Finishing the Van der Molen/Manshanden Collection: Findings and Conclusions
This year, me and several other interns worked together with Silent Film curator Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, with the goal to completely inspect, identify and register the films to the EYE Collection database and from there, see what choices needed to be made in terms of preservation, restoration and presentation. The start of this project and process of nitrate identification were already discussed in an earlier blogpost. Now that we have finished registering all the nitrate elements of this collection, let’s discuss our findings, provide you background information on the origins of this collection and unveil the treasures we encountered!
Biographical background and naming the collection
This collection originally belonged to Mr. van der Molen, and was donated to the EYE Filmmuseum back in 2013 by an acquaintance of the van der Molen family, Gerard Manshanden. Mr. Van der Molen was a film projectionist and collector from the Dutch city Den Helder; where he worked as projectionist for the marine until the onset of WWII. Generally speaking, he mostly created personal film screenings for private clients, ranging from showing films at children’s parties to screening more ‘erotic’-oriented materials for adults. After he passed away, Gerard Manshanden, an acquaintance from the local film theatre, was asked to sort out the large collection of films which were kept in the house and several garages.
The collection consists of safety materials of all kinds; mostly erotic films from the 1970s, but also newsreels, amateur films, 35mm films and reductions on 16mm (both fiction and non-fiction). Our initial acquisition entry mentions items ranging from “Laurel and Hardy” to “Waterskiing people in Bali”. Among those (roughly) 800 cans, approximately 150 cans turned out to contain nitrate stock. All of these materials were delivered to the archive at separate times: the first items came to EYE in 2013, whereas the last ones arrived in 2015, when another garage belonging to mr. van der Molen was discovered.
All the nitrate materials known within this collection have now been processed and registered. Further down, you will find a list of the silent films from this nitrate collection.
Pictures of the delivery of the cans to EYE Filmmuseum’s former location Vijfhuizen, back in 2013.
Findings, statistics and conclusions regarding this collection
Though, as mentioned, the complete collection including the safety material consisted of an estimated 800 cans, we assessed and looked through 150 cans of what was considered to be nitrate materials. From these 150 cans we found and have registered 88 unique or individual titles into the database Collection EYE. 85% of these titles have been identified, while 15% remain unidentified. The nitrate films are mostly silent: 70% vs. 30% sound films. The films are mostly fictional; 67% fiction vs. 33% non-fiction. Around 55% of the films were either complete or ‘complete enough’, and the length of these films varies anywhere between very short fragments, up to a complete film of six reels.
In terms of origins, most of the films were from the 1910s; 33% to be exact. The peak seems to be 1918; with 7 titles produced in this year. 25% is from the 1920s, and 19% from the 1930s. The oldest film we looked at was from 1905 (the Pathé title Les petits vagabonds) and the ‘youngest’ films we found in this batch were from 1959 and they were mostly Polygoon journals and fragments from safety colour films, such as The Nun Story with Audrey Hepburn. Most of the silent films were also in colour, often tinted, but several also containing toning and stencilling or a combination of tinting and black and white. Regarding their national origins, the films mainly were from the United States (around 40%) followed by France (19%), the Netherlands (14%), and Germany (10%). We also found films from Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Belgium and Great-Britain.
One particularly interesting example regarding the origins of the films, is a German-Austrian co-production; between Messter film (based in Berlin, and one of the largest film producers and distributors at the time), and Sascha Film, one of the main Austrian film producers in the silent era. However, the collaboration between the two and the use of their logo together on the intertitles was not something the curators had seen before and seemed quite unique. This film was also specifically compelling because it features Henny Porten, one of the major silent film stars from Germany. The film was identified as Gräfin Küchenfee (with the Dutch copy title being De keukenmeid als gravin) from 1918, and is written by Robert Wiene (of Das Cabinet des dr Caligari-fame), who is often also wrongly credited as this film’s director. The story features Porten in a double role: she plays the kitchen maid/aspiring actress Karoline Blume, trying to copy the behaviour of the countess she works for in order to study for a role. The part of this countess Gyllenhand is of course also taken up by Porten and strikingly, we see her in a comic role in a story of ‘mistaken identity’; a truly fascinating find in this collection.
