SFSFF 2009—BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT (1926) Introductory Remarks

Speaking as a member of Film Preservation Associates, the team that brought King Vidor's Bardelys the Magnificent (1926) "back to life" after it's having been believed lost for 70 years, David Shepard historicized that the film was based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini, a prolific author whose other work includes Scaramouche, The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood. MGM bought the story rights to Bardelys the Magnficent for 10 years and produced the successful filmic adaptation Bardelys the Magnificent.

By contract, in 1936 MGM had to either repurchase the rights "for an additional charm" or destroy the film. As nothing could have been deader than a silent film in 1936, MGM elected to duly destroy the negative (although MGM actually renewed the copyright for the movie in 1953). Except for a short fragment included in another Vidor film Show People (1928), nothing of Bardelys was thought to remain until 2007 when Shepard's French film partners—Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange—purchased a miscellaneous lot of nitrate film and found within it the source copy that was used for the restoration. It was a worn, skuzzy print but has since been cleaned up.

Bardelys was now complete except for reel three and that reel must have been missing for a long time because there was a homemade title at the end of reel two that contained a text describing the lost footage. To restore the film, the original print was first sent to film laboratories in the Netherlands, which produced a 35mm negative. Scratches were eliminated. From this negative they made a telecine, which was sent to Lobster Films where Eric Lange worked a long time to eliminate visible splices and to stabilize the image.

The film had French titles, which had very little to do with the original English title text obtained from the MGM collection at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. They reset the original English titles in the original 1895 type font and reinserted the English intertitles into the picture.

For the missing reel three, they were able to obtain more than 250 stills from the MGM Collection at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Using a selection of these stills and the titles, and some film footage found in the original trailer, they were able to create a reasonably smooth bridge over the gap.

Although Bardelys was preserved in 35mm, all the restoration work has been done digitally. The digital projection at the festival was from a Betacam tape due to the fact that there was no money to scan the tape back into motion picture film again.

In addition to USC and the Academy Library, Shepard wanted to publicly thank Warner Brothers—especially George Feldenstein—for making an absolutely unique exception to an otherwise firm policy by granting world rights in perpetuity to show the film. He also acknowledged Sony Pictures—especially Bob Osher—the current owners of the Sabatini rights, who granted permission to show Bardelys in Europe so they could recover the costs of preservation and restoration.

All of that is half the story. As King Vidor used to say, "The other half is told by the music." For that, Shepard indicated, the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra—the musicians for the evening's event—have likewise recorded the music for the DVD.

Cross-published on The Evening Class.

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