Academic journal article Base Ball

Lost (and Found) Baseball

Academic journal article Base Ball

Lost (and Found) Baseball

Article excerpt

Agloomy fact of film history is that more than half the movies made during the silent film era (pre-1927) are lost-vanished into the mists with the passing generations.

One of the culprits is the evolution of film technology. For decades, prints and master materials of films were generated on nitrocellulose film stock, which deteriorates over time. Across the years, archivists have recovered "lost" films in rotting film cans that were hidden away under piles of boxes in grandma's attic or deep in the bowels of motion picture studio storage facilities. When a can was pried open-if it could be pried open-all that remained was its contents in various stages of corrosion. The chemically deteriorating celluloid may have become sticky, or even solidified into a mass, or was coated in varying amounts of nitrate dust. Some images still could be seen and identified while those on other frames simply had dissolved.

Beyond the issues relating to the longevity of film stock, another practical reality of motion pictures comes into play here. One can view a film as a reflection of history or a mirror of the era and culture that from which it was produced. One also can view a film as a work of art. However, an unavoidable fact of the film industry is that a moving image (whether it was made by a major Hollywood studio, a poverty-row studio, an independent outfit, or a producer of newsreels) is a product, no different from an automobile churned out in Detroit or a keg of beer from Milwaukee. Unless they are home movies shot by amateur camerapersons or five-minute or five-hour-long non-narrative films, moving images are made strictly for commercial purposes, to be marketed to the public with the expectation that they will turn a profit. Furthermore, in the pre-television/ pre-VHS/pre-DVD era, a film that had completed its theatrical play was the equivalent of yesterday's newspaper. Simply put, it was old news. Beyond the reissue of a popular hit, there were no existing venues in which films could be repackaged and resold. So they often were discarded-tossed into a dumpster along with last night's stale fish and rotting vegetables.

Some enterprising souls-for example, the powers who worked for Walt Disney- realized that, even theatrically, a film did not have to be the equivalent of a Gone with the Wind to be recycled every few years and marketed to new audiences. This was logical, particularly with regard to the children's films produced by Disney. Every few years, a fresh generation of kids was ripe for introduction to Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Snow White. As a result, before it became stylish (not to mention profitable), Disney took extra-special care to preserve its product.

That studio was not the first to grasp the concept of remarketing its product. In 1925, Eastman Kodak established the Kodascope Library, which rented 16mm versions of popular films to institutions and private collectors for noncommercial screenings. Kodascope features generally were edited down to between four and five reels (with one full reel lasting approximately eleven minutes) and were sepia or amber-tinted, while short films usually were unedited. While in business, the Kodascope Library marketed more than 700 films. Many exist to this day, and are coveted by film collectors.

But such was not the case pre-1920. As a result, an immeasurable number of moving images from that era exist only in faded memory.

To be sure, a handful of baseball- related feature-length films were produced before 1920. Those that are considered "lost" include Right Off the Bat (1915, Arrow), starring Mike Donlin; Somewhere in Georgia (1916, Sunbeam), featuring Ty Cobb; and Casey at the Bat (1916, Triangle), with DeWolf Hopper- not to be confused with a 1922 DeForest Phonofilm which utilizes the sound-on-film technology developed by Theodore Case and features a hammy Hopper reciting the poem that earned him immortality. Of the early non-baseball films in which ballplayer-turned-actor Donlin appeared, prints exist only for Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman (1917, States Rights); copies of Jack Spurlock, Prodigal (1918, Fox), Brave and Bold (1918, Fox), and The Unchastened Woman (1918, Rialto De Luxe-George Kleine System) all have vanished. …

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