Sept. 22--This is a restored still from the reels of the 10-minute Mary Pickford film that will be shown Oct. 11 at Keene State College. (Courtesy)
In the summer of 2006, Peter Massie found a piece of cinematic history in a pile of trash in a barn in Nelson he was preparing to tear down.
"I was up in the attic, and tucked away over in a corner was some film, film canisters and a silent movie projector," said Massie.
A movie buff, Massie brought home the film reels and 1924 Monarch projector. "I thought it was really cool. I always look around before a demolition. You never know what you'll find."
Massie found what film buffs have dubbed Tinseltown treasure -- four features long thought to be "lost," including the 1911 Mary Pickford short film "Their First Misunderstanding."
A significant find
Christel Schmidt, a Pickford scholar and author of the book, "Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies," said the 1911 film is a significant find.
"Most of Pickford's remarkable career took place during the 1910s and 1920s, a period when women gained power and influence in the public sphere and won social freedoms," said Schmidt. "Offscreen, this star was the era's most famous and arguably influential woman. She was a savvy power player who, by 1918, had accumulated an impressive amount of wealth and had complete creative control over her work. She was a true heroine and a positive role model.
"This particular piece was considered lost, and it's a very big deal that it is preserved."
So big, in fact, that the Library of Congress is funding the restoration. The library boasts the world's largest collection of movies by Pickford, known affectionately as "America's Sweetheart."
Mike Mashon, head of the Moving Image Section Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division at the Library of Congress, said the film is a good representation of Pickford's time with IMP, which was short-lived.
"This film fills an important gap in her career from that time," Mashon said in a statement.
The estimated cost of the restoration work is $9,000.
Larry Benaquist, who started the film program at Keene State, which has an archive of about 1,000 films, was contacted in 2006 by Peter Massie about what he found in the barn.
Benaquist said last year he sent two of the films to Colorlab Corp. in Maryland, which specializes in restoring nitrate films. One was identified as a 1910 Mary Pickford Biograph film, "The Unchanging Sea," which is widely circulated. The other turned out to be "Their First Misunderstanding."
According to the website IMDB, the movie is a comedy-drama about a newlywed couple's first argument, with a running time of about 10 minutes.
"The couple has their differences and have some time apart, but then come back together and their relationship is stronger than ever," said Benaquist. "It's told with a very distinct feminine point of view, which was rare in film at the time."
Schmidt said "Their First Misunderstanding" is the first film that contained Pickford's name in the credits. Pickford, who was 18 when the film was made, also wrote the film's screenplay and co-starred in it with Owen Moore, her first husband.
Benaquist said he thinks the films were in the barn because Nelson, located on Granite Lake, was home to several summer camps over the years. He believes a boys camp was located near the barn during the 1920s.
"I think the films were probably shown to entertain children at the camp, and then they were put away and forgotten," said Benaquist.
Benaquist said any time a film like the Pickford short is found, it's an important event.
"The vast majority of silent films, particularly from the first decade of the 20th century, are gone," said Benaquist. "That's what makes these finds so incredibly special."
It's even more special when they feature an actor like Pickford, who Schmidt called one of Hollywood's first "superstars."
"Pickford was the first actor to inspire the intimate connection that film can create between the audience and star," said Schmidt. "She was probably idealized more highly than any actor in history; her image was angelic, with the weight of real royalty. In terms of acting, Pickford's seems light years ahead of many of the actors who appeared in early cinema's one-reelers. She had an abundance of charm, and the camera loved her."
A night of Pickford
Schmidt will be at Keene State on Oct. 11 to host what Benaquist calls the world "re-premiere" of the film. The event will take place at 7 p.m. in the Alumni Recital Hall in the Redfern Arts Center. Schmidt will also bring "Sparrows," a 1926 United Artists film that was Pickford's next to last silent film. Schmidt said the film is considered by many to be her best.
The evening will also include the short film "The Dream," a domestic drama shot in 1911 with then-real-life husband Moore.
The event is sponsored by the School of Arts and Humanities, Film Studies, the Redfern Arts Center, Women's and Gender Studies, and the KSC Film Society. Tickets are $5, but admission is free for Keene State students with valid ID.
Massie will attend. He hasn't viewed any of the stills from the film and is already eager for the house lights to dim.
"I can't wait to see what's on there," said Massie.
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