“Saving Brinton” – a delight to watch

December 18, 2019 at 12:53 pm (entertainment, history) (, , , )

The film Saving Brinton ran last night (18 Dec 2019) on Vermont Public Television. I was clicking channel after channel, waiting for commercials to be done, when I came upon it – paused – and stayed. What a delight to watch!

At the heart are the Brintons – husband and wife Frank and Indiana Brinton – who were involved in a number of concerns, including early (late 19th and early 20th century) Silent-era FILM exhibition. At the heart, also, and what grabbed my attention, is the collector / saver of the Brinton treasure trove, Michael Zahs.

Saving Brinton

The vintage films are FASCINATING – and you can find more about them online, thanks to the University of Iowa Libraries. With their use of astonishing film techniques (no ‘CGI’) and stunningly-vivid hand-coloring (done, of course, frame-by-frame), the films are indeed treasures from the vaults of early cinematography.

A finding aid (same link, above) will help those interested in learning more about the overall collection. And the Brinton collection IS unique – as it includes original equipment, handbills, glass slides, memorabilia, diaries and press clippings. Estimated at 9,000 items, at one point in the documentary, a reporter (?) asks, How many items; and either mishears or doesn’t take in that Zahs says “thousands”. I found myself nodding in agreement when the reporter leaves, and Zahs mutters, Thought he’d stay longer. Me, too!

Which is why I want more about Michael Zahs, as well as the collection! His history with the items is touched upon very lightly, but what resonated with me is how many YEARS went by where he seemed the only one interested in what he was preserving. Saving Brinton shows how that became no longer the case, with visits to professors, preservationists, even the Library of Congress; and finally enthusiastic audience members sitting in Bologna’s city square and in the World’s Oldest Continuously Operating Movie Theater, “The State Theater,” in Washington, Iowa.

One should never discount the filmmakers – Tommy Haines, John Richard, and Andrew Sherburne. Their interest in bringing the Brintons & Zahses to a wider audience must be warmly applauded.

As someone with my own (minor, in comparison) project, it is the interest of others giving a tremendous BOOST to Zahs that offered the most compellingly-heartfelt moments. There are always cinephiles in awe over early films; but to have – finally – a home for this collection at the University of Iowa, felt like vindication of Zahs’ dedication over (now nearly) forty years. His wife, too, putting up with the saving and hoarding (let’s face it…) that goes along with collecting. The ‘secret history of cinema,’ as one review claimed for Saving Brinton, the documentary also touches upon the ‘secret history of saving’. Sometimes it only takes one person, picking up the baton from another one person in the past, to ignite a passion in others. “Doesn’t really interest anybody but me” is something we all can say about our “object” of a passion. It sure is nice to come across other like-minded people, isn’t it?

footnote: I’ve just realized (reading a review of the 2018 theatrical release) that Saving Brunton is 90-minutes in length. The PBS series, America Reframed, has evidently edited this down to 55 minutes. Cutting a third is a disservice to this film. It may explain why I thought I had “missed things” by momentary inattention. Vimeo (stream or download) or Amazon (disc or stream) offer the full “directors’ cut” of the documentary. Note the Amazon reviewer who says “it’s at least 30 minutes too long”… I’d like to be able to judge for myself.
An interesting read is the original Kickstarter campaign for Saving Brinton.

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