Tuesday, March 9, 2010

RIP Karl Malkames

Karl Malkames, a cinematographer, inventor, film historian and
pioneering motion picture film preservationist, died March 8th at his
home in Scarsdale, N.Y. He was 83 years old.

Mr. Malkames was born in Hazelton, PA. on May 6th, 1926 to veteran
cameraman, Don Malkames and his then wife, Dorothy Klotz. His
childhood was surrounded by and immersed in the trappings of the early
motion picture industry. At the age of 16, he enlisted in the Navy
and thus followed a stint at Pearl Harbor and service as an
electronics technician aboard the submarine, U.S.S. Chopper. On June
6, 1948 he married his high school sweetheart, June Dougherty of
Hazelton, PA.

Upon his release from the Navy, he followed in his father's footsteps
and embarked on a career in motion pictures, serving as an assistant
cameraman - often to his father - working his way up to becoming a
cinematographer and a member of the American Society of
Cinematographers. Probably his most rewarding period behind the
camera was as a staff cameraman for Warner-Pathe News - a position he
held till the newsreel folded in 1956, a casualty of the advent of
television. His assignments behind the camera were numerous and
varied - providing second unit photography to such productions as the
1958 Robert Mitchum drive-in classic THUNDER ROAD (executing all the
memorable car chase sequences) as well as work on specialty
assignments such as 'old age' make-up tests of Dustin Hoffman for his
fabled role in 1970's LITTLE BIG MAN.

However it was his work in the then new field of film restoration and
preservation in which Mr. Malkames truly found his niche. His affinity
for films from the early days of the industry, coupled with a unique
facility for designing, adapting, building and operating
cinemachinery, resulted in his single-handedly saving literally
hundreds of films - usually too fragile or deteriorated to be handled
by then conventional methods. Much of the extensive output of The
Biograph Company (and thus the early work of D.W. Griffith) as well as
numerous other subjects, was preserved by Mr. Malkames for The Museum
of Modern Art. Along with Biograph - his most singular achievement for
MoMA was his preservation of the 1930 "Fox Grandeur" epic, THE BIG
TRAIL (starring a fledgling John Wayne) from the original 70mm camera
negative, which was found to be too shrunken to be copied. Mr.
Malkames spent an entire year on the project - from designing and
building a special printer, through to the painstaking reproduction of
the film. Also of note was his long association with film historian-
showman, Paul Killiam - for whom he restored dozens of silent era
classics for the Emmy-award winning television series, "The Silent
Years" - in which he also photographed the intros with Lillian Gish.
Key works by the likes of D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Mary
Pickford, John Barrymore, Buster Keaton, Clara Bow and Tom Mix were
saved for posterity thanks to his work with Killiam.

In 1979, Mr. Malkames wrote and produced a documentary, THE MOTION
PICTURE CAMERA - a loving tribute to silent era cinemachinery, which
showcases examples from his own family's comprehensive collection.

He had three children: His daughter, Marty Lawton, predeceased him in
2005 and he is survived by a son, Rick Malkames - also a
cinematographer, a daughter, Christine Malkames - a graphic artist,
eleven grandchildren, including Bruce Lawton who is a film historian,
and four great-grandchildren.

Born: 5/6/1926, Hazelton, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Died: 3/8/2010, Scarsdale, New York, U.S.A.

Karl Malkames western - cinematographer, film restorer:
The Iron Horse - 1924 [restored 1974]
Tumbleweeds - 1925 [restored 1975]
The Great K&A Train Robbery - 1926 [restored 1976]
The Big Trail - 1930 [cinematographer on restored version 19??]

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