"The Hound of the Baskervilles"!
In 2009, during the renovation of a church building in Sosnowiec, an extraordinary treasure was discovered – cans of film on flammable nitrate. The film experts who were asked to assist with the investigation into the contents of the cans confirmed that they contained valuable materials from the silent movie era. The small collection was then transported to the National Film Archive, where the identification work uncovered a picture hitherto regarded as missing – a 1929 version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles", directed by Richard Oswald.
"Der Hund von Baskerville", the film’s original title, is an adaptation of one of the most popular Sherlock Holmes novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The film was produced by the Berlin studio Erda-Film-Produktion and is the last screen adaptation of the adventures of the genius detective made during the silent cinema era. The print now stored in the National Film Archive – Audiovisual Institute's collection is the only known surviving 35 mm print of the film.
We are delighted that this year's edition of the Silent Movie Festival will have such an exceptional opening. The decision to present "The Hound of the Baskervilles" during this year's Festival was the starting point for us to put together a programme of other interesting films from that period, where the main hero is either Sherlock himself or other detectives inspired by him.
With the mysterious death of Lord Charles Baskerville, the legend of a “phantom dog” that terrorises members of the family returns. The heir of the deceased, Sir Henry, does not believe in the existence of the infernal beast. When he gets an anonymous warning, however, he asks Sherlock Holmes for help. The detective sends Watson to Baskerville Hall, where the doctor quickly realises that strange things are indeed happening there...
About the restoration work
Thanks to the joint efforts of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival Foundation and FINA, in 2016-2017 the film was digitised and restored. In addition, the 35 mm film unearthed during the renovation work on the church was supplemented with fragments of a shortened amateur version on Pathé-Baby 9.5 mm film, distributed in the 1930s in France and currently owned by a private collector, Michael Seeber.
The conservation and digitisation work took place in the FINA labs. For over half a century, nobody had looked inside the forgotten cans hidden in the church basement and the conditions in which they were stored – with a lack of ventilation, excessive temperatures and, above all, a high level of humidity – usually lead quickly to decomposition. It was a huge surprise, therefore, when these cans, stored in such bad conditions, were found to still be in relatively good condition. And after painstaking conservation work, they were able to be put through a film scanner and digitised into 4K theatrical definition.
A big challenge was the digitisation of the 9.5 mm film, whose technical condition and shrinkage, mainly due to its narrow gauge format, had resulted in serious damage to the film base and significantly lower visual quality.
In spring 2017, the digital materials from both prints were sent to San Francisco, and a film restoration studio working in partnership with the SFSFF. The discovered prints used for the restoration work on "The Hound of the Baskervilles" had been heavily exploited – hence their very scratched and damaged surfaces. Both sets of film materials were incomplete, but combining them together made it possible for them to complement each other. After comparing the media and merging the film into the fullest possible form, many months of restoration work then ensued. Although the work took place overseas, we were in constant consultation during each stage of the process.
Thanks to the censorship card found in the German archives, it was possible to carefully reconstruct the sequence/order of scenes and intertitles. The original content of the German intertitles preserved in the documentation provided the basis for new translations (into Polish and English). In the missing places, bridging text, illustrated with stills from the film, was inserted to help the viewers keep up with the action. The restoration work was limited to the areas of largest damage and the biggest gaps, but great attention was also paid to the visual blending of the materials that differed significantly in quality and contrast.
Research into the history and preserved documentation of the film was undertaken by Professor Russell Merritt from the University of California at Berkeley, a specialist in film adaptations of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The work coordinating the processes of the image restoration and reconstruction was taken on by Robert Byrne, director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
Repremiere in San Francisco
On 2 June 2018, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival hosted the premiere of the restored film with music composed for the occasion by Günter Buchwald, with the accompaniment of Frank Bockius and Sascha Jacobsen. The show took place at the Castro Theater, a cult historic cinema that can house over 1,400 spectators. This Polish-American project turned out to be the hit of the festival – playing to a packed house!
A special session entitled "Amazing Tales from the Archives" also helped to shed some light on the history of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" when the project coordinator from FINA – Dr Elżbieta Wysocka, director of SFSFF Robert Byrne and Professor Russell Merritt all discussed the production of the film, its fate and the work needed to restore it to the screen.
Return to Warsaw
The Polish premiere of the film took place on 21 November 1929 in Warsaw's Capitol cinema. After 90 years, the film is now returning to the big screen, this time at the Iluzjon cinema, where it will be accompanied by live music performed by Stefan Wesołowski. Before the film, there will be a discussion panel comprising some of the festival’s special guests on the subject of the detective work carried out by the archivists.
April 4 – 7