If you've ever wondered what reflected glory looks like, this is it. On behalf of all those film historians, film preservationists, and film collectors... I hear an intake of breath. Not so long ago film collectors were endangered in this town by a knock on the door from the FBI. I hope you have learnt that we were not your enemies. But my god, your predecessors did a terrible job of preserving the silent era. Historian David Pierce is about to reveal 73 percent has been destroyed. Now, that's like a publisher taking Tolstoy, Dickens, Scott Fitzgerald, despulping every copy, and you can't even see the manuscript because they've burnt that as well. So it's up to us to do our damnedest to find the films that your predecessors destroyed and bring them back into the canon. An awful lot is being done as you know – the recent find in New Zealand, the recent generosity from Russia – but when I think of some of the titles that are gone it's really heartbreaking.
Now, I was told when I started this business that silent films were a complete waste of time. They were jerky, flickery, ludicrously badly acted and appallingly photographed. And I couldn't understand it because I was already a film collector and what I saw in beautiful prints, although sometimes abridged, were... I was struck by the freshness, the vitality, the innovation and the exquisite photography. Ah, and I really do regret the loss of black and white. It was a beautiful medium. It called upon you to do some work, like silent film itself you have to supply the voices and sound effects, and with black and white you supply everything that the film suggested and therefore you become part of the creative process and it means that much more.
Now, film is a collaborative medium and I took it to its extremes. I think I've worked on practically everything with a partner. My wife, of course, of forty-one years. She is wearing tonight jewelry given her by Alice Terry. Match that! Then there are my partners: Andrew Mollo, twelve years; David Gill, twenty-three years, alas he died in '97; and I'd better not leave out my current producer, Patrick Stanbury; and Christopher Bird, the most recent co-director.
I've had a very fortunate life as you can guess. And to give you an example: I was very impressed by the feature comedies of Harold Lloyd. He seemed... If I wanted to convert someone to silent films I just ran them a Lloyd picture. That's all you had to do. But you could not get hold of them. He kept such close grasp that we were reduced to two for a long time, and I knew the fellow who had those two but he wouldn't even consider exchanging or selling them. Well, I wrote a fan letter to Harold Lloyd, and I was very disappointed. He didn't answer. Celebrities don't, you know. And I was dozing one Sunday morning and I imagined that I had at last gone to Hollywood, and I was being shown around the Motion Picture Home by D.W. Griffith himself. And he said, "Over there is a room with a great cameraman. Over there lives a very fine editor." And at the end of the corridor the telephone rang. And in my head I started tracking forward, as one does, and I dissolved through and my telephone was ringing. So I went out into the hall and picked it up and a voice said, "Kevin, you'll never guess who this is. It's Harold Lloyd." He invited me to the Dorchester Hotel, and then began a long and extremely fruitful friendship. I loved him! Actually, he was so charming he should have been the original of Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People."
And I became fascinated by what these people did. They were the most extraordinary people I've ever met in my life, when I finally got to America and met them en masse. It was not just the stars, but the cameramen, the art directors and even the title writers. I remember one of them, Monty Brice, told me that his first title writing job he was literally taken off the golf course. Somebody had fallen ill; none of the title writers were getting anywhere near a good joke. And so he came in in his rather loud knickerbockers, and these tough ex-newspapermen all looked at him and said, "That's your title writing outfit, huh?" And he said... he had no idea. What he had to produce was a title which suggested that Al St. John had left for the city, had failed in everything he'd done and was returning. He said to me, "God send me a flash. I said, 'How 'bout this boys: Al left home to set the world on fire but had to come back for more matches.'"
Now, it is amazing what's turning up, and if you would only relax your copyright laws where silent films are concerned you would see an awful lot more suddenly appear. That has been one of the worst chains on this whole affair of ours to try and rescue the past of the cinema. And I'll just tell you one terrible story which sums it all up. And I've got the film that – well, I shouldn't admit this because it's probably copyright – but I have the film in which this appears. Junior Laemmle was in charge of the Collegians series at Universal. And there's a sporting event, a swimming event, which one college wins and they build bonfires and they come home and have a wild party, or come back to the college and have the wild party, setting the bonfires alight. But it doesn't burn, they don't burn strongly enough. And Junior Laemmle says, "Pile on the silent negatives; we'll never need them again." And on that note, that cautionary tale, they burnt beautifully. I'll leave you. Thank you.