Sunday, September 11, 2011

Elvis footage is genuine, but short and silent

Have you looked in your attics or garages recently?

(OK, not specifically about trains, but interesting)

From Journal Elvis footage is genuine, but short and silent
He had his gold leaf suit coat.

He whirled his arms like a windmill.

He danced with the microphone stand.

Indeed, a film purported to be of Elvis Presley performing in a 1957 concert at Memorial Coliseum is what the label on the can claims: Elvis live, 54 years ago.

The film surfaced about two weeks ago when a woman who was planning to auction off her late husband’s huge collection of model trains pulled the old Elvis film out of the attic and suggested tossing it into the mix.

The auctioneer, Glen Ellenberger of Ellenberger Brothers Auctions in Bluffton, didn’t think that was a good idea. Toy train buffs aren’t necessarily Elvis fans, and vice versa.

So Ellenberger pulled the film out of the auction with plans to have an auction for the film alone, and he went on the hunt to figure out exactly what his client had.

The problem was that the half-century-old 16 mm film could be brittle. Viewing it on a projector could tear it to shreds in seconds, so Ellenberger contacted Indiana University’s film archives to have it properly evaluated – and finally get a look at exactly what was on the film.

IU’s film archives contain nearly 100,000 old films, about 1,000 made by Indiana University and the rest made by moviemakers and educational filmmakers.

Remember those corny movies you used to see in junior high school where you were lectured on how to behave on a date and the importance of cleaning your fingernails? Almost everybody eventually threw the old movies away – except, it seems, IU, giving the university one of the biggest hoards of old film around.

But we digress.

Rachael Stoeltje, the film archivist with the IU library, gave the old Elvis film a quick inspection and pronounced it in pretty good shape. It had shrunk by only 0.5 percent and it didn’t smell of vinegar, which means the film isn’t deteriorating.

It could stand to be cleaned, and an expert could treat it to increase its flexibility and reduce any brittleness, but its overall condition is good.

But there are some disappointments. The film has no sound. It is just a silent film of the King doing his act before a huge Coliseum crowd, most of them armed with cameras with flashes.

The film was also shot far from the stage where Elvis swiveled his hips. When run at 16 frames per second, which is the normal speed, there is about 4 minutes of Elvis strutting on the stage, singing, dancing and posing for the fans.

That’s not as much as Ellenberger hoped, but it’s a pretty good chunk of footage from Elvis’s early concert days. It never occurred to any of his managers or promoters to record any of his concerts themselves.

Meanwhile, IU is excited the film at least passed through its hands, if only for a few minutes. On Oct. 15, the university will have a home movie day at the IU Cinema, where it will show home movies by Hollywood director John Ford. The school hopes it will also be able to show the Elvis footage during that event, bringing a little attention to itself.

Meanwhile, Ellenberger hopes the showing will bring a little additional attention to his client’s 4 minutes of footage.

In reviewing the film, one of the school’s librarians speculated that the film might actually be a copy, which means there could be another film lurking out there somewhere, perhaps in a stack of additional film reels belonging to the deceased railroad collector.

For now, plans are for an auction, maybe in late October.

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