John Carpenter’s First Student Film and 27 Other Projects Win Preservation Awards

Jerry Cox in John Carpenter's student film "Captain Voyeur," from 1969. Yes, Carpenter got a whole lot scarier than this. Image courtesy of Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive, University of Southern California.
The NFPF has announced its awards for film preservation to 28 projects at 22 institutions, and they include John Carpenter’s first movie, a precursor to his classic 1978 gory chiller, Halloween, and a 1925 newsreel portrait of the celebrated Buffalo Soldier regiment at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the African American 10th Cavalry Unit.

“The films selected for preservation this grant cycle demonstrate the breadth and dynamism of American filmmaking,” said Stephen Gong from the Center for Asian American Media, in a statement. He served on the panel that reviewed proposals from around the country. The films being saved run the gamut and will soon make their way to new audiences, he said.

The San Francisco-based National Film Preservation Foundation is the nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America’s film heritage. The NFPF is the charitable affiliate of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress.

Still from "A Frontier Post," which is being preserved by the University of South Carolina. Image courtesy NFPF.
Among the other works slated for preservation are home movies from opening day at Walt Disney World; a 1915 documentary showing how money was printed at the American Bank Note Company; two Chuck Olin films about Chicago; Uksuum Cauyai: The Drums of Winter, a National Film Registry documentary about the Yup’ik people of Emmonak, Alaska; A Weave of Time, a portrait of four generations of a Navajo family; a film inspired by the Hal Roach Our Gang series shot in Madison, Wisconsin; home movies from African American jazz musician Marie Dickerson Coker showing post-Pearl Harbor Honolulu; and two films by artist Peggy Ahwesh. The full list is online.

The NFPF preservation grants target newsreels, silent-era films, documentaries, culturally important home movies, avant-garde films, and endangered independent productions that fall under the radar of commercial preservation programs. The grant period is typically 14 months. “Sometimes complicated projects take much longer, but just as often a project can be done in a month or two it is pretty straightforward,” said Jeff Lambert, the assistant director of the foundation.

Films saved through the NFPF programs are made available to the public for on-site research and are seen widely through screenings, exhibits, DVDs, television broadcasts, and the Internet.

Grant winners create three access copies: a film print, a second access copy that is typically Digital Betacam, and a DVD. The grantee is required to make the film available for viewing on-site at no charge. Distribution online, via DVD, or theatrical presentation are “highly encouraged,” said Lambert. Recently the NFPF has been presenting a selection of preserved grant films on its own site “Access is a fundamental component to preservation.  It is why we do what we do,” Lambert said.

Jerry Cox in John Carpenter's student film "Captain Voyeur," from 1969. Images courtesy: Hefner Moving Image Archive, USC.
Since it was created by Congress in 1996, the NFPF has provided preservation support to 239 institutions and saved more than 1,850 films and collections through grants and collaborative projects. The NFPF also produces the award-winning Treasures from American Film Archives DVD series, which makes available rare films preserved by public and nonprofit archives that have not been commercially distributed. The NFPF receives federal money through the Library of Congress to distribute as grants but raises all operating and project funding from other sources.

On the AMIA-L listserv of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, Dino Everett, an archivist at the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive at the University of Southern California, said he found John Carpenter’s first student film, Captain Voyeur, from 1969, at the university. “It was what we call here at USC a ‘310,’ which is the code number for the first real film the students make,” he wrote.

“The best part about the film is that it is a definite precursor to Halloween as you can see him working out a number of visual and thematic elements that were later perfected in the feature. Before this find there has been no mention of the films John Carpenter made while at USC other than the Resurrection of Broncho Billy on which he was behind the scenes” as one of five writers as well as music/film editor.

Everett added: “I was able to find it thanks to the diligence of Herb Farmer who had worked here at USC for 70 years and saved everything. While there were no records for the film, I did find Herb’s lab receipt from 1969 that listed the title and the name Carpenter, so being that we had no print, I pulled the negative and there it was: ‘written and directed by John Carpenter.’”

Jamie Lee Curtis in her about-to-be-most-scaredest in "Halloween."
By email, Everett said “the initial goal will be to try and set up a screening somewhere that it can be part of something special, as I think this is a very special find for USC and Carpenter fans. I really want to write something up about it as I find that it ties into the whole concept of finding lost films: Here is a film that was safe and sound for 40 years right where it was made, but because it was made prior to proper databases there were no records of it being here, other than what helped me eventually find it (an old lab receipt that listed the name Carpenter). It makes me very optimistic about the possibilities of finding lost classics.”

John Carpenter in his film "The Ward," 2010. Image: A Bigger Boat.
Public release will be complicated by rights considerations, he said. “Like in some of the early George Lucas films, students were inserting popular songs into their films and this one has a Beatles clip in it; so it will depend on what it takes to get that cleared.

“Plus it is only like eight minutes long so it would need a package deal like on the Treasures box sets or something. I obviously want as many people as possible to be able to see it, so I will work towards getting it out there.”

– Peter Monaghan

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