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Film Dope

The Visual Arts Library recently acquired most of the dope:

Film Dope no.7(1975:Apr.)-no.50(1994:Apr.) We are missing the first 6 issues, and I believe no.50 is the last issue (I know it ceased some time in 1994). This is a British publication, the obsessively fussed over, though sometimes neglected love-child of David Badder & Bob Baker (Markku Salmi is credited as a co-editor on issue 7, but not after).

What is the Dope? Each issue of Film Dope provides information on 30 to 40 directors, actors, cinematographers, and writers. An exhaustive list of credits (mostly film and television, but also commercials) is given for each person that they profile. Now, if that is all that Film Dope provided, I would have not felt that it needed to take up precious space on our periodical shelves (even though they are beautifully bound, have great front and back covers, and a goodly number of production stills).

Left: Back cover of issue 8 credited in the following Manner: “A mystery-still. It’s officially described as ‘Pare Lorentz filming THE RIVER’ but from the look of the location, it could as easily be THE PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS. We sent a copy to Floyd Crosby who commented ‘I don’t know what picture this is from. The man on the right could be Lorentz but doesn’t look like him to me. The man with the beret and the Akeley camera is certainly not me.’ Anyone else got an idea? Right: Katherine Hepburn in George Cukor’s LITTLE WOMEN

Right: Jeanne Moreau and Stanley Baker in EVE (1962) Left: Boris Karloff in THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932)

Right: Charles Rogers and Jean Arthur in HALF-WAY TO HEAVEN (1929), d. George Abbott. Left: Addison Richards (left), Raymond Massey in SANTA FE TRAIL (1940). Production still by Mac Julian.

If credits were all that Film Dope offered, IMDB and Wikipedia would have rendered this fine publication obsolete. What keeps this publication relevant, endearing, and worth having around are its format, its subjectivity, and its rich collection of primary sources of information.

Issue 7 (April 1975) includes the following entries: Paddy Chayefsky, Nikolai Cherkasov, Maurica Chevalier, Marvin Chomsky, Montgomery Clift, Sean Connery and 33 others. Issue 50 (April 1994) includes the following entries: Al Pacino, Jack Palance, Dorothy Parker, Robert Parrish, Charles Parrott, Christine Pascal. The twenty years between those two issues chronicled people with last names that started with D to O. Sadly, they would never make it to R-Z, but what we are left with is a periodical that over the span of twenty years morphed into an encyclopedia. During that time they went from thanking the British Film Institute staff for “their patience and assistance” to thanking them “for [their] continuing financial assistance.” Obviously they were creating something of apparent value.

David Badder & Bob Baker were two very dedicated, knowledgeable, and intelligent chaps, and it is their input and discretion that gave a value-added aspect beyond free online sources before they even existed. Many of the issues include an editorial (which normally offers some apology for how long its been between issues). But their real editorial influence is both in the amount of time they chose to give to each subject and the very personal opinions that they have of almost everyone chronicled. Normally, out of the 30 or so people featured, a handful have a more extensive narrative biography, along with an interview, reprinted correspondence and/or reflections from peers. These are the primary sources of information I was touting earlier. Some of the interviews, such as with the director Louis Daquin, go on for ten dense pages. Other entries are little more than the credits, but more often than not include some sort of anecdotal information and very personal, though meaningful opinions, such as Bob Baker’s of Julie Christie:

After lauding and defending Julie Christie, the ever honest film critic/hound is forced to admit, “I can’t ever imagine her moving me very deeply. I am at a loss to account for this and hope to be proved wrong very soon.” It’s informative but deeply subjective and gives a contemporaneous context of critical reception and in this case emotional barometer.

The people that made it to these issues, though impressive in scope, are obviously not exhaustive of everyone that worked in the motion pictures in England and the USA up to that point. But the fact that it is limited and now static, lends the publication a curatorial quality. The scope is, however, quite large (say, maybe 1200 people in our 43 issues) and full of variety (from Bob Clampett to Boris Karloff). Film Dope is a marvel and a joy, not to mention a rich, important resource for film research.

The list of credits reads like a companion piece to John Yau’s poem “I Was a Poet in the House of Frankenstein: Boris Karloff Remember Being Chinese on Several Occasions”

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