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Unfinished Story of Balboa

Henry King: Le Réalisateur volant/Henry King: The Flying Film Director

Excerpt: Thierry Lemoine (French version)

"Les informations parvenues jusqu’à nous sur le studio BALBOA sont à ce point lacunaires qu’il faut ‘faire parler les pierres’ si l’on veut, après mille recoupements, tracer un portrait pas trop fantaisiste de la carrière de King au milieu des années dix. Le studio était pourtant important : entre juillet 1913 et mars 1918, plus de 240 titres (environ 900 bobines de négatifs), dont 4 serials et 3 séries, y seront produits, soit entre 3 et 4% de la production américaine. Ce n’était pas rien."

"Propriétaires des lieux, les deux frères Horkheimer feront de leur entreprise le plus grand studio indépendant des années dix, peut-être le plus grand studio indépendant qui ait jamais existé aux Etats-Unis. Qu’il ait disparu, rien en soi de bien étonnant. On y verra la conséquence d’un choix malheureux qui le fit installer à une cinquantaine de kilomètres de Hollywood. C’est un des éléments, mais il aurait pu être reconstruit ailleurs. En fait leur formule ne pourra pas vivre, car BALBOA ne possédait aucun circuit de distribution et n’était lié à aucun. Non pas qu’on ait négligé le fait que les films sont produits pour être vendus. Un financier dénoncerait plutôt une gestion calamiteuse de la trésorerie."

"Sitôt disparu, BALBOA tombera dans l’oubli. Peu de films survivront : 15 à 20% de la production totale, des films difficiles à voir, et on ne compte aucun chef-d’oeuvre parmi eux. Mais encore faudrait-il les voir. Et si aucun film majeur n’a vu le jour à Long Beach, on relève néanmoins à la lecture des synopsis la tentative d’un cinéma socialement plus audacieux qu’il ne le sera plus tard" ("Balboa: The Picture Beautiful" 1).

(English translation)

"Information to this very day on Balboa Studios is incomplete, so we must turn over many more stones and still do a thousand cross-references to be able to draw an accurate portrait of King’s career in the mid-1910s. The studio was nevertheless important: between July 1913 and March 1918, more than 240 titles (around 900 reels of negative film), including the production of 4 serials and 3 series, 3-4% of American film production. That is significant."

"Owners of the site, the two Horkheimer brothers, managed to make their enterprise the biggest independent movie studio during the 1910s, perhaps the biggest independent studio that ever existed in the United States. That their studio disappeared is not astonishing in itself, an unhappy consequence of having chosen to locate 50 kilometers from Hollywood. That’s one reason, but it could have been rebuilt elsewhere. Actually, their model was unable to survive, because Balboa didn’t have a distribution circuit and wasn’t tied to any, lest we forget that movies are made to be sold. A financial advisor would condemn such a ruinous mismanagement of monies."

"As soon as it disappeared from sight, Balboa was forgotten. Few of its movies survived: 15-20% of total production, therefore difficult to view, and not a single master-piece among them. But they must be seen. And even if no major film ever saw the light of day in Long Beach, we notice, nevertheless, while reading the synopses evidence of a film  industry socially more daring than we will encounter later" ("Balboa: The Picture Beautiful" 1).

Possible Outcomes:

The Balboa website could serve interdisciplinary programs locally, for example, at CSULB, and globally on various topics beyond film studies alone, inspiring research in many domains. For instance, the Balboa website could collaborate with the CSULB Film and Electronic Arts Department, as well as the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, considering the four women at Balboa Studios who headed their own companies (Anita King Co., Mona Lisa Co., Kathleen Clifford Co., Edith Sterling Productions). In addition, during an era in the U.S. when segregated studios were the rule, Balboa productions involved the talents of Japanese actors, such as Makato Inokuchi, and African American actors, such as Leon Perdue. In fact, Balboa Studios had established a world-wide presence with British and French film distributors, along with teams of foreign actors and technicians. Balboa research might inspire future screenings at the WideScreen Film Festival, CSULB and at the Long Beach International Film Festival, as well as at any number of national and international festivals and symposia.