The Sascha Film and Messter Film logos/initials are visible at the top of the frame / Henny Porten in her double role as both the kitchen maid/aspirational actress Karolina Blume and the Countess Gyllenhand in Gräfin Küchenfee (1918)
In terms of physical condition, some cans contained rust and several reels were affected by nitrate decomposition, mould, bacteria and in a few exceptional cases also such heavy decay (in its last stage) that the parts of the reel could not be saved, though overall the films were in very good condition. Regarding genre and themes, the films also vary considerably. Most of the films with USA origins seem to be comedies, such as Mustered Out (1920, formerly presumed lost) featuring Charlie Chaplin imitator Billy West, two Alice Laugh-O-Grams, a romantic comedy about newlyweds titled The Honeymoon Pact (1915) and also two films with a role for Cameo the Dog! In Asleep at the Switch (1923) Cameo plays checkers with Ben Turpin, while in in Nip and Tuck (1923) he cheats at a game of cards. Also from French territory came several comedies: the Max Linder comedy Pédicure par amour (1908), Le homard (1912) featuring Léonce Perret, the trick film La villa aux surprises (1912) about a thief being ‘locked in’ by the house he is trying to rob, and a compilation of several Willy Sanders films (titled De snaackse avonturen van Willie). Several American animations were also discovered, such as Colonel Pepper’s Mobilized Farm (1917), Inklings (1924) and the Mutt and Jeff animation ‘Lots of Water’ (1925).
Behind the scenes photograph (provided by Steve Massa) of the ‘lost’ film Mustered Out (1920), featuring Chaplin-imitator Billy West
Several westerns appeared in the collection as well, such as South of Santa Fe (1919) featuring Texas Guinan (one of the first movie cowgirls) and we also found (in a heavily decayed reel) a very short fragment from one reel of the 18-chapter adventure serial Hands Up (1918), which is sadly still considered lost and from the promising poster-material, it seems sad we found these fragments in a heavily decayed reel, leaving it only up to the imagination what else could or might have been there before.
Regarding non-fiction, we found a beautifully (pink) tinted and stencilled 1912 Pathé film named Printemps fleuri (already mentioned in our last post), several (excerpts of) travelogues, a film featuring the crowning of a sultan in the Dutch Indies, and a film documenting an ice skating match in Den Helder in 1916, the city in North-Holland where Mr. van der Molen lived.
Also striking are several films featuring themes that could be considered ‘exotic’ or featuring (from our contemporary point of view) eccentric elements: Die Kaukasierin (1917) is about a detective Joe Deebs (Max Landa) trying to uncover the truth behind a girl from ‘Caucasia’, the deceased wife of an engineer who turns out to have mysteriously faked her own death to elope with someone else, while in Romance and Brass Tacks (1918) we see a woman idealising a Russian violinist and fantasising about becoming Russian princess, only to be faced by ‘reality’ when she discovers the manners of this man are actually very far removed from her own romantic ideals. In the travelogue film Kudowa: Een heilzaam oord voor hartlijdenden (origins unclear), we are presented with the‘healing’ radioactive waters for those visiting the spa resort Kudowa, while in the Danish (formerly lost) drama I Opiumets Magt, (1918) one of the characters tricks his prospective father-in-law into trying opium, with the intention of making him an addict and inheriting his fortune. The on-screen smoking and subsequent hallucinations of his deceased daughter, lead him into despair.
