A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies

1000 Cuts.jpgA Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies by Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph.

Print collecting began well before the days of home video. A Thousand Cuts is a collection of interviews with people who collect prints of films. Many of those interviewed follow a similar path from a desire to exhibit eclectic or unusual films to a full-on collecting obsession. The book sheds light on the hustle, blind faith, occasional pettiness, and slim rewards associated with obtaining film. The scope of shipping, storing, exhibiting, and sometimes hiding bulky film reels is a recurring theme among generations of film buffs who often seem to have fallen into it. Film buffs and anyone who collects anything will find the anecdotes relatable.

Film collecting has a common thread of problems ranging beyond the obvious difficulty of storage and expense. Shady deals, decomposing prints, and even potential legal trouble have not dissuaded the die-hard collectors in the pages of this book. Film reels technically belong to the studios that printed them for exhibition when the films were made. Many film collectors started during a time when film cans languished in warehouses and no one much cared what happened to them. But in the 70s, studios began cracking down on collectors of various levels. With the help of the FBI, studios tried to reclaim their original prints on a large scale, raiding locations film prints were known to be part of personal collections. Noted sci-fi Actor Roddy McDowall famously came into a lot legal trouble over his personal collection of film prints.

In spite of dubious ownership issues, film collectors have often rescued films from being lost due to bad storage or disinterest. Abel Gance’s 1927 epic silent film Napoleon was restored due to the diligence of film collector Kevin Brownlow who became interested in the film when he purchased two reels of an expurgated version as a child. The story of his research into Napoleon is the stuff of collector dreams. For years he sought and collected versions and scenes of the incomplete film until much of the to date five-and-a half hour film is near completion. All collectors would like to think they are saving something for posterity. Brownlow’s story of the restoration of Napoleon shows the difference a childhood hobby can make. Another rescued from obscurity story is collector Mark Hyatt’s effort to restore the 1963 sci-fi film The Day of the Triffids.

Film print collecting has become less prevalent than in its heyday. But in the arena of new blood in the collecting spectrum, Something Weird Video’s Mike Vraney is interviewed. Vraney’s efforts to store these films allows him to bring them to people thorough his DVD mail order website Something Weird Video. The website has a premier collection of oddball films and, besides being an excellent online shop.

Collecting things has been said to be a way to cheat death in everyday life. Stories of search and rescue explored in A Thousand Cuts are an excellent read for film buffs and collectors alike. -Billups Allen

A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies
by Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph
320 pp. University Press of Mississippi.

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