Edward Curtis' 1914 Film of Pacific Northwest First Nations Culture:
Restored, Re-evaluated, and Framed by Orchestral Performance
and Traditional Dance Presentation
May 22, 2008
LOS ANGELES—Newly restored landmark silent film In the Land of the Head Hunters by photographer and filmmaker Edward Curtis will premiere at the Getty Center on Thursday, June 5 at 7:30 p.m. with a live arrangement of the original score and traditional dance presentation by the Gwa'wina dancers of Kwakwaka'wakw (Kwakiutl) First Nations.
The first feature-length film to exclusively star indigenous North Americans, this romantic melodrama set before the arrival of Europeans features love, war, and ritual among the Kwakwaka'wakw of British Columbia, who performed in Curtis' scripted version of their past. At its premiere in 1914, the silent film was accompanied by an orchestral score composed by John J. Braham, best known for his work with Gilbert and Sullivan.
Although the film existed in a fragmentary state, the score was thought to be lost, until it was recently identified in the collections of the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute by University of British Columbia postdoctoral fellow Aaron Glass during his dissertation research. “I was very fortunate to come across this all-but-forgotten score in the treasure trove of the GRI’s Special Collections,” recalls Glass.
Gail Feigenbaum adds, “Discovering the score felt like pulling on the tail of a tiger, awakening the sleeping beast of the film, In the Land of the Head Hunters. It has helped drive many parts of the restoration process. It ultimately, led to the restored copy of the film, which, together with our collaborators—UCLA Television & Film Archive, UCLA Philharmonia, U'mista Cultural Centre, and the Autry National Center—we are delighted to present.”
The film, which was restored by Jere Guldin, film preservationist with the UCLA Film & Television Archive, has now been reunited with its original orchestral score and informed by descendants of the original Kwakwaka'wakw First Nations cast. “To be able to restore a significant film that has been incomplete for many years is very rewarding,” says Guldin. “The original titles have been re-created; additional footage has been located and copied; surviving frames from shots that still are lost have been reproduced and inserted into their proper places to provide a glimpse into what no longer exists; and the entire film has been tinted and toned as it was when originally released.”
The performance edition of the score was developed by David Gilbert of the UCLA Music Library. “It has been fascinating to work with the manuscript of Braham's score, which remains one of the earliest musical scores written for a feature-length silent film,” says Gilbert. “Moreover, it is one of the most complete surviving artifacts of Curtis’ project—the notes the musicians wrote to themselves in the score’s margins provided many of the visual cues that helped restore the film itself.”
Conducted by UCLA faculty member Neal Stulberg, the score will be performed live by the UCLA Philharmonia. "UCLA Philharmonia and I are so excited to be involved in this project,” says Stulberg. “Of course, the term "silent movie" was always a misnomer. Music was always integral to the film experience. To have our students participate in this landmark reunion of Curtis' film and Braham's score—especially in the context of the Getty's symposium and presentation—is a unique educational opportunity for them."
Following the screening, the Gwa'wina dancers of the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nations, who are descendants of the film actors, will present songs and dances represented in the film.
Glass, who co-produced this restoration project with Brad Evans and Andrea Sanborn, adds, “In the Land of the Head Hunters has offered a lens through which to reframe and re-imagine the changing terms of colonial representation, cultural memory, and intercultural encounter. With this project, all of us hope to encourage a revision in the thinking about Curtis and his work by restoring the film to its proper place in history and placing it in direct dialogue with the Kwakwaka'wakw of today.”
The screening is presented in conjunction with the symposium “Documents of an Encounter: Edward Curtis and the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nations,” held at the Getty Center on Thursday, June 5, and Friday, June 6. The symposium will include a visit to the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Department of Photographs and the Special Collections of the Getty Research Library, which contain many images associated with In the Land of the Head-Hunters.
The symposium also includes a visit to the Museum of the American West, Autry National Center on Saturday, June 7. "The Autry National Center is particularly pleased to be able to partner with the Getty to augment the offerings of the Curtis Symposium with illuminating behind-the-scenes visits for participants to non-public collection areas at both our Southwest Museum of the American Indian, and our Museum of the American West,” says Rich Deely, senior manager of education and programs for the Autry National Center. “These visits will allow Symposium participants the opportunity to experience some of the items Curtis utilized in his photography firsthand, as well as to explore some of the methods implemented in their long-term conservation."
The symposium examines a variety of themes related to In the Land of the Head-Hunters and Curtis's work. Speakers will discuss the nature of documentary encounters with First-Nations peoples in archives, museums, and the collective imagination; the representation of indigenous culture and ethnicity in film; material considerations in the restoration of early silent film; "Indian music" as a representational phenomenon in film; first-voice ritual in Kwakwaka'wakw culture; and challenges in collecting and display of First-Nations cultures of the Pacific Northwest.
This program is presented by the Getty Research Institute in collaboration with the UCLA Film & Television Archive, UCLA Philharmonia, U'mista Cultural Centre, and the Autry National Center.
For more information, please visit getty.edu/research.
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