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Orphaned Hollywood figures find Swiss refuge

Roman Guettinger and friends swissinfo.ch

A film buff with one of the world's biggest collections of real Hollywood props and memorabilia says he would like nothing better than to open a museum.

This content was published on January 27, 2006 - 13:36

His 5,000-piece collection stashed away in a basement includes life-size aliens, Star Wars characters, Indiana Jones's whip and Forrest Gump's sneakers.

"People travel to America to see movie sets and props but you can't find much there – besides a couple of houses at Universal Studios," says Roman Guettinger.

I have obviously come to the right place: Guettinger houses his collection in two large cellars in a non-descript apartment block in Frauenfeld, a town light years from Hollywood but only 45 kilometres out of Zurich.

He drives me there from the station since he does not think I can find it on my own.

The short car ride is probably as close as I will ever get to appearing in a B-movie. Lurking on the back seat is a headless torso, a couple of latex monster masks and a sword from the film Kill Bill.

Climax

The journey and my role in this film fantasy reach their climax as he unlocks the door to the first cellar.

Guettinger, who works by day as the mild-mannered employee of a film distribution company in Zurich, has salvaged hundreds of big screen fantasy heroes and villains orphaned once the shooting stopped.

The shelves are crammed and the aisles narrow. There are life-size battle droids from Star Wars, an Arnold Schwarzenegger with half his face blown away, and Gremlins and Predators.

Swords and guns clutter the corners as well as the sneakers Tom Hanks wore to run across America in Forrest Gump.

"I have good taste in women. I appreciate their beauty - and monsters for their ugliness," says Guettinger, who once dreamed of becoming a makeup artist. "But a lot of the monsters – the Aliens for example – are elegant in their own way. They have style."

Museum

He gives tours of the collection most weekends but has been toying with the idea of opening a proper museum.

"Everyone that comes here says I have to open a museum. Even the Oscar-winning special effects artist from Lord of the Rings, Richard Taylor, told me I should open one.

"It would be of great value for all of Switzerland, since people in this country are very interested in movies. Audience figures in Zurich are among the highest in Europe," he adds.

Guettinger is on the look out for a sponsor to help him achieve his goal, but in the meantime intends to keep collecting.

What he began in childhood has become a life-long passion. The film buff has been a serious collector now for 15 years.

His reputation, his professional experience in the film business and time spent in Los Angeles at directors' school has brought him into contact with the people who count the most – filmmakers and special effects artists.

"I get most of the stuff through people I know who work in the industry," he explains.

"The problem is that not a lot of it sees the light of day, so you have to be very attentive, and it's a question of having the right connections."

Aliens and King Kong

Among the right connections are Swiss artist H.R. Giger - the creator of the creatures in the Alien films – and Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings series and King Kong.

"Most of the props are locked away in containers at studios and aren't released for legal reasons so they rot," says Guettinger.

"If you're lucky, the special effects guys will take some things home after filming. They sometimes keep them, decide to sell, or give them away. You never know."

Countless costumes worn by some of the more popular cinematic heroes of the past couple of decades dress the racks of his second cellar.

There is an original silicon suit from Batman Forever, Wesley Snipe's vampire hunter costume from Blade and Harrison Ford's adventure outfit from Indiana Jones.

A favourite piece is one of the dresses Kate Winslet wore in Titanic, proving that the Swiss collector has a heart for love stories.

"I thought it would be nice for a museum, if I ever have a museum," the budding director admits.

"I've always wanted to do something that was not science fiction – with a good story and good actors, where the story is the focus and not the special effects.

"[But] before I did something like that, I would have to have the right budget," he adds.

"It's also because I'm a perfectionist and I've seen thousands of bad horror movies and I've seen hundreds of bad science fiction movies."

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Frauenfeld

Key facts

35-year-old Roman Guettinger has been a serious collector of movie props for the past 15 years.
He has around 5,000 pieces in his collection, stored in the town of Frauenfeld.
He specialises in fantasy, horror and science fiction films.
Many of the props and film memorabilia is for sale via his website.

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