Update: All links going to the Horror Drunx forum posts are broken. Horror Drunx, for reasons that are painfully obvious, took down their thread about Sid Terror “finding” the movie “London After Midnight”. I have a bunch of screencaps of the thread from before it was deleted at the bottom of my followup post here, so if you want to see where I got all the quotes I use in this post, that’s the place to go.
Update July, 2014: I’m still getting quite a few clicks on this post so one final note: the photos originally on this post disappeared years ago and I don’t feel like going back to 2008 in my photo albums and trying to restore the pictures, so please to enjoy this wall of text. Check archive.org for archived versions of this post with pics if you’re curious. This also works if you’re looking for links that are now broken: right click the link, copy link location, then go to archive.org and plug that link in. Hopefully an old, cached version will be available.
This is not a post about the movie “London After Midnight,” but rather about the recent claim that the film exists and Turner and/or Warner Bros. has simply misplaced it. For those not interested in this kind of thing, you may wish to skip this entry, or just browse the few pictures I have attached to the post.
Recently a gentleman by the name of Sid Terror posted on the Horror Drunx forum that he knew a print of “London After Midnight” (1927) existed. Mr. Terror says he was told that a listing for the print of LAM was in the Warner Bros/Turner archive 20 years ago, that he saw the actual film in the canisters, but now it has been lost again. He wants Warner Bros/Turner to let him into the archive to search for it, which he’ll generously do for free. Unfortunately, several movie blogs linked to the discussion at the forums and gave the claim some purchase, when it’s clear that this is yet another hoax or, at best, a confused and stubborn man.
As the comments on the Horror Drunx forums are routinely deleted and those who express doubt are accused of being sockpuppets, liars, “snobs” or worse, I felt it necessary to use my own blog to explain just why Mr. Terror’s claims are suspect.
Mr. Terror posted his lengthy screed here on July 23, 2008, titled “Finding the Most Sought After ‘Lost’ Film in Cinema History: A Horror Drunx Exclusive”. Mr. Terror first describes a brief history of LAM and of his experience in searching for lost films. His experience, in short, is that he went to old theaters in the 1970s and looked through reels left behind. He claims to have found the only print of the short “Sing Along with Popeye” and says it was the first Popeye cartoon ever made.
Warning bells should go off at this point. He got the name of the short wrong, as it is actually titled “Let’s Sing Along with Popeye”. It was made in 1934 and was not the first Popeye short; the first Popeye short was “I Yam What I Yam”, released a full year earlier in 1933. Further, Popeye and his famous theme song premiered in a Betty Boop cartoon titled “Popeye the Sailor Man” several months before “I Yam What I Yam,” well over a year before this sing-along. It’s difficult to believe that Mr. Terror would honestly claim that he found the only copy of “Let’s Sing Along with Popeye” and yet get the title wrong, and get its place in the Popeye catalogue wrong as well.
Mr. Terror says that in 1988 he was in a rock band (The Undead, apparently) and making “extensive travels” to do “clandestine research missions” at film vaults in the Los Angeles area. Punk rocker by night, lost film detective… also by night, I guess. He worked for a company called “Cinema Delivery Service”, his job picking up and delivering films from Turner’s vaults to restoration facilities. Mr. Terror gives the address as 1610 Argyle Street. The problem is that Mr. Terror is no good with details: there is a 1610 Argyle Avenue, and there is a “Cinema Delivery” there, but “Service” is not part of their name. (You won’t find them if you do an Internet search unless you omit “Service”.) Whether they were open in 1988 or contracted with Turner Entertainment is anyone’s guess. Mr. Terror gives no proof of any of his claims, sans one email, which we will get to in a moment.
Mr. Terror says he worked with two men by the name of Bob Dewitt and his brother Dewey on “The Rose” (1979). Neither the Dewitt brothers nor Mr. Terror appear on the IMDb under “The Rose”, but a Bob Dewitt does appear on the IMDb in a few films from the early 1980s. We can generously assume this is the Dewitt he is referring to, but we should note there is no Dewey Dewitt on the IMDb, nor Sid Terror.
Bob’s wife, Rosalind, was Mr. Terror’s contact at Turner Classic Movies, but I can find no reference to her online either. A post later in the thread says Ms. Dewitt passed on in 1993, meaning there are no eyewitnesses to his claim. (Edit: Lynn of Classic Las Vegas rightly pointed out that Turner Classic Movies was not a station until 1994. Mr. Terror indicates Rosalind was an employee of Turner Entertainment, not TCM. Sorry for the error, and thank you Lynn for catching it!)
Mr. Terror also mentions Laura Dewitt, Rosalind’s daughter, but again the devil is in the details. Laura changes to “Lori” toward the end of the story, and an unsourced email on Ain’t It Cool claims Lori Dewitt has confirmed Mr. Terror’s story. Mr. Terror, in an effort to bolster his claim, posted that Ain’t It Cool email here (in the yellow text).
Back to Sid’s story: He asks Rosalind to look up LAM on the Turner archive database. He doesn’t say why he asked for that specific title or anything, he just does. Rosalind finds the film under “The Hypnotist”, the UK title, and says it’s incomplete but listed as being stored in the Jefferson vault. There are notes apparently indicating that they want to release the film but are waiting until the missing reel is found.
No, that is not even possible. Those who have seen silents on DVD know that many are released with large chunks of the film missing. “Metropolis” was released with nearly 25 minutes missing, although most of those minutes were recently found and Kino is planning on re-releasing the more complete version next year. But it doesn’t even have to be silents, as “A Star is Born” (1954) was released with the huge chunk in the middle restored with stills. Turner would never have sat on the most wanted lost silent film simply because a few minutes were missing.
