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TRASH CANS AND YARD SALES YIELD CINEMATIC TREASURES

Peculiar isn't the word. Off-the-wall doesn't cut it. When it comes to the smorgasbord of celluloid stashed in Todd Kimmell's basement, the only description is just plain bizarre.

In Kimmell's hands, a 16mm Kodak movie projector from the 1960s becomes a spaceship, time machine and history book all in one.The 36-year-old former junkman collects, splices and exhibits what he calls "found films" - 500 reels filled with cinematic gems of eras past that have ended up in somebody's wastebasket or garage sale.

From the damp vault of his cellar come such forgotten treasures as an anti-marijuana film featuring Sonny Bono, German gymnasts waving hoops in tandem, and the terrifyingly titled "Feature Disco 9000."

"A lot of this stuff wasn't funny to begin with," says Kimmell, who shows films at home using his 1950s refrigerator as a backdrop. "But this is a different era, and our perspectives have changed."

Kimmell is a dilettante and loves it. By day, he runs Mambo Movers, employing struggling young musicians and artists. Its slogan: "We're people just like you who happen to be huge and muscle-bound and own a truck."

He also edits Lost Highways, a magazine dedicated to American trailer-park and highway culture. Examples of much of the stuff of which he rhapsodizes are scattered around the home he shares with his new wife, Kristin, and a turtle named Agamemnon.

But it's the films that give Kimmell notoriety in Philadelphia's Center City area, where he haunts diners, bookstores and bars, inflicting his oddities on an unsuspecting but always appreciative public.

Recent themes include "Wild West Night," "Juvenile Delinquent Night" and "Dental Hygiene Night."

"His presentations are off-the-wall. He's just sort of an eccentric," said Ann Deeley-Mattes, who enlists Kimmell for shows at Borders Book Store in downtown Philadelphia.

"He comes in 10 minutes before the event with a box of dusty old films, and he's serious when he says he doesn't know what he's going to put on the reel," she said. "If Todd hadn't saved these films, the world wouldn't have them."

In the mid-1970s, Kimmell organized a film festival to raise money for kids in a Philadelphia suburb. He bought a load of film from a junkman and found himself the not-so-proud owner of a pile of 1930s porn.

But he also found a gem - a movie about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 that was made by communist filmmakers who "handed the film to anyone heading West." It was compiled by the United States Information Agency, and Kimmell's copy is the only one known to exist.

It sent him on a sometimes obsessive search for the contents of Hollywood's wastebasket.

In 1987, he put together a festival called "Todd's Found Films" and earned a loyal following around town. He went to auctions and junk sales and responded to newspaper ads. Word got around, and people began to save films for him.

"The stuff he has compiled is just amazing. It's wonderful," said Neil Benson, a fellow junk aficionado watching an old Mr. Magoo cartoon in Kimmell's kitchen on a recent day.

Today, by his own admission, Kimmell has a glut.

"Some stuff ends up being boring. You take your chances," he said. "I have an unfortunate ton of dog-training films."

But he refuses to sacrifice one thing in his search for the forgotten corners of life: narrative.

"My stuff has to tell a story - even if it's 30 seconds or a minute," he said.

Kimmell plans to pitch to public television a pilot using his films. And next month, he's going to set up his projector on a patch of grass near a downtown Interstate 95 access ramp and show films after sunset.

The 6-foot-7 Kimmell plans to call it "Very-Tall Todd's Lawn Chair Drive-In."

His motivation is pretty simple.

"I have a lot of good stuff that wasn't meant to stay buried, and it's hot out," he said. "It's fun being a junkman and putting this stuff together and making people smile. If I didn't do it, nobody would."

*****

Additional Information

Collection includes dog parade, nuclear farce

A glimpse into Todd Kimmell's "found films" collection:

- Film from the 1950s about juvenile delinquency and misunderstood teens. Announcer: "What will become of these men of tomorrow?"

- Silent short from the 1920s about a kid who loses job because he doesn't have good teeth, then gets it when dental hygiene improves.

- Silent film of the opening of a large mobile-home park in Trevose, a Philadelphia suburb.

- "Motorcycle Cossacks," depicting the Mexico City police force on 1930s Harleys.

- "Don't Smoke Pot," narrated by Sonny Bono.

- "Then and Now: The Story of Computers," from 1962.

- Athletic films: "Aqua Frolics" and "Snow Thrills."

- "Power Behind the Nation," a color documentary from about 1943 about how America has bigger and more of everything.

- A 1920s dog parade in downtown Philadelphia.

- "The Bed-Sitting Room," a farce in which a nuclear bomb is dropped on London and all of the characters ultimately turn into furniture.

- A Pan Am film called "Wings to Yugoslavia," an upbeat travel documentary from the early 1960s that shows places now destroyed by the Bosnian civil war. "What it did was put a face on all the dots that had been bombed," Kimmell says.

- Balinese religious dances. A title card reads: "Trained bodies in stage rhythms."

- German group gymnastics, showing synchronized young women waving hula hoops in a field reminiscent of "The Sound of Music."

- "Hanover Industrial Fair," in which Zamboni-like machines move pallets with guitar music in the background.

- International table tennis matches from 1960s in which the Japanese winner cries upon victory.