It's become commonplace – auctions for movie memorabilia are fraught with inaccuracies, exaggerations or plain old big fat lies. They constantly make big, unproven claims in hopes of making an extra buck on their auctions, all in the hope that bidders are too stupid to not know the difference between a replica and a real, honest-to-goodness movie prop.
With that in mind let's take a look at the upcoming Heritage Auction. It is the listing of a particular Klingon piece that caught my eye:
"Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Screen-Used Klingon "Shotgun" Disruptor (1991)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Screen-Used Klingon "Shotgun" Disruptor (1991). Exhibits a sharp, beak-nosed appearance in the familiar red-black Klingon style, with a body, handle, "pump" and emitter crafted of cast resin, with three steel rods connecting the emitter to the pump/body, and a small acrylic Klingon symbol affixed to the handle. Used by actor Paul Roselli as military advisor to Chancellor Gorkon, Brigadier Kerla. Measures approximately 16" in length, in Very Fine condition, showing light wear from screen use/handling. "
The listing is accompanied with a very nice photo:
To be clear, I have no doubt that this is a production-made prop as described. This matches in every way a version that I previously owned that I got from a former Star Trek prop master. I was able to screen-match that version to the short scene in Star Trek VI in which General Kerla brandishes the weapon at Kirk and McCoy. The screen-match was possible due to the one-of-a-kind organic nature of the paint job on Klingon props. They are all hand-painted with unique weathered details. As a result, no two look alike, thus, there can only be ONE screen-matchable piece.
And that is where the problem arises. This prop was only seen for a few seconds in one single scene when Kirk and McCoy beam over the the Klingon ship:
Because Blu-Ray captures amazing details, it is possible to blow up the gun in Kerla's hands.
This moment is the ONLY time the pistol is seen. It is very brief and without a close-up. To be clear: this single instance is the ONLY identifiable screen time this piece gets. The general carries it with him down the hall but no details can be made out, after which it is never seen again.
Which begs the question: if I sold the only screen-matched version, how can this piece ALSO PROVABLY be "screen-used"?
Bottom line: it can't.
So what? Who cares if this is screen-used or simply production made? Both came from the studio, right?
The reason that it is an important detail is that screen-used pieces almost always go for more than simple production-made pieces. And SCREEN-MATCHED are the best of all and always get a premium.
Is it possible that the one being sold is screen-used? Yes, it's possible. It could be the one Kerla is carrying down the hall since there's a cut and there could have been hours between the filming of the different parts of the scene. That said, it's not PROVABLE. And if it's not provable, no screen-used claim can be made. Yet that is exactly what the auction does – it makes the claim that Kerla is seen with this in his hand.
But don't take my word for it. Look at the screen capture of the prop. Then look at the very good auction photo. Now, tell me where they match up. SPECIFICALLY. EXACTLY. It simply can't be done. Which of course proves that this piece was NOT in Kerla's hand when he waved it at Kirk.
For what it's worth, the seller of this piece is someone who railed against auction houses in the past for trying to get away with this very kind of bull. But when it is to his advantage to stretch the truth we get radio silence. Where is his indignation? His passion for truth and accuracy? Gone. It's inconvenient. He's tried to sell this in the past without the "screen-used" claim and it didn't sell. It will probably sell this time because of that very addition.
But if you are planning to bid on this item, be an informed buyer. Caveat emptor!
Screen-used? Prove it.