Week 9: Text: Letter to Floyd Peterson regarding the 'Orphans'.

Floyd Peterson

12 Maple Place

Warrenville, Connecticut.

December 8th, 1958.

Dear Mr Peterson,

You do not know me nor the client I represent. My name is Douglas Treamore and I was your father’s attorney. It saddens me to contact you in this way. As an executor of wills I must preside over much sorrow. But I write to you with news that I hope will bring you some joy and recompense for whatever pain that you may have suffered as a result of your abandonment to the care of the state. You sir, are now a wealthy man.

It has been known for some time by your half-siblings that your father, Philip Booth, was sitting on a treasure chest, one whose worth was only guessed at, for your father refused to disclose its contents nor have them evaluated, except occasionally to lend a single piece to the local university for examination. These precious artefacts, to which he referred to as his ‘Orphans’, were snippets of motion picture films, inches adding up to miles of footage he had harvested from silent picture reels in his twenty years spent as a movie house projectionist.

Rest assured, your father was no thief, at least, not at first. He was a surgeon of sorts. Films often came to him in terrible shape: sprockets missing, the adhesive between edits dried out, frames split and cracking. A thousand little flaws in that fragile nitrate film that could potentially wreck a whole reel if not identified quickly and mended. Sometimes amputation was the only recourse. In his later years your father expressed to me great dismay at all the moments that were lost this way. That he has preserved so many of them is all due to you and your mother and a little-known film called Ex Memorandum.

Your parents met when they were young and fell in love, as your father said, over a shared passion for cinema that bordered on obsession. Both in their late teens, your mother would religiously attend the Chicago movie house where your father was the apprentice projectionist, sitting for hours through repeat screenings of the comedies, the romances, the trick films and the newsreels, until the temple closed its doors at midnight. She would sit right under the little window through which the projector shot its light at the screen. So close, your father said, it was like she wanted to climb right inside the light and be cast up there, 20ft high. Your father noted this and invited her inside, to get closer… I won’t go on. Suffice to say you weren’t so much born into pictures as conceived in them. Their affair was brief and after a year or two he began to forget her until one night she returned to him in that booth as a vision 20ft high, shining right out of reel 3 of a Biograph thriller called Ex Memorandum.

You will never see this film. After her death your father searched tirelessly for a copy. All that remains is the snippet he saved from the Biograph print and his near perfect memory of it, recorded night after night, for the three weeks in 1921 that the movie house screened it. He has written his recollection down for you. It sits at the top of the trunk of reels here in my office.

He said that there was something in her eyes, the way she looked at the orphans in the story, that said everything he needed to know. She had had a child, she had let it go and she regretted it every day of her life. She was born to play that school teacher. He told me that in the penultimate scene, after she has freed the children locked in the lighthouse, she is drawn back up the stairs by the voice of the pupil she lost. She goes outside onto the deck of the lighthouse and stares out across the ocean. She seemed to stare for an eternity. That was the depth of her gaze. He said he’d never seen such a look in someone’s eyes.

He spent years afterwards liberating moments of longing from the reels he showed. Lillian Gish, Ethel Barrymore, Mary Pickford, Louis Brooks. But none of them showed such sorrow through their beauty as she had. Perhaps that is some clue as to why she died so young and after only that one film. He searched for her in the eyes of the goddesses in whose temple he served and after so many years all he had to show for it was these stolen glances, hundreds of them, close ups and mid shots, pauses in the action, lacunae into which these starlets poured their feelings. Now that the studios have so foolishly destroyed their back catalogues of “worthless” silence, your father’s ‘Orphans’ are the sole inheritors of that legacy. They are all that remains of that great lost silent love.

And they are now yours to do with as you wish.

Yours faithfully,

Douglas Treamore.

P.S. If my mention of half-siblings caused you some shock and chagrin, I do apologise, but imagine the looks on their faces when you were named heir to the treasure they have so long coveted. It was quite a scene.

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