Sid claims he drove directly to the vault with his gloves and his eyepiece and took the film out to look at it and confirm it was, indeed, “London After Midnight”. He even used a Sharpie he had with him to add “a.k.a. London After Midnight” underneath “The Hypnotist” on the canister.
Again, no. Not in a million years would Mr. Terror have had the clearance to blithely browse through all of Turner’s film archives unsupervised, and be allowed to write with Magic Marker all over their film canisters.
There is also absolutely no way the film would have been such common knowledge that it was sitting on a shelf, with archival information pointing directly to it, without any of the high-profile, big name, influential movie researchers, historians, and archivists searching for it knowing about it. Especially given that the film was to be released. We’re supposed to believe Turner was going to release the movie, yet never bothered to tell anyone like Forrest J. Ackerman about the film.
Later in the piece, Mr. Terror explains this all away: “The film hasn’t been discovered by someone high enough up in the studio system to make [re-discovery] a reality yet.” That’s right, kids, the only reason the most sought-after lost film hasn’t been found is because of bureaucracy.
The finale of the story: Mr. Terror was fired from Cinema Delivery a few months later and just assumed Turner would “do the right thing”. Despite starting out saying the story was set in 1988, he then says it was 1991, as a “year later” in 1992 he re-met Laura/Lori. He further states that in the early 1990s, AMC was going to show LAM, but says that AMC was owned by Turner. This guy claims to be a film researcher and preservationist, yet he confused AMC with TCM.
By now I hope everyone is convinced that Mr. Terror is more than a little confused.
Sid initially included only one bit of proof, an email from Ted Newsom. However, Mr. Terror has since removed it as it has been refuted by Newsom himself. Newsom’s comments were deleted from the original thread. The original email (which can still be seen on Dread Central here) quoted Newsom as saying:
Understand, the database also included MGM assets, though corporately MGM had no interest in the rights themselves. As a lark one day, I looked up L.A.M. and found nothing. Well, duh. And as I was scouting through the d.b., there was THE HYPNOTIST… specifically, ‘THE HYPNOTIST, aka LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT.” In the MGM database.
Maybe Newsom saw the film listed in the archives, but that means nothing. Turner’s online archives list plenty of lost films. Here’s one: Convention City.
The email from Newsom has been replaced with a rant about how Newsom is “untrustworthy” and “boneheaded” and that he “manufactured” his information. So that’s the second example of manufactured information Mr. Terror has used in this article to prove he’s right, the first example being the faked LAM title card used in his post. He calls it a “recreation”. I call it laughable.
Mr. Terror dismisses the 2002 film recreation of LAM as the filmmaker not doing enough research to just find the actual footage like he did. However, the recreation was financed by Turner Classic Movies itself, and produced by Rick Schmidlin, who has done many fine recreations and won a Rondo Award for LAM. Who would you believe?
The final problem with this narrative is that Mr. Terror “helpfully” included the names and phone numbers of archivists at UCLA and Warner Bros, with the instructions later in the thread (post #4) for people to “rattle some cages”. Some of the little fans of Mr. Terror did contact UCLA, Warner, news outlets, websites, and Roger Ebert.
Isn’t that nice. Mr. Terror has created a claim where doesn’t have to do a damn thing. He can lazily claim he saw the film 20 years ago and then demand everyone else go find it for him. If it does get found, he will simply say “I told you so”. If it doesn’t get found, he can blame others.
Listing the full names and contact information of these busy people, claiming that LAM can be found as long as people keep badgering these film professionals, is irresponsible and reprehensible. These are hard-working people who are often saddled with the thankless job of preserving precious, decaying films without the proper equipment, staff, and funds. Their job is largely unsung but is vitally important, and if it weren’t for these fine people, film fans like you and I would have suffered. Not only is Mr. Terror completely unprofessional by listing the contact information, his little wannabes who are trying to ingratiate themselves with an almost-famous dude on the Internet are pathetic. Of all the ridiculous parts of this hoax, this is the most vile.
When confronted with well-founded arguments, the moderators at Horror Drunx banned people, deleted the posts and said only two things: Sid Terror is out of town for a few days, and “prove us wrong.” Repeated later in a huge font, I guess in an attempt to win the argument. When Sid Terror finally returned, he said that the issue was “not up for debate”. I also had to laugh at his comment about how well he referenced sources, and if you’ve read this far, you know why I laughed.
Ultimately, I invite anyone who thinks this is true to just go read the whole thread over at Horror Drunx. Anyone who took more than a passing glance at the thread should have known this was a farce from the beginning, and all the disingenuous “Was it found?” blog posts were unnecessary. It is painfully obvious that neither Mr. Terror nor the posters of Horror Drunx have any idea how film archival, storage, research and restoration are done, and members of HD are simply supporting their semi-famous friend’s claim. How naive can you be to say that LAM can be found if “we just all work together”, or to ask “Why would Sid Terror lie about this?”
Why? To get his name attached via Google to the idea that he is a film researcher, historian, and finder of important lost films, including his unsourced and unlikely claim that he found the only print of the first Popeye cartoon. He also claims to have been big friends and colleagues of important people in the film industry. Sure, he offers no proof, but never underestimate the power of simply putting that information out there on Google.
There. Can we all go back to looking for prints of “Convention City” now?
EDIT: Apparently not. I have a follow up post here.
LINKS & CREDITS
“London After Midnight” ad shamelessly stolen from Neato Coolville
Taliesen Meets the Vampire
The alt.movies.silent thread about this “discovery”
Bioscopic “On Not Finding London After Midnight”
ChaneyFan’s LAM Page
1000 Misspent Hours’ Review of the 2002 LAM Reconstruction