Wednesday 15 July 2009

'Home' and film preservation

Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson on set of Home
© Lindsay Anderson Collection

I have now started on material relating to Lindsay Anderson's television productions and have just finished cataloguing correspondence relating to Home. In 1971 Anderson directed a version of Home a play which he first directed in the theatre in 1970. The play, on the stage and television, starred John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Dandy Nichols, Mona Washbourne and Warren Clarke. The television production was funded by WNET/Channel Thirteen (a public broadcasting station in New York) and was then leased by the BBC and shown on national television in Britain.

Home concerns two elderly gentleman, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, reminiscing about their past, discussing the clouds, their childhoods, and the news. The conversation is punctuated by oft-repeated phrases such as 'oh yes' 'how extraordinary!' and 'my word!'. It becomes apparent as the conversation goes on, and as two women, played by Dandy Nichols and Mona Washbourne, join them, that they are all residents in a mental hospital. The conversation continues, the characters getting upset at different points, and in the end the women leave, leaving the two men to sit on their own again, contemplating their lives 'Time passes very slowly' says Ralph Richardson as 'Jack'. It's such a moving ending and I can imagine it would have been even more so to see it in the theatre, to see these two actors on the stage.

The correspondence concerns the loss of the original master copy of Home. Anderson spends two years (1986 - 1988) trying to locate the master copy, with help from a fan, and someone at WNET. It really struck me, once again, how little control the Director has over his work once it is made. Maybe this is why he liked to exercise so much control over the film-making himself, knowing that he would lose all control once the film became the property of the production company.

Talking about making the film in a letter to the fan who helped him locate copies of the film Anderson said "That production is certainly one of my most cherished memories... It was a happy experience for all of us." He finished the letter "I do hope we are able to find a copy of HOME - for you, for me and for the rest of the world." The correspondence continues, with Anderson locating, with the help of this fan, a copy of Home in the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library in New York. Writing to them to ask if he could have a copy of their copy Anderson explains "I'm sure I don't need to emphasise the value and importance that HOME has for both Mr Storey and myself, for purely personal as well as for creative reasons." Anderson is grateful to get a copy from them but is disappointed that it's not of transmission quality - so the quest continues...

He then finds out that there may be a copy at the National Film Archive (NFA) at the British Film Institute so he follows this lead up. Luckily for him, and for us all, they had a/the master copy of Home, which had been sent to them from the BBC, and made a copy for Anderson and for WNET (WNET paid for Anderson's copy as well as they had been as keen as Anderson to locate it). Writing to the NFA Anderson expresses his happiness at finding his film "I need hardly say how delighted I am to find that HOME is not after all lost, but has been in such safe keeping all this time." It turned out that the BBC had bought a/the master copy from WNET and that eventually this copy, in line with BBC policy at the time, was donated to the NFA. The final letter in the sequence of correspondence, once again to the NFA, ends with "God bless the National Film Archive!"

Contact sheet for stage production of Home © Lindsay Anderson Collection

The lack of concern over the misplacement/loss of the master copy seems to indicate that, as a television adaption, Home was deemed less important than a 'proper' film. From the stories we hear in the news about the loss of classic television recordings it seems that this was quite common in the 1960s/1970s and there was less concern over preserving television broadcasts. Neither are there any on-set photographs in the Anderson Collection, which, given the large amount that exist for Anderson's films and theatre productions, seems a bit of an anomaly. So the photos which I've included here are from the stage production. It must have been awful, as the creator of a film, to realise that it could be so easily misplaced, and to know, as Anderson did, that such events were outwith your control, although he proves that with some determination and good friends and supporters, there can be a happy ending. Home is now available to buy on Video and DVD through Amazon, although I have to qualify this by saying it is rather expensive. It is also available to rent on Lovefilm.

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