Daunting restoration of historical letters

LIVE FEED - Bibsy M. Carballo (The Philippine Star) - January 7, 2013 - 12:00am

Of late, we have been made aware of developments in local film preservation and restoration through the restoration of Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan by the Italian and Philippine governments, and Ishmael Bernal’s Himala by ABS-CBN archives. This, of course, has been welcomed by many of us in the film and television sector. Suddenly, if belatedly, the mechanics of film preservation have finally reached our shores even as the world has become aware of our need for assistance. The latest news has come from acclaimed producer-director Martin Scorsese of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, to assign the preservation of Lino Brocka’s Maynila, sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag to his World Cinema Foundation.

The film is considered Brocka’s best by many critics. It tells of fisherman Bembol Roco whose wife Hilda Coronel was hood winked into prostitution in Manila. Roco searches for her in Manila, is himself forced into a life of crime and is killed in the end.

Some months ago, we read of preservation being done on the letters of world-famous author Ernest Hemingway to his friends, public figures and Hollywood stars. These include stars Ingrid Bergman and Marlene Dietrich, boyhood friend Carl Edgar, Hemingway’s editor Max Perkins at Scribner’s, writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Walter Winchell and Martha Gellhorn.

  A report on the Hemingway preservation process reads: â€œBox by box, thousands of letters to the author are heading to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts for mending, washing, flattening and other repairs. The center has also treated Abraham Lincoln’s family Bible, as well as George Washington’s writings. Walter Newman, the center’s paper conservation director, said the goal of the current Hemingway project is to slow down the different processes that are degrading the letters.”

What a daunting difficult task, we thought, even more than film preservation. We began thinking of letters from our national heroes. Those of Jose Rizal who was an inveterate letter writer were well-documented. But what about the letters and documents from Apolinario Mabini, Andres Bonifacio, Macario Sakay, Juan Luna, Emilio Jacinto, Claro M. Recto and Manuel L. Quezon? The list is endless. 

Where are their letters and at what stage of damage are they? Even more sensitive than film cellulite, the ink and paper used one to two centuries ago would be more prone to molding, rat infestation and disrepair. Of course, there are families who have put up foundations and museums that would house these heirlooms, but are they using the right methods and processes?

We remember the date Dec. 8, 2011 most vividly when Gemma Cruz-Araneta whose lineage is traced to Rizal invited us to a unique book launch of Jose Rizal’s Haec Est Sibylla Cumana (This is Sibylla Cumana), a never-before-published book of oracles written by our national hero during his exile in Dapitan 1892 to 1896. Originally illustrated and handwritten in Spanish, the Sibylla Cumana book is a parlor game using a wooden top that would spin and provide questions on love, business and answers from the Graeco-Roman fortune teller Sibylla. Left to the safekeeping of Rizal’s sister Narcisa, the book has survived several world wars until the heirs of Paciano Rizal decided to share it with the public. An English translation is provided by Gemma.

The letters of Hemingway are part of the JFK Library collection in Boston. It is said that half of the 7,500 letters are in need of restoration and would take two to three years to finish at a cost of $300,000. The JFK Foundation is working on raising funds to cover costs.

Obviously, we don’t have the money for purchase and restoration should a dream discovery of such letters from our heroes be found anywhere in the many countries in Europe where our films have been found. But hope reigns supreme that among the many collectors of books and letters, we would chance upon such a treasure trove. And the cost? If the JFK Foundation is fundraising, we could very well do the same.  

(E-mail us at bibsymcar@yahoo.com.)  


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