sharing film elements that assist in the preservation of certain titles, or perhaps even ephemera such as continuity scripts, which may contain lost intertitles. This festival is not only a celebration of the films but of the many people who make them screen-worthy once again.

The Story of Temple Drake (which screens at MoMA on October 17 and November 14) was made in 1933 by Robert Stevens and is based on William Faulkner’s controversial 1931 novel Sanctuary. This steamy melodrama triggered church boycotts and stricter enforcement of the Hays production code. After only a few few screenings, the film was quickly shelved by the Production Code Administration, never to be seen again…until now. Recently restored with the assistance of Turner Classic Movies, the film is making its New York debut. So why was it shelved?

The Story of Temple Drake. 1933. USA. Directed by Stephen Roberts

Miriam Hopkins in The Story of Temple Drake. 1933. USA. Directed by Stephen Roberts

In the early thirties, The Production Code Administration was starting to pull out its big censorship guns. Joseph Breen, who was known as “the enforcer,” came up with three categories for motion pictures—Class 1 were films that had to be withdrawn immediately with no chance for re-release; Class 2 were those pictures that were allowed to finish their extant contracts before being withdrawn permanently; and Class 3 were those that would be withdrawn, re-edited to conform to the Code, and presented again to the Production Code Administration. The Story of Temple Drake fell into Class 1. Aside from its few initial screenings, the film couldn’t be seen then or for many years after.

So why did it take until 2010? A few collector’s 16mm prints have surfaced over the years, but a 35mm print hasn’t been seen since the 1930s. The Museum was approached by Turner Classic Movies to work on a collaboration. This long sought-after title came up, and fortunately the Museum holds the original elements. MoMA received the original picture and track camera negatives back in the 1970s, and the film has been in the vaults since then (at proper temperature and humidity, of course!). Fortunately, the nitrate film elements were in excellent condition, which helped significantly in the preservation process. The print of Temple Drake that is screening at MoMA is only a single generation away from the original camera negative, making this a true rediscovery that is not to be missed!

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