The Story of the Kelly Gang

Mark Juddery introduces The Story of the Kelly Gang, possibly the first-ever feature film, now largely lost, that was made a hundred years ago in Australia about the notorious outlaw with the unusual body-armour. Hugely popular when it was first released in 1906, it spawned a genre of bushranger movies and epitomized the significance of the Kelly legend in Australian cultural identity.

The question is: how long was it? Advertisements during the original Melbourne season claimed that the film was nearly 4,000 feet long (running over an hour), but that might have been promotional hype. Media reports suggested every length from 2,000 feet to ‘over one mile’ (5,280 feet), from ‘forty minutes or thereabouts’ to ‘over an hour’. The discrepancies might have been partly due to multiple versions being released. By the time it opened in Sydney in February 1907, at least one new scene had been added, exclusively for audiences in the state of New South Wales.

The film cannot speak for itself, because sadly it was lost (along with most Australian films) in the first half of the twentieth century. Until recently, all that remained was nine minutes of footage, discovered under a bed in an old farmhouse in 1979. As the film’s centenary loomed, however, Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive – keen to commemorate the film with a centennial DVD edition – launched a ‘needle in a haystack’ quest, eventually uncovering seven minutes of extra footage in the vaults of the British Film Institute.

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