Wednesday 24 August 2016

MATAUNGAN (3) - The mystery of the missing movie deepens. The search goes international... Rod Bishop takes up the story....

This series of posts started way, way back in July when Rod Bishop reported on the disinterment of the film footage he and others shot way back in 1972 for a never completed film tentatively titled Mataungan.  That post can be found by clicking here

Rod wrote a follow up and takes up the story.

In the previous instalment,  a Film Alert  post retrieved Ken Berryman’s exemplary work in examining the archives of the Experimental Film and Television Fund and his pursuit of the original film elements of the long lost Mataungan. The last instalment concluded with Ken Berryman’s pursuit of the remaining Mataungan film materials and the revelation they were shipped to Dave Jones, former La Trobe academic, director of Yackety Yack (1973) and were in Dave’s office at Drexel University, Pennsylvania in 1985.  Ken’s report contained this quote from a response he received from Dave Jones:

"Most - possibly all - of the surviving Mataungan film footage is sitting in my office. A few years ago, when the project seemed to have been finally abandoned in Australia, I asked that the material be sent to me in the hopes I could manage to do something with it...”

Rod Bishop to Dave Jones and Heinz Schütte email 26 July 2016
 Today Ken Berryman sent [an] email about his research into Mataungan in the 1980s.
…towards the end, Ken refers to a letter he received from Dave in 1985 which states all the Mataungan footage is with Dave at Drexel University. Is this true, Dave?

Dave Jones to Rod Bishop and Heinz Schütte email 26 July 2016
It was true, but is no longer.  I was about to write you about this.  I spent much of yesterday looking through some dusty cans and boxes of film material stored in a room in the cinema program here at Drexel (before I received your email…), but the Mataungan material is no longer there.  I think I discarded it sometime in the mid- or late 1990s, along with some footage and films of my own that I thought were no longer of any use or interest…
…I’ve entered a period of my life when I sometimes don’t remember things that happened and sometimes remember things that didn’t happen.  I don’t remember Ken’s inquiry, and I don’t keep good files…
…I was wrong to make the decision to discard or abandon the material without consulting you. It was presumptuous of me, arrogant and inconsiderate…
 I must say, though, that from his description of it, the film that Rod was able to put together is in all probability better—more useful—than what I had suggested could be done with the 16mm footage.  Had a film been made along the lines of my suggestion to Ken, Rod’s version would probably never have been made.

Rod Bishop writes:
Never have been made? “Rod’s version” was made 44 years ago in 1972. Dave Jones, Heinz Schütte, Peter Beilby and many academics and students at The Media Centre, La Trobe University viewed this edited 40-minute version in 1972 and 1973. Yet, Dave Jones seems unaware of its existence and talks of making his own 40-minute version.

The lost material would have included the original 40-minute work print version of Mataungan, the one I telecined in the late 1970s. The version I made is the only surviving version of the film and the one that will be used in the coming Brisbane exhibitions. If Dave Jones had looked at the Mataungan material after it was sent to Drexel, he would have found the 40-minute version of the film.
What has been lost? Probably the original negatives, soundtracks, work prints, offcuts and deleted materials from the telecined double-head 40-minute film that now survives on digital files. The 40-minute film was, in our judgement at the time, the best material we had to hand. The lost offcuts and other deleted material were of historical and anthropological interest and in Heinz Schütte’s words “of singular value and absolutely irreplaceable”.
The same is true of the exposed footage taken from Rabaul by the missing cameraman in 1972 and never recovered. In the welter of recent recollections, we realize we haven’t even remembered how Chris spelt his last name. Was it Chris O’Neil? Chris O’Niall? Chris O’Nial?
And did O’Neil/O’Niall disappear from Rabaul to Wewak? To the Sepik? To Greece? His last known movements came from the late Grey Westerbrook, the ABC stringer in Rabaul at the time. In April of 1972, during the editing period, I received a letter from Grey reporting the way “the Mataungans romped home during the elections…and right now there’s an incredible paranoia in town about ‘what’s going to happen when they throw us out.’ “He adds: “Had a letter from Chris saying he’s on his way up here and to expect him about this time, but I haven’t heard from him since and have no idea what boat he’s coming on – but I guess he’ll turn up.” 
O’Neil/O’Niall has never been heard of again.

The surviving Mataungan footage will be used in two exhibitions at the Queensland Art Gallery – A Bit Na Ta: A Sense of Place, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea and No 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966 – 2016. The concurrent exhibitions run from 15 October 2016 to 29 January 2017.

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