A woman imagining herself a Russian ‘princess’ in Romance and Brass Tacks (1918)
Opium smoking in I Opiumets Magt (1918)
Despite our efforts and the high percentage of identified titles, some films still remain unidentified, even though we do hope that we will learn more about them in the near future. One interesting example is Het geheimzinnige huis (given title), of which the story was not entirely clear to us, as the film was incomplete and the beginning reel(s) seemed to be missing, the two reels of this film we found featured (again) intriguing elements: a secret passageway leading from one house to the next, doppelgängers, several cases of ‘unmasking’, a safe that can be accessed from a secret corridor, a painting that figures a secret door, resulting in a mysterious tone to it, not quite in German expressionist style, but almost like a film noir avant la lettre. Also in terms of origins it seems hard to determine where this film is from: no indications of setting, backgrounds, streets and looks of the actors gave us a clear indication or ‘marker’ of production country.
Frames from the mysterious film ‘Het geheimzinnige huis’
Next to several of these unidentified films, we also had to register about 10 cans as ‘collective’ cans, containing small bits and pieces of loose (unidentified) fragments that did not seem to belong to any of the other films we viewed. In some cases, these fragments consisted of just one frame, while in other they were short reels of up to 75 metres. For us it is important to keep these fragments, because EYE’s collection policy requires that all nitrate materials which are not fully decayed will be kept. Secondly, because some of these might still be identified later on, if someone wants to return to these cans and do more research and thirdly, interesting fragments might be used for EYE’s Bits & Pieces compilations, in which new compilations are made from unidentified fragments that otherwise would not really be shown, re-used or actively preserved or restored in any other way. Nonetheless, all of the films and also these ‘collective’ cans have been registered with their own entry in the database Collection EYE on both ‘filmography’ and ‘copy’ level, as well as with a full report in the curator’s database.
Dealing with cans of loose ‘fragments’, often unidentifiable
Complete list of the silent films and future preservation projects
Please note that this list only contains the silent film titles in this collection. The films are listed in chronological order, and the titles in brackets are ‘given' titles. All films are positive prints, identified and either complete or ‘complete enough, unless stated otherwise.
· Les petits vagabonds (FR, 1905), fiction
· Pédicure par amour (FR, 1908), fiction, incomplete
· Les oiseaux dans leurs nids (FR, 1910), non-fiction
· Soldat et Marquise (FR, 1910), fiction
· De snaackse avonturen van Willie (FR, 1911-1913), compilation: consists of Willy arrête les pendules (FR, 1913), Willy veut monter à cheval (FR, 1912), Willy professeur de gymnastique (FR, 1911) and one unidentified William ‘Willy’ Sanders-film
· Gorki (DK, 1912), fiction, incomplete
· Le homard (FR, 1912), fiction
· Le mouchoir de Bigorno (FR, 1912), fiction
· Printemps fleuri (FR, 1912), non-fiction
· La villa aux surprises (FR, 1912), fiction
· The Man Who Knew (US, 1914), fiction
· The Honeymoon Pact (US, 1915), fiction
· Jane's Declaration of Independence (US, 1915), fiction
· De kleine detectief (DE?, 1915?), fiction, unidentified
· Love, Speed and Thrills (US, 1915), fiction, incomplete
· A munkászubbony (HU, 1915), fiction, incomplete
· One Damp Day (US, 1917), fiction
· Heldersche IJsfeesten. Wedstrijd op Lange Baan. (NL, 1916), non-fiction, unclear whether complete, unidentified
· Never again, Eddie! (US, 1916), fiction
· Colonel Pepper's Mobilized Farm (US, 1917), fiction, incomplete
· Gräfin Küchenfee (DEU/OST, 1918), fiction
· I Opiumets Magt (DK, 1918), fiction
· Kaukasierin, Die (DE, 1917), fiction
· Lucien, Lucette (FR, 1917), fiction
· Secret Servants (US, 1917), fiction
