News Column

Packard Campus celebrates restoration of "The Half-Breed"

November 1, 2013


Nov. 01--A nearly extinct silent film demonizing racial discrimination in the American West recently received new life thanks to a restoration combining footage from three surviving 35mm prints, including one from the Library of Congress.

Douglas Fairbanks' "The Half-Breed" from 1916 screens for free Saturday in the LOC Packard Campus Theater with a special introduction by the man who directed the film restoration, Rob Byrne, president of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival Board of Directors. The restoration was a joint collaboration between the SFSFF and the Cinematheque Francaise film archive in Paris, he said.

Fairbanks (1883-1939) starred in "The Half-Breed" as the orphaned Lo Dorman, the son of an interracial union between his Native American mother and an unnamed white man. Rejected by the man, Lo's mother left the infant with a lone settler before throwing herself off a cliff in despair. As a man, the outcast "half-breed" gets exiled to the woods, later meeting a flirtatious pastor's daughter played by Jewel Carmen.

A rare failure at the box office for Fairbanks, "The Half-Breed" nearly vanished with only two unique original prints surviving in addition to an incomplete, severely damaged print held by the LOC, according to Byrne.

"The (LOC) print was discovered in the infamous Dawson City find, where hundreds of pre-World War I films at the end of their distribution line were uncovered (in 1978) buried in a swimming pool in the former Gold Rush town in the Canadian Yukon," he said.

The film's restoration, completed earlier this year, combined elements from all three surviving sources with the LOC copy providing original titles and shots not present in the other sources, according to Byrne.

"The result is the most complete reconstruction possible of the premiere version of "The Half Breed," originally released July 30, 1916," he said.

Three years later in 1919, Fairbanks teamed with fellow screen idol Mary Pickford and the famous Charlie Chaplin to launch United Artists. In the 1920s, Fairbanks played swashbucklers like Zorro and Robin Hood and won the heart and hand of Pickford, according to

In one memorable scene of "The Half-Breed," Fairbanks shows off his physical assets, which apparently was not enough to make the film popular. It still succeeded as an indictment of racism, a retelling of Bret Harte's short story, "In the Carquinez Woods," and as a narrative of two complex women including actress Alma Rubens, Byrnes said.

"We, who had a hand in its making, regarded it as a 'knockout,' but the public couldn't see it," Fairbanks wrote two years later.

The newly restored movie, nearly 100 years old, will physically endure for perpetuity in the massive film and recorded sound archive on Mount Pony.

"We have a long and mutually happy relationship with the ( San Francisco Silent Film) Festival and now that they're starting to underwrite some preservation work, we're going to serve as their archival home for preserved elements, including 'The Half-Breed,'" said Mike Mashon, head of the moving image section on the Packard Campus.

Saturday night in Culpeper, leading silent film accompanist Ben Model will play along with the movie screening at 7:30. He has been playing piano and organ for silents at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for nearly three decades. No reservations are required.

Coming Soon

November films in the Packard Campus Theater

Friday -- "An Evening of Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams on TV"

Saturday -- "The Half-Breed" (Fine Arts Film Company, 1916), silent with live musical accompaniment by Ben Model

Nov. 7 -- "Airplane" (Paramount, 1980)

Nov. 14 -- "Mother and Child" (Sony Pictures Classics, 2009), Rated R

Nov. 15 -- "Anne of Greene Gables" (RKO, 1934) and "Bright Eyes" (20th Century Fox, 1934) -- NATIONAL ADOPTION MONTH DOUBLE FEATURE

Nov. 16 -- "Raising Arizona" (20th Century Fox, 1987)

Nov. 21 -- "The World Changes" (First National, 1933)

Nov. 22 "John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums" (Embassy Pictures, 1965)

Nov. 23 "The Dumb Girl of Portici" (Universal, 1916), silent with live musical accompaniment by Andrew Simpson

"Library of Congress Presents" November films in the State Theatre

Nov. 6 -- "North by Northwest" (MGM, 1959)

Nov. 13 -- "The Best Years of Our Lives" (Goldwyn-RKO, 1946)

Nov. 17 -- "The Kid" (First National, 1921), silent with live musical accompaniment by Andrew Simpson, 2 p.m.

Nov. 20 "Rio Bravo" (Warner Brothers, 1959)

Nov. 24 "Meet Me in St. Louis" (MGM, 1944), 2 p.m.

The Packard Campus Theater is located inside the Library of Congress National Audio Visual Conservation Center at 19053 Mount Pony Rd. All shows are free and show at 7:30 p.m., unless otherwise noted. Open seating on a first come, first-served basis.

The State Theatre is located at 305 S. Main St. Admission is $6.


(c)2013 the Culpeper Star-Exponent (Culpeper, Va.)

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