Tuesday, 28 November 2006

The first feature film to be made, ever, The Story of the Kelly Gang, has been (partly) rejuvenated. Archivists have put together 18 minutes of the film. When it was made it was much longer, at a time when films generally ran for no more than twenty minutes.

When the original hour-long film, directed by Charles Tait and costing £1000, was first shown at the Melbourne Town Hall on December 26, 1906, it created a sensation.

The Sydney Morning Herald covered the story last Friday. Tonight, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's 7.30 Report ran a story about it. The Web site now contains a complete transcript of the piece, by reporter Ben Knight.

"With the Story of the Kelly Gang we see the beginnings of a film grammar," says Graham Shirley, a senior curator at the National Film and Sound Archive, who was interviewed for the show, among others.

One archivist found seven minutes of film in a British archive just by doing a Web search. Other footage appeared in a garbage dump and during a house renovation. Reconstruction of the badly-damaged footage was performed in Australia and Amsterdam.

To mark the film's 100th anniversary, a digitally enhanced version of the 18 minutes rescued from oblivion will get its own world premiere in Canberra next Thursday.

It'll be interesting to see what sort of coverage this will receive in the broadsheets in two days' time. Ned Kelly has captivated Australians for over a hundred years, since he was hanged in 1880, and even before. "In the time since his execution," says the Wikipedia, "Ned Kelly has been mythologized among some into a Robin Hood figure of sorts, a political revolutionary and a figure of Irish Catholic and working-class resistance to the establishment and British colonial ties."

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