Cardi Party 2017.06 – Horror Film Archives with Mel Begg

On International Archives Day (IAD), Friday 9 June, newCardigan filled the back room at Loop Bar until we could fit no more. Everyone was in a festive mood as we celebrated IAD, newCardigan’s second birthday, and horror film archives with guest speaker, archivist Mel Begg.

At 19 Mel became a flight attendant. A year into flying Mel decided to go to uni to pursue her passions, so she enrolled in an undergraduate degree and honours in film and media. I met Mel while we were both completing our Masters in Information Management at RMIT. We connected over many things, being two archivists interested in photographic and audiovisual collections brought us close together.

Mel and I both worked at ABC Archives. On a contract, I catalogued the Natural History Unit physical media assets and the ABC’s South Australia branch photographic collection (1940 – 1990). Mel worked in the Collections team as the Video Tape Librarian as well as working on records management projects during ABC’s move from Elsternwick to Southbank. Members of the Collections team were made redundant, including the film archivist. The Melbourne branch of ABC no longer has a film archivist, as the ABC film archives have been moved to Sydney.

Being a wonderfully enthusiastic person, Mel met many great people at ABC, which led to her current position as News Librarian at Channel 9. As well as being incredibly enthusiastic, Mel is incredibly busy, she also works in the cinemas at ACMI, is Operations Coordinator at Monster Fest, and since the start of 2016 has been a co-organiser at Melbourne Horror Film Society (screenings on the last Tuesday of every month).

The News Library at Channel 9 has three qualified librarians working in the newsroom with 30 second turn arounds to get vision for stories! An electric environment for an archivist to work in. The News Librarians catalogue everything that has gone to air that day to ensure that it is immediately accessible.

In 2014 Mel did her industry placement as part of her studies in the Masters of Information Management degree at the Hugh M Hefner Moving Image (HMH) Archive at the University of Southern California (USC). Hugh Hefner donated substantial funds to the Archive; it’s not a Playboy Mansion! During Mel’s research about where to do her placement, she was impressed with the number of famous horror film directors who had studied at USC. Dino Everett, Hugh M Hefner Archivist, was a punk rocker, as well as a type who sticks it to the man, which impressed Mel no end. Archivists who break down stereotypes are our heroes. During Mel’s month-long placement she worked on prepping films for screening, such as the Dark Crystal, amongst many other films. Dino taught Mel how to repair films, a skill rarely taught to archival students in Australia.

When Dino started working at the HMH Archive he wanted to find John Carpenter films, he had heard of Captain Voyeur, and found it within a year. He found a box labelled O’Bannon. Dan O’Bannon is famous for writing Alien and Total Recall, amongst other films. This was a start, but Dino had other films he was searching for in the archives. Dino was putting together a feature film of student short films.

In 2011 a book was published entitled Shock Value by Jason Zinoman. After reading the book, Dino knew that Zinoman had seen the films he was looking for, so he contacted Zinoman who said he had got the films from Dan O’Bannon’s wife. Diane O’Bannon had copies of all the films at home that Dino had been search for over three years in a box labelled Blood Bath in her shed, and was happy for Dino to have the films. As described in Zinoman’s book, Dino couldn’t believe when watching these student films how much they informed and influenced their later work, and the work of other filmmakers.

Shock Value The Movie, a compilation of student short films from the UDC School of Cinematic Arts, compiled by Dino, included the work of Charles Adair, John Carpenter, Alec Lorimore, Dan O’Bannon and Terence Winkless. Mel showed our cardies a trailer, which you can view here: Did you get the creeps?

In 2016, Mel curated three screenings at Melbourne Horror Film Society (MHFS) including short films from the HMH Archive.

Screening 1 – Voyeur Night:

  • Good Morning Dan, short film written and directed by Dan O’Bannon, camera work by John Carpenter, 1968
  • Captain Voyeur, short film written and directed by John Carpenter, 1969
  • Body Double, feature directed by Brian De Palma, 1984

The archive films were popular with MHFS audiences, which was encouraging to Mel and for the continuation of her curated program over the next two screenings.

Screening 2 – Back to the USC Archive for Christmas in July:

  • Judson’s Release, highly acclaimed short film by Terence Winkless and Alec Lorimore, starring Dan O’Bannon, 1971; influenced films such as Halloween, Black Christmas, He Knows You’re Alone, When a Stranger Calls and others. Mel pointed out that the first 20 minutes of When a Stranger Calls is effectively Judson’s Release
  • Black Christmas, feature directed by Bob Clark, 1974

Screening 3 – Dead Night:

  • Blood Bath, short film written and directed by Dan O’Bannon, 1961
  • The Demon, short film written and directed by Charles Adair, and credited as the first of many Night of the Living Dead remakes
  • Return of the Living Dead, feature directed by Dan O’Bannon, 1985

With Dino’s permission, Mel showed our cardies short films from the HMH Archive, John Carpenter’s Captain Voyeur and Lady Madonna, and Dan O’Bannon’s Blood Bath. Mel described Carpenter as the ‘master of horror’, making films such as Halloween, The Thing, Escape from New York, and Big Trouble in Little China. Funds granted by the US National Film Preservation Foundation made it possible to preserve Captain Voyeur, a black and white short (17 minutes), original 16mm. ‘Many of Carpenter’s ideas for Halloween are evident in Captain Voyeur’, Mel shared with cardies. Lady Madonna, Carpenter’s 20-minute thesis film, is sadly missing its vision, only the sound and production book have been found. Like many filmmakers, Carpenter doesn’t want his student films released. Mel is unsure if Carpenter has the vision for Lady Madonna (Charles Adair – editor, Kathy Maynard and Dan O’Bannon – actors, Marc Stirdivant – sound).

Dan O’Bannon’s Blood Bath (no prints as yet, 2k scan of neg A & B rolls), Mel told a great story about Carpenter walking past a screening of the film and hearing ‘raucous laughter from the audience and he thought, I need to work with this guy’. ‘John Carpenter is very good at working with the right people and taking things they do well and making it his own’ Mel went on to say. Dan O’Bannon is ‘unsung, he worked on many projects. He was uncredited for his work in creating space characters for Star Wars films. Dino wanted to highlight O’Bannon’s talent and work, and get it out there’.

Dino’s aim is to have all of the films preserved properly. Most of the films are only 2k scanned, but with more funding and resources, HMH Archive can preserve these important student films for future generations. Film has an expiry date, and requires digitisation and preservation now, to save films for the future. Film archives in Australia are also vulnerable to loss over time, and require more funding and resources. The ABC film archives have been transferred to Sydney, so we have no ABC film archivist in Melbourne. NFSA and ACMI outsource a lot of film archive work. There are warehouses filled with film archives, the volume is overwhelming when undertaking digitisation and preservation work, but this incredibly significant and valuable cultural heritage must be saved before it’s too late.