Interview with Patrick Stanbury - A Major Art
Patrick Stanbury, one of the responsible people for Photoplay Productions, the company behind some of the most important restorations of silent films, came back to the Festival with good news under his arm: the new copies of The Iron Horse and Gente de cine, the film by King Vidor about the films endeavor which start screening today with live music especially composed by Carl Davis, that will be interpreted by Mar del Plata Simphony Orchestra under the conduction of master Diego Lurbe. It is an event that justifies the Festival by itself.
How were you involved with Photoplay in the restoration of these two films?
Photoplay is a company that started at the end of the 70s. My colleague Kevin Brownlow and his partner at that time, David Gill, produced a series called Hollywood, a 13-hour story about American silent films produced for British television. The series success led to a series of restorations of silent films that were screened at the London Film Festival and then broadcast on television, in some cases with music especially composed for the occasion, and Gente de cine was one of the first to be restored. It was prepared in 1982 and had been available for long in incomplete versions. Metro Goldwyn Mayer had it in its archives, in a version of 1928 with music recorded in discs and some missing parts. Kevin had access to a copy with these parts, thus it was possible to add them to the material we had of the MGM and made a complete version. Some sequences of the film had been already been used in Hollywood, with music by Carl David, and he himself was asked to compose the soundtrack.
The Iron Horse was made 12 years later, in the same series of restorations for television and at that time, along with Kevin and David we had already created Photoplay in 1990. The channel we had been working for had stopped broadcasting, but channel 4 started to commission our restorations from that point. In 1993 we had restored Wings, an aircraft drama in First World War, and from the channel we were told about offering a western for the following year. We had to decide between The Covered Wagon, a picture of the Paramount of 1923, or The Iron Horse, the one we chose, and it was the right choice. It is a great film, and it was not screened very often. It was made by Fox, thus we had to be sure about the television rights and then we talked to the department that manages its archive. There are two versions of the film: one for the American market and other for the foreign market. Fox had this last version and we were told that there was not another copy in good conditions of the American version, that we afterwards discovered it was not true, but we had very short deadlines and we accepted to work in the European version when it was the only one available.
Dramatically there are no disparities between them, but the only remarkable difference is that the American version is dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, and the other to George Stevenson, the locomotive pioneer. We received the negative in black and white and we made a version colored with ink, according to our criteria, because we did not have original notes or indications, but which gives the film a more reminiscent aspect to the original pictures of the civil war period, and the period afterwards, and therefore it adds a sensation of authenticity.