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Reviewed by:
  • American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archives
  • Kirsten Moana Thompson (bio)
American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archives DVD distributed by the National Film Preservation Foundation/Image Entertainment , 2013

New Zealand has long been a nation of avid moviegoers. In 1915, there were 165 theaters in a population of just over a million people, and by 1928, there were 612 theaters: nearly one for every twenty-two hundred Kiwis.1 During the First World War, American comedies, romances, and newsreels dominated the top box office as the war eliminated competitors from the marketplace. New Zealand productions like The Kid from Timaru (Barry Marschel, 1917) and the later Birth of New Zealand (Harrington Reynolds, 1922) struggled to survive in a market dominated by American film, and by 1928, a voluntary quota for British films was introduced with the Cinematograph Films Act. New Zealand was a settler nation, styling itself as the “Britain of the South Seas.” In 1901, it created the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, the first government tourism agency of its kind in the world, which attracted such overseas filmmakers as Alexander Markey (Under the Southern Cross, 1929; Hei Tiki, 1935) and Gaston Méliès (Georges’s brother), who portrayed New Zealand’s landscape and Maori culture as interchangeable exotic commodities in The River Wanganui, The Maoris of New Zealand, and Loved by a Maori Chieftess (all Méliès, 1913).

In 2009, the New Zealand Film Archive (NZFA) began a relationship with the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFP) that resulted in the restoration and return of 176 American titles produced between 1898 and 1929 that were discovered in NZFA vaults, many that had not survived anywhere else in the world. Some of this collection began to appear on Treasures 5: The West, but now thirteen titles from the larger collection debut on American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive, with excerpts of others also available on the NFP’s website.2 This DVD is a real stunner, including the earliest extant films directed by Mabel Normand (Won in A Cupboard, 1914) and Alfred Hitchcock (The White Shadow; Balcon, Freedman, and Saville, 1924). It also includes a previously lost John Ford feature Upstream (Fox Film, 1927) and a trailer for another (Strong Boy, 1929), along with industrial films, news-reels, serials, cartoons, travelogues, previews, and comedies.3

Alfred Hitchcock was the writer, set designer, editor, and assistant director for Graham Cutts on The White Shadow, starring Clive Brook and Betty Compson. Hitchcock worked with Cutts on five pictures, starting with Woman to Woman in 1923. Named “the best American picture made in England” by the Daily Express,4 the success of Woman to Woman prompted producers Victor Saville and Michael Balcon to cast Compson in another Parisian-set picture, but sadly, according to Balcon, White Shadow “was as big a flop as [End Page 103] Woman to Woman had been a success.”5 After the British distributor withdrew funding because of the film’s financial failure, Balcon, Freedman, and Saville went out of business, which led to the subsequent formation of Gainsborough Pictures. This company would produce two more Cutts–Hitchcock films, The Prude’s Fall (aka Dangerous Virtue, 1924), Die Prinzessin und der Geiger (aka The Blackguard, 1925), and Hitchcock’s first solo feature, The Pleasure Garden (1925).

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Image of Betty Compson as Nancy in The White Shadow (Graham Cutts and Alfred Hitchcock, 1924). Printed with permission from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

The White Shadow’s first three (of six) surviving reels premiered in 2011 at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences with an evocative new score of percussive claves and pizzicato violin by Michael Mortilla that nicely complements Claude L. McDonnell’s striking compositions and cinematography. It tells the story of twins Georgina and Nancy Brent (Betty Compson) juxtaposing good Georgina in “Little Mary” hair with wicked Nancy, the “girl without a soul,” in, naturally, a modern bob. These moral opposites are expressed in racialized terms, with the opening intertitle claiming “just as the sun casts a dark shadow so does the soul cast its shadow of white, reflecting a...


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