Wednesday, February 1, 2017

David Shepard (1940 - 2017)

David Shepard, a friend to many in the silent film community and a longtime champion of film preservation, has died. He was 76 years old. His ceaseless work on behalf of silent film deserves our ever lasting appreciation.

I saw David just last December, and we exchanged a few words.... Below is a snapshot I took a five or six years back. David, second from the right in a white short, is surrounded by colleagues Kevin Brownlow, Diana Serra Cary (silent film star Baby Peggy), and Leonard Maltin.

I can only claim to have been acquainted with David Shepard (1940 - 2017), having chatted with him numerous times, and having exchanged emails and seen him about at local film festivals for well more than a decade. I will miss him congenial presence. I also enjoyed reading and treasure my autographed copies of his books on movie legends King Vidor and Henry King. It was an honor to have my picture taken with Shepard last summer.

David's involvement with silent film extends to Louise Brooks, who's now lost 1927 film, The City Gone Wild, he almost saved. In his 1990 book, Behind the Mask of Innocence, Kevin Brownlow wrote about an incident in the 1970s. “David Shepard, then with the American Film Institute’s archive program, had a list of 35mm nitrate prints held in a vault Paramount had forgotten it had. He asked me which title I would select, out of all of them, to look at right away. I said The City Gone Wild. He called Paramount to bring it out of the vaults for our collection that afternoon. The projectionist went to pick it up. ‘O, there was some powder on that,’ said the vault keeper ‘We threw it away.’ … He tried to rescue it, even from its watery grave, but a salvage company had carted it off by the time he got there.” A few years ago, I spoke with David about this incident, and he confirmed its details and expressed his frustration.
Back in November, Shepard was honored at a special event at Dartmouth College. At the time, Mike Mashon, Head, Moving Image Section, Motion Picture Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress, said “David is a giant in the field of film preservation, one of those rare talents who exemplifies the scholar’s rigorous research, the archivist’s attention to detail and the fan’s unabashed love and enthusiasm for movies.”

Born in 1940, David had a lifelong love of film, having devoted most of his life to film preservation. Through teaching and scholarship, through his company, Film Preservation Associates, through his ownership of the Blackhawk Films library, and through his film and video restoration efforts, David had long worked behind the scenes helping save early films. Just as importantly, David made these films available to the home video market, first through laserdisc and VHS formats, and more recently through high-quality DVD releases "where the clarity and beauty of these early motion pictures can really be fully appreciated."

Shepard has done as much as anyone to both preserve and promote our film heritage, especially the silent era. Shepard began restoring films when he joined the American Film Institute in 1968 as one of their first staff members. His company, Film Preservation Associates, is responsible for many high quality video versions of silent films. Some of these video releases came from the Blackhawk Films library (also owned by Shepard), and others from materials owned by private collectors and film archives around the world. David lovingly sheparded them into the world. Even this partial list of films restored by Shepard is astounding:

    20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)
    A Farewell to Arms (1932)
    The Birth of a Nation (1915)
    The Black Pirate (1926)
    The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
    Carmen (1915)
    The Cat and the Canary (1927)
    City Lights (1931)
    Don Q Son of Zorro (1925)
    Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
    Faust (1926)
    Foolish Wives (1922)
    The Gaucho (1927)
    The General (1926)
    Go West (1925)
    The Gold Rush (1925)
    The Great Train Robbery (1903)
    The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
    The Kid (1921)
    A King in New York (1957)
    The Last Laugh (1924)
    The Lost World (1925)
    The Love of Jeanne Ney (1927)
    Male and Female (1919)
    Man With a Movie Camera (1929)
    The Mark of Zorro (1920)
    Meet John Doe (1941)
    Modern Times (1936)
    Nanook of the North (1922)
    The Navigator (1924)
    Nosferatu (1922)
    Orphans of the Storm (1921)
    The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
    Robin Hood (1922)
    The Sheik (1921)
    Sherlock Jr. (1924)
    The Son of the Sheik (1926)
    Steamboat Bill (1928)
    Sunrise (1927)
    The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)
    The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
    The Three Musketeers (1921)
    Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914)
    Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926)
    Les Vampires (1915)

There are others, of course. For this work and all that he had done, David was recognized by the San Francisco International Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Denver Silent Film Festival, International Documentary Association, and the National Society of Film Critics, and others. For more about David Shepard and all that he has done, check out these interviews (and watch one of his silent films).

Northwest Chicago Film Society: A Conversation with David Shepard

Digitally Obsessed: A Conversation with David Shepard

Silents are Golden: Interview with David Shepard

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