Lost Orson Welles Film Found in Italy

George Eastman House leads film restoration project; to host U.S. premiere on October 16 in Rochester, NY

For Release 2013-08-07

Rochester, N.Y., August 7, 2013—George Eastman House, together with the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF), the Cineteca del Friuli, and Cinemazero today announced the recovery of Mercury Theatre’s long-lost Too Much Johnson, directed by Orson Welles in 1938. The silent film was found in a warehouse by the staff of Cinemazero, an art house in Pordenone, Italy. 

Too Much Johnson was originally intended to be used in conjunction with Orson Welles' stage adaptation of an 1894 play by William Gillette. The Mercury Theatre planned to show the three short films as prologues to each act of the play. The three-part slapstick comedy was meant to be shown with the accompaniment of music and live sound effects, but was never finished. Joseph Cotten was cast in the lead role, with supporting roles going to Mercury Theatre actors, including Eustace Wyatt, Edgar Barrier, Ruth Ford, Arlene Francis, Mary Wickes, Orson Welles, and his wife at the time, Virginia Nicolson. The play ultimately opened without the film on August 16, 1938, and flopped. 

The nitrate work print of the film—left unfinished by the Mercury Theatre and never shown in public—was given by Cinemazero to one of Italy’s major film archives, the Cineteca del Friuli in nearby Gemona, and transferred from there to George Eastman House in order to be preserved with a grant from NFPF. According to published sources, until now the only known print of Too Much Johnson had burnt in a fire that destroyed the home of Orson Welles in the outskirts of Madrid in 1970.

“This is by far the most important film restoration by George Eastman House in a very long time,” said Paolo Cherchi Usai, senior curator of film, who supervised the project for George Eastman House. “Holding in one’s hands the very same print that had been personally edited by Orson Welles 75 years ago provokes an emotion that’s just impossible to describe.” 

The original nitrate print of Too Much Johnson will reside at the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center, one of the repositories for the Museum’s collection of 28,000 film titles. The bulk of George Eastman House’s preservation work for Too Much Johnson was made at Cinema Arts, a film laboratory in Pennsylvania specializing in the restoration of archival material. 

“All but one of the reels were in relatively good shape,” said Cherchi Usai. “But one of them was badly decomposed, and we initially thought it was too late to save its images.” 

A last-minute rescue operation was attempted at Haghefilm Digitaal, a leading preservation lab in the Netherlands. Technicians there managed to salvage over 96 percent of the footage, with no recourse to digital techniques. “I’d call it a masterpiece of craftsmanship,” added Cherchi Usai. “What they have achieved is nothing short of a miracle—one only has to look at a photo of that reel before treatment in order to understand what kind of ‘mission impossible’ this was.”

“The Motion Picture Department at George Eastman House is one of the oldest and most prestigious film archives in the United States and we are honored to host the U.S. premiere of this iconic film in the fall,” said Bruce Barnes, Ron and Donna Fielding Director of George Eastman House. “Under the leadership of Paolo Cherchi Usai, our museum is being widely recognized for its efforts in the field of moving image preservation. We are proud to be a key contributor to the restoration of one of the greatest long-lost treasures in motion picture history.”

Eastman House’s restoration of Too Much Johnson will receive its world premiere on October 9, 2013 at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, the world’s first film festival of silent cinema, established in 1982 in Pordenone, and co-founded by Cherchi Usai. “To think that a silent film by Orson Welles has been dormant for more than thirty years in the same city where a major festival of silent film has been held for about as much time is mind-boggling. It almost defies belief,” added Cherchi Usai. 

Too Much Johnson will have its U.S. premiere in George Eastman House’s Dryden Theatre on October 16, 2013 in Rochester, N.Y. For more information about the U.S. premiere of Too Much Johnson and the restoration process, visit http://www.eastmanhouse.org/lostwellesfilm. 

About George Eastman House

George Eastman House is located on the estate of George Eastman, the father of popular photography and motion picture film. Eastman House comprises world-class collections of photographs, motion pictures, photographic and cinematic technology, and photographically illustrated books.  Established as an independent non-profit institution in 1947, it is the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the earliest film archives. The archive houses 28,000 film titles and 4 million film-related publicity stills, posters, scores, scripts, and pre-cinema artifacts. Eastman House also holds the world’s largest collection of camera technology. The Eastman House’s L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation is regarded as the premier venue of professional training in film preservation, restoration, and archiving. The Eastman House is also the archive in which many filmmakers have chosen to preserve their films, including Cecil B. DeMille, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Ken Burns, and Kathryn Bigelow. Learn more at www.eastmanhouse.org.

About National Film Preservation Foundation

Headquartered in San Francisco, the National Film Preservation Foundation is the nonprofit charitable affiliate of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. Since starting operations in 1997, the NFPF has helped 260 American cultural institutions save their films and has preserved some 200 “lost” American films found abroad, including those showcased on the DVDLost and Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive, to be released in September. For more information, visit www.filmpreservation.com

 About Cineteca del Friuli

Established in 1977, the Cineteca del Friuli is one of the five major archives in Italy dedicated to the preservation of the motion picture, and an active publisher of books and DVDs dedicated to the history of cinema. In addition to its extensive film holdings, which are safeguarded in a state-of-the-art conservation center in Gemona del Friuli, the institution holds one of Italy’s largest film research libraries and a vast collection of stills, posters, and other film-related documents. For more information, visit www.cinetecadelfriuli.org

About Cinemazero

A nonprofit cultural institution organization created in 1978, Cinemazero is cofounder with Cineteca del Friuli of the famed silent film festival, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, held annually in Pordenone, Italy. Cinemazero runs a three-screen theater, a media center with thousands of books and videos, and a photographic archive documenting the work of film directors Pier Paolo Pasolini, Federico Fellini, and Andrei Tarkovsky. An active publisher of books, it also hosts exhibitions, conferences, retrospectives, and other events relating to cinema and photography. For more information, visit www.cinemazero.org


Attn. Media

Still images from Too Much Johnson can be downloaded here for use with press materials: https://eastmanhouse.box.com/s/isdz6btp1og5elerg5yq.

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