Not Seen in Over Half a Century: The Recovery of The Player (1971)


Red Shirt
I found this in r/ObscureMedia. From the YouTube video description:

Today is FT Depot’s four-year anniversary of uploading a new 35mm (and occasionally 16mm) scan every single day. Today we are releasing an entire LOST FEATURE film which we unearthed for today’s anniversary. To the best of our knowledge, this movie has not been seen in any form for over fifty years.

The Player is a 1971 feature film shot at Shopper's Pool Room in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was written and directed by former professional billiards player Thomas DeMartini. The movie was a belated response to the success of the 1961 Jackie Gleason / Paul Newman film The Hustler which was based on Minnesota Fats. In this movie however, they got the real Minnesota Fats to play himself. It was produced by Gordon Ogden, president of the production company International Cinema. The Player was the production company's first film and it only played for one week before they pulled it out of circulation from Gordon's theater chain, Ogden-Perry Theatres. Reportedly, only thirty prints were struck.

The movie's principal cast were a group of unknowns, but it also included some professional billiard players, most notably Rudolf Wanderone, Jr. (AKA "Minnesota Fats"), who at the time of the film's release was one of the most famous billiard players of all time, as well as professional billiards player Jack Colavita. Both actors played themselves.

Regarding this lost film, the best background we have been able to put together on the history of this specific 35mm print is that it played at a theater on its original release in 1971. It is unknown if the distributor abandoned the print or why it was never returned and instead sat in the theater for around fifteen to twenty years until the theater closed. The theater’s projection service technician fortunately saw it was discarded and took it with him when he was removing the projection equipment.

Several years later the technician dropped the print off at a drive-in theater which he was also servicing. It was assembled onto a center ring for platter projection with the intention to watch it one night after hours. After a while the print was carried downstairs (still fully assembled on a platter center ring) and was propped up against the wall in the back of an outside storage room to get it out of the way until they decided to run it. However, the drive-in never actually projected the print since their double features ended so late in the night, and everyone was always too tired. This all happened an estimated twenty-five years ago.

This storage room is where we discovered the print. The room literally had a hole in the roof with rainwater puddles on the floor and was completely exposed to the outside elements for what was likely a good twenty years.

Fortunately, we found it when we did, as once we realized it was a lost feature and needed to put forth the effort to save it, a considerable amount of work and time at the Film-Tech restoration lab was spent just unblocking it. Had it stayed there for another six months or a year, it would have likely been past the point of salvaging the complete feature.

The film is suffering badly from advanced stages of vinegar syndrome and most of the movie was physically “blocked.” (A blocked print is where all or a combination of high humidity, tight winding and/or warm temperature storage causes the layers of film to fuse together into one big solid mass.)

Even after we were able to unwind the blocked print, it was still suffering from heavy physical distortion. There was significant water damage in spots where parts of the image or soundtrack were not able to be saved (especially in the end credits). Custom modifications had to be made to the scanner to be able to keep the majority of the frame in focus during the scan due to the extreme level of shrinking, warping and buckling that the film was suffering from. You will see effects of this physical damage particularly in the first reel where the image stretches and shrinks horizontally in a repetitive pattern.

Please keep this in mind as the beginning of the movie is pretty rough but does get steadily better as the movie progresses. The picture becomes generally stable in the second reel.

Most of the film’s colors were able to be preserved reasonably well, but there are sections where the tint shifts back and forth from the VS degradation. For those scenes we aimed for an “average” on color balance.

There was a lot of dirt physically embedded into the emulsion of the image as well. This would not come off due to the poor storage conditions the film suffered in for so many years. Although we do have more aggressive techniques to remove embedded dirt, there was a limit as to the measures we could perform on this print with it already being at the end of hospice.

FT Depot is pleased to be able to present this historically important fifty-three-year-old “lost” film, even with all of its defects.

35mm 4K Film Scan

Original Theatrical Release Date: November 5, 1971​
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