A special post today: After much technical hoodoo, I’ve just posted a video transfer of “The Long Walk,” the short film of Edwin Land that was shot by Bill Warriner for Polaroid’s 1970 shareholders’ meeting. Apart from a couple of very short clips that made it into Polaroid promotions, and a snippet in my own book trailer, it has never (as far as I know) been shown in public until now.
The first portion of the film–a helicopter tour of Polaroid’s facilities in Massachusetts–is fairly corporate stuff, and Land’s subsequent walk-through of the future processes his factory will employ was probably more interesting to the shareholders than it is to us. But the last half of the film is fascinating, because he speaks at length about his vision of the future of photography, and what it will mean. Watch and you’ll see; the moment when he describes the way we’ll all be taking photos someday, using “something like a wallet,” is breathtaking. Land’s gesture–his hand dipping into his coat pocket, the black rectangle held up to the eye–is startlingly familiar in our smartphone age.
There’s a weird story about this, too. I had hoped to see this film while researching my book, and although the Harvard Business School library that houses Polaroid’s archives surely has a copy, its staff has not yet catalogued the a/v collection. They couldn’t find it for me. I had nearly given up when I found a mention of it in a Polaroid Retirees Association newsletter, and tracked down a guy who had kept a copy, and he sent me a DVD. It was a transfer from the camera negative to a 16-mm. print to a videotape to a DVD, and looked it, but I was extremely grateful to have it.
And then, just two days after my book came out, I was noodling around on eBay and saw it: one of the original 16-mm. prints. Somehow, it had escaped Polaroid, found its way into a collection that was being broken up, and gone up for auction. A few days later, it was mine, and because the seller turns out to be in the business of transferring film to high-quality video, I can present the results to you here. The film’s color has degraded, and in the actual film print has shifted badly to red; I’ve done a simple color-correction but no more.
UPDATE, 1/27/2013: After seeing his film for the first time in decades, director Bill Warriner offered the following reflections, at 43 years’ distance. Read them out loud as you watch, if you want a DVD-style commentary track.
This so made my day. What a period piece! I forgot we did the whole guided tour schtick, but it’s a thrill to revisit. I hafta admit that I’m ashamed of dissolving from whirling helicopter blades to Land walking into frame, ’cuz nowadays I’d say to a fledgling editor “YOU GOT THE ROTOR BLADES CUTTING HIS FEET OFF!” But maybe I was not the world’s most sophisticated filmmaker back then. Some of those cutaways make me laugh.
I even like the magenta hue with all the schmutz in the frame. I wish you could have seen it in its original 35mm theatrical glory. Eastman 5254 negative fades, but those 16mm prints were much more unstable.
It hits me now that although he ad libbed it, there’s a stiff, uptight delivery style in front of the camera that he never had on stage. It’s an odd self-consciousness. Onstage in front of 3,000 people he was truly in command; here it seems like the camera was in command. By the time we shot the scene where he made “the iPhone prediction,” the day had worn on and he had loosened up a little. And he became profoundly eloquent during The Walk. He was also, in his favorite word, elegant.
I also remember how “classical statistical quality control” got stuck in his throat and I think in his heart he hated W. Edwards Deming. There were a lot of awkward edits because he got ticked off whenever you said “Cut.” He would only do 1 or 2 retakes of anything.
We had no 35mm film editing suites in Boston then, so I cut it at Joe Pelicano’s Pelco Productions on 5th Avenue. Doyle Dane Bernbach cut most of their commercials there, and just down the hall, in a small editing room by himself, the great Bob Gage was editing bubbles on a Moviola for an Alka-Seltzer spot.
It’s really instructive to revisit Dr. Land’s slow pacing, reflecting down to Mother Earth; it was his signature even on stage. He would sometimes keep an audience breathless through a long silence; the longer it was the more dramatic it became. I sometimes wondered whether or not he understood that–and it was thus an affectation–but now I believe he was truly shaping the words during those pauses. I don’t believe it was stagecraft. He cared about getting the phrasing precise, like you do. He wrote the script in real time, and he did not want to commit to the words before that moment came. The title “CEO” seems very odd because his cadence was not like that of any other CEO ever. But today I thought I would still not cut a single sentence out of the continuity of The Walk, even though 16 minutes is a tough slog for today’s spans of attention.
Of course the awkward shots are irrelevant in the light of the content. But OMG when the copter landed “in Norwood” it was a bogus shot we did back in Waltham to save $$, and nobody alive notices or cares….
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