Help Save A Priceless Collection!

Would you like to see one of Charlie Chaplin’s motion picture cameras preserved? How about the cameras that filmed Gone With The Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars, and Planet of the Apes? They are the property of lifelong collector Martin Hill, of Midland, North Carolina, and they are in jeopardy.

Not long ago I received an e-mail from Alex Buchhorn of Emulsion Arts, a small, independent production company based in Charlotte, North Carolina, telling me about an effort to complete a documentary about Hill and his unique collection. The purpose is to draw attention to—

—this treasure trove and, in so doing, find a way to save it.

Charlie Chaplin behind the camera in the silent era. Hill has one of the units Chaplin used to film The Gold Rush.

I’ve become a skeptic when I hear about such “treasures” in private hands, having been burned before, but several knowledgeable friends of mine have confirmed that this collection is for real. Hill is a devotee who has amassed an enormous amount of material: cameras, projectors, lighting equipment, and memorabilia. It’s all stored in a Midland bowling alley that, itself, is in need of repair. Roof leakage could damage some of the precious goods inside.

If you’d like to see some of Martin’s prize possessions, click HERE. You’ll also learn how you can join Kickstarter and make a contribution to raise the nominal $6,000 it will take to complete Emulsion Arts’ documentary. I’m a newcomer to these grassroots fundraising projects, but I know they can work: if enough people chip in $5 or $10 apiece, a sum like that is not out of reach.

Yes, there are other institutions and individuals who have preserved historic movie cameras, beginning with the American Society of Cinematographers. And I’ve written about the impressive collection housed at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Niles, California. But each piece of equipment has its own history, and some of them are beautiful examples of mechanical design and functionality.

Would you like to see the brushes Leonardo Da Vinci used to paint the Mona Lisa, or the chisel Rodin employed to carve The Thinker? Think of these cameras in the same way and you’ll understand why they have artistic as well as historic value. Think some more and perhaps you’ll kick in a few bucks to help Emulsion Arts complete its documentary.

Here’s a typically impressive camera crane set-up for David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. Hill has one of the cameras used in this epic production.


  1. Max F says:

    I find David G’s suggestion (9/23) the most sensible and appropriate. Washington DC needs an uplift,

  2. ex-museum says:

    Have any of you ever been involved in operating a museum? Most are under-funded as it is and don’t have enough money to properly care for the collection they currently have. Taking on a large new collection, one that will probably need large amounts of money and space to preserve, is often not feasible. Martin Hill is a collector, not a fundrasier. Blaming him for not soliciting funds earlier is plain ridiculous.

    If you don’t care about Mr. Hill’s collection that’s fine, don’t donate. If you do care about the collection and think it should be preserved then donate. Whether or not someone else has donated shouldn’t determine whether or not it’s a worthy cause.

  3. pb says:

    This has to be a flat-out bogus spoof. $6k can be funded by endless numbers of people, including Maltin. No need for any kind of fundraising. A joke? Scam? utterly un-believable.

  4. Edwin S. Porter says:

    Have one less self-gratifying awards ceremony and contribute the money to this. Going to happen? Not likely.

    We’re paying $11-$13 per ticket. Take it from there Tinseltown!

  5. Aukkie says:

    It does seem odd that Leonard Maltin, a guy who’s been in the movie biz for forty years, wouldn’t know a guy who knows a guy who could write a check, get the movie made and save the projectors, then stage a lavish opening night screening and recoup all his expenses.

    I love Hollywood but I’m not giving up a cent.

  6. David G says:

    Why doesn’t Mr Hill just donate his collection to the Smithsonion or the Library of Congress or the Museum of the Motion Image? I am sure they woukd be VERY interested in his collection and would be not only be able to properly house hs collection but have the facilities to exibit them

  7. Norm says:

    Reply to S .G, and bowling bowls,which on there way to the Bowling Hall of Fame in St. Louis, whcih ironically, has one bowling alley left in the city…
    Kinda like Hollywood, they just don’t get it…

  8. Steve Gutterberg says:

    But how are the bowling balls holding up?

  9. Jeff says:

    Look, the problem is that there’s just too much to be preserved, and many of the things that would be “a shame” to lose are really not of significant interest to a significant number of people. To be specific, how many people really would take time (and pay) to see these cameras? Yet to store them would mean a continuing cost in terms of space and maintenance.

    The Liberace museum shut down because very few people today are interested enough in him to keep it viable. Is it a shame that it’s gone now? Maybe for some. There was a big deal in England recently about how it would be a shame to tear down the row house Ringo Starr grew up in. How many people would really travel and pay to see it if it were made into a museum?

    There are so many locations and artifacts in the greater L.A. region with ties to Hollywood icons that to preserve them all would almost require turning the city itself into a museum. At some point people have to let go of the physical objects and be satisfied with written descriptions, pictures, and video. Or maybe spend time to watch the films themselves. I mean, how many people can honestly say they’ve seen all the films that were shot by the cameras mentioned in this article?

  10. Nick Name says:

    Jeez, $6000? Virtually any player in Hollywood could cough that up out of pocket change. Or put it on his credit card and not even notice it when the bill came in. Cone on, industry people-this in YOUR history here. Have a little respect for the system that supports your life.

  11. Terry Wilson says:

    I’m in full agreement with Range on this.Maybe they also could go round and exact some loose change from any number of the overpaid actors that Hollywood is populated with.

  12. Mark Kausler says:

    Many years ago, I happened to walk into the American Society of Cinematographers office on Franklin, in Hollywood. They used to have a beautiful display area with many historic motion picture cameras in individual cases, lined with velvet and lit perfectly. One of the docents was Arthur Miller, A.S.C. He took me around, even though I was by myself and talked to me about each camera, who used it and what productions it photographed. I’ll never forget that day, or how it made me feel about movie history. I don’t understand why the A.S.C. WOULDN”T have any interest in Martin Hill’s collection, at least in part. What about the upcoming Motion Picture Academy Museum? Surely there must be some public or semi-public organizations that would want to care for at least SOME of the cameras, projectors, old lights, etc. that are in Hill’s collection. If we donate to the production of this documentary, will the funds go to the filmmakers, or to the preservation of these historic motion picture tools?

  13. Norm says:

    Well, if it were a tailless dolphin, or an imprisoned whale,or Spielbergs career, I’m sure they could raise some money to save it…Maybe these items can be incorporated into a film museum…Like the Disney Studios, they used to make films…

  14. Range says:

    Where is the movie industry of Hollywood?

    Why don’t the people, like James Cameron, Spielberg, Scorsese etc. step up and make a ‘grain of sand’ gesture and cover the whole deal.

    In fact, why doesn’t Leonard Maltin do it himself?

    They always lay the responsibility on the people who have the LEAST money to spare.

    My hopes are that some rich Hollywood people save this well-deserved collection.

    Come to think of it, Martin Hill should have started soliciting for funds and making Hollywood contacts a LONG TIME AGO – it’s partly his own fault.

    If perpetuity loses this collection we have even greater satisfaction that the end product, the beautiful films that we have access to (the REAL works of art), are indeed preserved.

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