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The Bootleg Files: Love

BOOTLEG FILES 710: “Love” (newly bootlegged version of a copyright-protected restoration of a 1919 comedy short starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbucke).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: This just appeared online two days ago.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS:
Someone must have thought it was okay to rip off the presentation because the source material is public domain.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely at all.

The basic premise of this column is to highlight rare film and television productions that can only be seen in bootlegged prints and unauthorized online video postings. The column has never encouraged bootlegging of copyright-protected work. On occasion, this column has considered public domain titles that are the subject of endless duping because of their lapsed copyrights – and in too many cases, the only way that one can appreciate those works is by enduring the duped versions.

This week’s column is a bit different because the source material – a 1919 short film called “Love” – is in the public domain. However, the version that was bootlegged is a restored version of “Love” that is copyright protected. And not only was the film bootlegged, but it was disfigured with a horrible colorization process that wrecks the beautiful black-and-white cinematography of the original print.

“Love” was directed and co-written by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who also held the starring role of a poor farm boy in love with Winifred (the beautiful Winifred Westover), the daughter of a cantankerous old farmer (Frank Hayes, a master of mugging funny faces). The farmer is not impressed with Fatty and seeks to marry his daughter off to the doltish son a wealthy neighbor (played by Al St. John). When an attempt at elopement goes terribly wrong, Fatty conspires to win the fair Winifred by donning drag and taking on the work of a newly hired cook for the old farmer.

I will admit that I am not a huge fan of Arbuckle’s work, which I consider to having a strange habit of wobbling between the innovative and the feral. On the positive side, there are great sight gags including Fatty’s entrance on a motorized mini-bike dubbed the “Fordette,” an ingenious special effect involving the farmer’s descent in a bucket to the depths of a well, the wacky elopement where Fatty crashes on a ladder through the kitchen window while Winifred gets pilloried in a window, and the outlandish plot to foil the distressed damsel’s arranged marriage. Arbuckle also had a habit of intentionally kidding the filmmaking process, which is on display here by his too-frequent looking at the camera and in a cute moment when he plays with the animated stars circling his head after he experiences a crash to his cranium. Also, the film is blessed with Al St. John’s wildly acrobatic pratfalls, which constantly steals the show from his co-stars.

On the minus side, Arbuckle milks the falling in the well gag until it is bone dry, with multiple descents involving the farmer, Al St. John and a clumsy farmhand (Monty Banks). Arbuckle also engages in an unpleasant round of insults with an overweight female cook, and there is a dismal scene where he spikes the farmer’s dinner with soap. At one point, the four male leads wind up swatting each other in the rear end with brooms for no particularly funny reason. Unfortunately, the minuses outweigh the pluses, and the 23-minute film, “Love” loses its appeal much too soon.

Nonetheless, “Love” was part of a series of successful shorts that established Arbuckle as one of Hollywood’s top comedy stars. Alas, the 1921 scandal involving the death of starlet Virginia Rappe at a party hosted by Arbuckle wrecked his career, and many of his films were destroyed under the belief they would no longer have commercial value. “Love” was lost in the U.S. and was only recovered when prints were discovered in the Danish Film Institute and La Cineteca Del Friuli in Bologna, Italy.

Film historian Paul E. Gierucki restored the surviving elements and wrote new intertitles with David Pearson because the original intertitles were not among the extant footage. These intertitles were copyright protected, and in 2005 Gierucki released “Love” in a DVD anthology called “The Forgotten Films of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle,” which also included a new music score by Rodney Sauer.

So, imagine Gierucki’s dismay when his his reconstruction of “Love” turned up in an unauthorized posting on YouTube on December 4. The Sauer score was jettisoned and the print was given a dreary colorization job that looked like a faded two-strip Technicolor print, but Gierucki recognized where the source material originated.

“This was stolen from one of my DVD restorations, our credits stripped off, alterations made, and people in no way connected with us are collecting ad revenue on it via YouTube,” he wrote on Facebook. “This robs the various artists and contributors of their credits, and lessens our ability to sell our products, which means fewer future restorations. No one thinks beyond instant personal gratification. Also note that they left in the dialogue cards – which were created by my graphic artist and written by myself and David Pearson – all of which is covered by copyright.”

Gierucki added, “It took the work of two major film archives, dozens of people working behind these scenes, and thousands of dollars to create a complete version of this film. It exists nowhere else in the world as it is seen here.”

Gierucki has filed a Take Down Notice with YouTube, and I assume this version will be removed in the coming days. Rather than link you to that bootlegged monstrosity, I would recommend that you check out Gierucki’s DVD release of “The Forgotten Films of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle” to enjoy some of the finest restoration work available for home entertainment viewing.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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