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Restore the silent film Little Orphant Annie (1918).  With Colleen Moore, from James Whitcomb Riley poem.
Restore the silent film Little Orphant Annie (1918). With Colleen Moore, from James Whitcomb Riley poem.
227 backers pledged $10,647 to help bring this project to life.

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I am trying to gather materials to restore Little Orphant Annie (1918) from the best prints possible.  The Library of Congress has material that is far superior to anything you may have seen on this title before.  They have kindly made their prints available for us to do a restoration.

The hurry on it is that we'd like to have this done (or at least pretty close to done) by the end of 2016 for the Indiana Bicentennial celebration, and the centennial of the death of the poet James Whitcomb Riley.

We are hoping to have this project finished by December 2016, with most premiums delivered in December or January.  This would include DVDs and Blu-Rays.

The film Little Orphant Annie (1918) was made by Selig Polyscope just as they were going out of business. It's an elaborate expansion of a classic poem by James Whitcomb Riley that tells the story of Annie, known as the dream-child, who warns kids to say their prayers and to be ever vigilant else "the Gobble-uns'll git you Ef you Don't Watch Out!" (the goblins will get you if you don't watch out!)  Even if you don't know anything about Riley, but you'll likely know that quote.  It's probably the most famous line he ever wrote.

Full of fascinating imagery both romantic and fanciful, the Little Orphant Annie was a springboard for young star Colleen Moore, who was to become one of the top stars of the 1920s. Annie is Moore's earliest surviving starring vehicle. It's easy to see why she became such a popular star, since she has a magnetic presence that keeps the viewer's interest all through the film.

Moore had hoped to continue doing films for Selig and to remain "the Riley girl," meaning to do more adaptations of Riley poems. She had previously appeared in Selig's now-lost A Hoosier Romance, also based on a Riley poem, but Annie was to be her last for Selig.

Riley appears in the introduction and ending of the film, which is a subject of some study among historians. Riley scholar Brigette Cook Jones has discovered documentation showing that Riley shot some scenes for the now-lost 1916 Indiana Centennial film.  This footage of Riley is reused in Little Orphant Annie.  The shot of Riley surrounded by children is now quite famous, even appearing in a courthouse mural in Greenfield, Indiana (Riley's home town).  In the original version, he was reading from the story of Indiana to the children, but Selig re-edited it so that Riley is reading from the story of Little Orphant Annie.

This is some of the only footage of Riley, and it was taken outside his residence in Indianapolis shortly before his death. Clips of the same footage appear in documentaries fairly often, almost always in truncated form. In Annie, Riley is shown introducing the poem, dedicating it especially to the wildest children.

The history and preservation of Little Orphant Annie is a troubled one. Selig closed up shop in his Chicago studios and moved west at about this time. Once Colleen Moore became a bigger star, there was a demand for a reissue, which happened in 1926.

There are three surviving prints of the film: one, an exquisitely tinted 35mm nitrate from the 1926/7 era, which is decomposing and cannot be used for anything but a tint reference; two, a 16mm diacetate Kodascope from the same reissue; and three, a partial 16mm diacetate Kodascope containing the first two-thirds of the film.

These prints are confusing, in seemingly random order, having been spliced haphazardly in the 90 years of their existence. This also may be due to the negative being stored in tinting order (the order in which the tints appear in the film, which makes the lab work easier... but requires someone to reassemble the prints in the right order.)

The result is that each print has unique footage, and not one of the three prints is in the same order. It will take considerable time and effort to sort this out.

Diacetate prints are rather long-lived, but they have a tendency to dry out and become brittle. This causes little breaks to occur every so often, which will be a problem as well. The two diacetate prints were printed at different scales (magnifications), and their contrast levels don't match (see the video for a demonstration of this). This means that we will be able to replace footage missing in one print with the other print, but a huge effort will need to be expended in matching the contrast and scale so that the extended version is not jarring to watch.

This project will eventually reside at the Library of Congress, where they will make the determination of whether to archive it as a digital project or on film. The Library has kindly allowed access to the three prints, and we are hoping to combine these and do a cursory digital clean up (enough to make it presentable, but to maintain the "film look" it now has).

Colleen Moore biographer Jeff Codori is busy preparing a commentary and images for the film, and Riley scholar Brigette Cook Jones has prepared extensive notes on the poem itself, including "Where is Mary Alice Smith?" and how these works were altered and morphed into the much later comic strip.  The comic strip is its own work, but it uses some Riley elements... just enough to avoid copyright infringement.

Please help us in this quest to restore Little Orphant Annie to its important place in the history of motion pictures, of Colleen Moore, and of Indiana's most famous poet, James Whitcomb Riley, on the 100th anniversary of his death.

Risks and challenges

The surviving prints are in pretty ratty shape. It's possible that we may find that it takes more work to obtain one good print from the three survivors. We've tried to budget for this, but sometimes unforeseen things happen.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    Just the card, please.

    Post card thanking you for your support of this preservation project.

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    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    Take it home with you.

    DVD of restored Little Orphant Annie plus post card.

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    Pledge $30 or more About $30

    The serious collector wants Blu-Ray

    Blu-Ray of restored Little Orphant Annie plus post card.

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    The combo pack, both formats

    DVD and Blu-Ray of restored Little Orphant Annie

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    I LOVE PRESERVATION PACK!

    1 DVD of Orphant Annie preservation
    1 DVD-R of Chapter 5,6,and 10 of the restored serial King of the Kongo. No frills on this one, but you asked for it, so you got it!

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    The preservationist

    T-shirt from Dr. Film.net PLUS Blu-Ray.

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    Pledge $150 or more About $150

    I WANT Blu-Ray AND Kongo!

    Blu-Ray of Little Orphant Annie
    Restored Chapters 5,6,10 of King of the Kongo on DVD-R

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    Pledge US$ 200 or more About US$ 200

    Talk to the preservationist

    A 30 minute discussion on Skype or Facetime with preservationist Eric Grayson. No questions barred, but sometimes we do have to maintain secrecy on upcoming projects! PLUS your choice of DVD or Blu-Ray.

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    The journeyman preservationist

    Special thank you in Blu-Ray credits, 5 Blu-Rays, 5 DVDs.

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    The serious preservationist

    Your name on special thank-you screen, all by itself, plus 8 DVDs and Blu-Rays.

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    Pledge US$ 1,750 or more About US$ 1,750

    The Impressario

    A public showing of Little Orphant Annie with a preservation presentation by Eric Grayson and a live piano score. Must be within 300 mile radius of Indianapolis or extra travel money may be necessary.

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Funding period

- (30 days)