Treasure or Treason? – Tales From the World of Film Preservation

     |    Monday, der 10. September 2012

By Andrew Horn

Making movies, like any form of art is a series of problems to be solved. In a movie, though, it’s really more like disaster management. One has to take that as a given but it Bild einfügennever makes it any easier. You might think that once the film is finished, out there, and run it’s course, it would be over and you can move on to the next catastrophe. Or rather you’d like to think that.

A couple of months ago I wrote something about my own experience about having to get an old film of mine out of hock from a lab. There were in the meantime more developments on that front but whatever I may be having to deal with, it pales in comparison to this story from a friend of mine, Mark Rappaport, who some of you may know or have heard of.

Still from arguably Rappaport's most well-known film, "Rock Hudson's Home Movies"


I received the following letter from him the other day describing this rather disturbing – ok, infuriating – situation, that he has been going through on the issue of preserving and exploiting his past work. He had already told me the whole story on the phone a while ago but reading it now one particular aspect of this strikes me as really disturbing – i.e., as in some Latin saying or other, „From my enemies I can defend myself. God save me from my friends.”



September 2012

To all filmmakers, film critics, film archivists, film academics, curators, festival directors, and film enthusiasts everywhere—

I am writing to you because something very unforeseen, very unexpected, and most unpleasant recently happened in my life.


When I moved to Paris seven years ago, I had to decide whether or not to take with me copies of my films, video masters, early drafts of scripts, duplicates of reviews and announcements, etc. When I mentioned this to Ray Carney, tenured professor at Boston University and author of several books on John Cassavetes and who also claims he is „generally recognized to be the leading scholarly authority on American narrative art film,“ he eagerly offered to hold all of my materials. I accepted his offer, with the understanding that he would return them to me upon request and that they remain at BU. Five years later, in 2010, I requested the return of some of my video masters to make copies of them for various film archives in Europe. Carney duly returned those video masters to me. They were in excellent condition.

Since that time, various companies have expressed interest in streaming my films, and UCLA, in conjunction with The Sundance Institute, have volunteered to archive video masters of Sundance alumni films. In early April, I made several requests to Carney for the return of my materials. I sent Carney several e-mails (to various e-mail addresses), and I called his home and office and left numerous messages. Carney ignored all of my attempts to reach him. As a result, I hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts, where a judge issued a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against Carney. The court entered a default against Carney (who had not responded to my complaint) and ordered Carney to return the materials to me, or else be held in contempt of court. After that, Carney hired a lawyer who stated Carney intends to defend his conduct by arguing that I “gave” him the materials outright as „a gift.”

"The Scenic Route"


There is much at stake here for me. Without the digital video masters, my films, everything prior to 1990, „Casual Relations“, „Local Color, „The Scenic Route“, „Impostors“, „Mark Rappaport—The TV Spin-Off“, „Chain Letters“, plus the High-Definition version of „Exterior Night“, cannot be made available for streaming, commercial DVDs, video-on-demand, or any electronic delivery system down the road. My life as a filmmaker, my past, and even my future reputation as a filmmaker are at stake. I gave Carney no rights to my materials except the right to hold them and return them to me on request. His lawyer has refused to disclose the current location of my materials.

Carney tried to cast doubt on the truthfulness of the inventory I presented. Furthermore, under oath, he stated „some of the items I received I no longer have because I gave them away to third parties. I discarded other items due to the degraded and unusable condition they were in when I received them. Finally, I discarded other items at later dates after they were worn-out by the normal wear and tear of being used.“ This is sworn statement from Carney who, earlier, on his website bragged, „Mark is a great friend and gave me almost everything he owned when he left New York for France… So I am now the ‚Mark Rappaport Archive.‘ I have the largest collection of material by him in the world: file cabinets and storage bins full of amazing things: production notebooks, film prints, rough drafts, revisions, scripts, film stock, DVDs, tapes, notes, jottings, journals, etc. etc. etc. It’s a dream come true for me and one of the major film collections by one of the world’s greatest artists. All being preserved for posterity at any cost.“ (PLEASE NOTE: If this interests you, go to the website before this entry is removed.)

Elsewhere, he describes me as „a genuine national treasure.“

Jean Seberg and Mary Beth Hurt in "From The Journals of Jean Seberg"

The judge, at a pre-trial hearing, demanded that Carney supply the court with a full inventory of what he still had, what he gave away, and what he destroyed. Carney subsequently delivered a full inventory—which included absolutely everything I gave him. None of it had been given away or destroyed. Although he clearly had perjured himself, I was ecstatic to learn my materials were intact. After four and a half months of this, Carney got in touch with me to propose a deal, saying, „I sincerely wish you well and I am sorry this issue has come between us.“ „I am willing,“ he writes,to „ship everything back for a modest consideration, simply to cover my costs and the time and trouble of having stored the material for the past seven-and-a-half years.“ In return for my own films, I was to pay him $27,000! Some may call this extortion, I call it merely outrageous. Just to put it in perspective, that would equal 3 years of the monies I get from Social Security. To continue the suit to trial would have cost me about the same amount, in addition to the thousands I had already spent. I couldn’t afford to continue.

"Exterior Night"


Just when I filed for a dismissal of the suit, Carney demanded back, because he claims they were part of „the gift“ I gave him, the video masters that he returned to me in 2010—namely „From the Journals of Jean Seberg“, „Postcards“, „Exterior Night“, and „John Garfield“.

I’ve heard somewhat similar stories from other filmmakers, although none quite as breathtaking as this.

For a variety of reasons, I think this is a cautionary tale you might consider emailing to colleagues, friends, and acquaintances who are interested in the conservation and protection of works by non-mainstream filmmakers, film preservation in general, and archiving not just films but film-related artifacts of the recent past by independent filmmakers. Please feel free email this letter, post this on Facebook pages, and submit it to various blogs.


To my discredit, it didn’t occur to me at first to say anything about it here but then I saw it posted elsewhere and realized I do in fact have my little voice and I ought to use it.

So aside from the infuriating part of just the pure (and I guess you could say in both senses of the word) existential hassle of it all, what strikes me is the abject unnecessariness of it all. In the sense of what does this person even get out of it?

Silver Screen - Color Me Lavender

He is not making any money from it, i.e. he’s not trying to exploit Mark’s work himself. He is not – at least as far as Mark explains it – enacting some form of revenge for some previous slight or act. He is probably having to pay for the storage of all of it and should theoretically welcome getting some of it – or probably at this point, all of it – out of his hair. And as far as he presents himself as evidenced in the link that Mark included in the letter, he is an admirer. A big admirer.

And, as reported, the whole thing has escalated into lawyers and injunctions and suits creating all sorts of costs on both sides. So why does he even want to pay for that? I, unfortunately, am no stranger to someone I thought was a friend starting something that escalated into just such an expensive and spiteful proposition. But that, at least, had a motive which, if I didn’t think it was at all respectable, at least had a point. Of some kind.

This one has me stumped.

As we get older a lot of us are having to deal with the consolidation of our past work and, dare I say it, our legacy. Needless to say this is not the way it’s supposed to go. And this is not what friends are for.

Anybody who has any thoughts or advice or wants to know more, can contact Mark Rappaport through Facebook.