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Friday, November 21, 2008

The Day I Held The Noble Experiment

for the first time was one of the greatest moments of my life. The metal canister, all rusted with age, the smell of vinegar ... and a decades-old, peeling label with a simple name scrawled on the side: GRAEFF.

In tiny scrawling caps beneath, I read Ronald and His Magic Pill, and I knew I had finally found the holy grail. Tom Graeff's first feature film was sitting in my hands. If only Richard Valley was still around to see it.

A still I cleaned up. Though magentaed, the color is mostly salvagable!
My friend Mike picked up the canister and hoisted it up on the table. A former projectionist for USC, he was used to lugging heavy films around, though never before with such excitement. He bubbled with energy as we (gently) pulled out the first reel and started to inspect our treasure, buried in a basement of filmic wonders for 50 years.

The story began in summer of 2007, when I first got in touch with Austin McKinney and Lee Strosnider through a friend. I was in Connecticut, and had to will myself to pick up the phone -- I'm terribly shy with phones, though not many know this. I was shaking when I said hello, shaking when I asked them if they would be willing to be interviewed, and shaking when I lamented that The Noble Experiment had been lost to time.

"No," Lee said. "There's a copy in our basement."

I stopped shaking.

Lee explained that he and Austin had kept copies of all the films they'd ever worked on, including TNE and Tom's short film, Toast to Our Brother. He also assured me that their film was intact and in pristine condition. (Note: If anyone has a copy of Redneck Miller or non-MST Skydivers, Lee and Austin would really appreciate a copy!)

We talked for a long time that first day, and when I hung up the phone I was elated, reeling, and strangely wary. It had seemed too easy. Richard had known about Lee and Austin, hadn't he thought to ask? If TNE was that easy to locate, how could it have been considered "lost" in the first place?

Especially in '07, when so much information was swirling about Tom Graeff, I couldn't believe I had the luck of finding it, something my 14 year-old self could never have dreamed of when I emailed Bryan Pearson for the first time. My (then) 21 year-old self could barely believe it either -- I'd struggled on this project for so long, and against so many obstacles, but God was undoubtedly on my side that day.

Two months later when I received the film, I was almost in tears. The four of us looked at the first scene -- crisp, clear, though heavily magentaed -- then returned the film to its canister to make sure it remained in good condition while I had it examined professionally. Because of its format, there are only a handful of places the original copy could be digitized or even screened in its native format, Fox Studios, American Cinematheque, and The UCLA Film & Television Archives, who have expressed great interest in restoring and screening the film next year.
Cleaned up vs. Original. Restoration will be a long task.

I never meant to hold onto this secret for so long, but with restoration imminent, I thought it was the right time to let people know. Many, many films, especially those by cult filmmakers, are considered lost, and with early stock disintegrating it's more important than ever to make an effort to find these films before it's too late.

Next up, London After Midnight? Here's to hoping.

Later that evening, I sat on the couch in my crummy apartment and popped on Teenagers. It was just the two hulking octagons and me. I stared at them and smiled.

The Noble Experiment DOES exist.
And I found it.

This discovery was made during the filming of documentary The Boy from Out of This World. Read more about Tom Graeff and The Noble experiment at Tom Graeff dot org!

4 gargon specimens:

math said...

Extremely neat stuff!

Anonymous said...

Good luck on the restoration. It's sad to think of how many pieces of film legend and lore are lost simply to the passing of time.

Mark said...

What an amazing story! Very, very cool!!

martin said...

This is very exciting news. I hope the film will eventually see some kind of a home video release.

Quote: "If anyone has a copy of ... non-MST Skydivers, Lee and Austin would really appreciate a copy!"

If they're still looking, I'd be happy to send them a DVD-R. Do you happen to know if either one of them appeared on-camera in SKYDIVERS or BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS? I believe many of the crew did cameos and bits in both of those.

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