· [Héléne & Baron Edgard de Relais] (FR/DE?, 1918?), fiction, incomplete, unidentified
· L'avarizia (IT, 1918), fiction, incomplete
· Frauen, die der Abgrund verschlingt (DE, 1918), fiction, incomplete
· Hands Up (US, 1918), fiction, incomplete
· Our Mrs. McChesney (US, 1918), fiction
· Romance and Brass Tacks (US, 1918), fiction
· Foxtrott-Papa (DE, 1919), fiction
· Koffie (US, 1919), non-fiction, unidentified
· South of Santa Fe (US, 1919), fiction
· [Het geheimzinnige huis] (ES?, 1920?), fiction, incomplete, unidentified
· Mustered Out (US, 1920), fiction, incomplete
· The Toll Gate (US, 1920), fiction, incomplete
· De watervallen van het schoone graafschap Devon (GB, 1920), non-fiction
· Freiburg in Breisgau (?, 1920s?), non-fiction, unclear whether complete, unidentified
· Kudowa. Een heilzaam oord voor hartlijdenden. (?, 1920s?), non-fiction, unidentified
· [Matadi en Kinshasa] (?,1920s?), non-fiction, incomplete, unidentified
· Chalumeau serrurier par amour (FR, 1921), fiction
· Put and Take (US, 1921), fiction, incomplete
· Asleep at the Switch (US, 1923), fiction, unclear whether complete
· Nip and Tuck (US, 1923), fiction
· Alice and the Dogcatcher (US, 1924), fiction
· Alice the Peacemaker (US, 1924), fiction
· All Night Long (US, 1924), fiction, incomplete
· Inklings (US, 1924), fiction
· Trailing Trouble (US, 1924), fiction, incomplete
· De voetbalwedstrijd Holland - België 1-1 (NL, 1924), non-fiction, incomplete, unidentified
· Kleuren-Cinematographie (?, 1925), non-fiction, compilation
· [Kroning van Sultan Amaluddin Sani Perkasa Alam Shah van Deli, Sumatra] (NL, 1925), non-fiction, incomplete, unidentified
· ‘Lots’ of Water (US, 1925), fiction
· Die Schafräude und ihre Bekämpfung! (DE, 1925), non-fiction, incomplete
· Versailles (FR, 1925), non-fiction
· Wanzen (DE, 1925), non-fiction, incomplete
· En promenade sur le Bosphore (FR, 1928), non-fiction
· The Showdown (US, 1928), fiction, incomplete
· The Unknown Rider (US, 1929), fiction
· The Gorilla Mystery (US, 1930), fiction, incomplete
What will then be the future of these films?
Several upcoming projects have already been initiated. The Hungarian film A munkászubbony (1915), featuring famous Hungarian actor Gyula Hegedűs will be sent to our colleagues at the Hungarian National Film Archive. This was one of the first discoveries back when we started identifying the films in February and was subsequently picked up by Hungarian media. Two previously presumed ‘lost’ Danish films, I Opiumets Magt (1918) and Gorki (1912, an intriguing yet incomplete detective drama) will be preserved in collaboration with our colleagues at the Danish Film Institute. Jane’s Declaration of Independence (1915) will be also restored in collaboration with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the city in which parts of this film were shot. As we only recently finished identifying this whole collection, we hope that many other institutions will follow in collaborating with us in preserving and showing these films, so hopefully some of these titles will be screened in a theatre close to you in the near future!
Conclusively, it is amazing to consider that these kinds of collections are still being found to this day, containing films of over a hundred years old and some of which are often still in very good conditions. Though film collectors (and especially those who own nitrate film) might slowly be becoming a ‘dying breed’, our work in processing and identifying nitrate films is nowhere near done. Almost 80% of silent films are considered lost, but collections like this one give us hope that some of those lost films might still be found today!
Finally, we would like to thank the family van der Molen and Gerard Manshanden for donating this collection to the EYE Filmmuseum, and also express our gratitude to Annike Kross, and the student interns Nicholas Avedisian-Cohen, Aleksas Gilaitis, Olivia Stutz and Julie De Wispelaere for all their hard work in helping us identify and register this collection.
Written by Ilse van der Spoel (intern EYE Collections) and Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi (curator Silent Film)