Friday, February 14, 2014

National Film Registry Save the Films- These Amazing Shadows

National Film Registry
 These Amazing Shadows

At the 45th Academy Awards The Godfather received
Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather Signed
11X14 Photo
three of the ten Oscars for which it was nominated. Albert S. Ruddy took home the Oscar for The Godfather Best Picture. Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola won Best Writing Adapted Screenplay. 

In the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role, Marlon Brando won but declined the award. Today the film is influential, revered by many and seen as a classic.

These Amazing Shadows, a 2011 production created, written and directed by Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton, showcases the Film Preservation Act and the creation of the National Film Registry. 

We see The Godfather held up as an example. A 1972 film, is recent if you look at the history of film in general. 

The original negative of that film was in bad shape. It isn't just age, mishandling or the material a film is printed on that takes a toll. The more popular the film the worse condition the original negative will be in the more copies that have been made. Who is there to do the necessary restoration when a film has "been loved to death?" 

So if a relatively recent, award winning classic film like this could have been deteriorating what about all the other films that came before, particularly those lesser known and not as prominent?  

All About Eve Movie Poster (1950)
(Bette Davis)(Anne Baxter)(George Sanders)(Celeste Holm)(Gary Merrill)(Thelma Ritter)

In 1988, the Film Preservation Act was passed and, through the Library of Congress' National Film Preservation Board, brought about the National Film Registry. It's impressive to know that an arm of the US Government is saying that film is an important part of our history. The Library of Congress will be involved and it's our duty to restore it and see that it is recognized.

"It's a different form of honor than Academy Award," said author and film historian Leonard Maltin. "It's a more cumulative retrospective honor. It says your film has stood the test of time."

"The Academy Awards preserve the consensus within the industry at the time. Sometimes history proves them right. Very often history proves them wrong," notes Film critic, blogger and author, Mick LaSalle.

Films, their respective actors, directors and other professionals whose work did not receive an Academy Award may get the more lasting respect deserved when honored in this way.

The Film Registry began choosing films in 1989. Their criteria is that the film must be, "Culturally, historically or aesthetically significant." 

Films have to be at least 10 years old. They choose 25 films per year beginning with a solicitation
Little Caesar Edward G. Robinson
of public ballots. 

The documentary touches on certain key topics while covering a lot of ground in about an hour. Censorship, the roles of women, African Americans and Native Americans in film. 

We see the diverse types of films on the registry; from old and newer big screen films to documentaries, newsreels and home movies. 

Perhaps most of all, the documentary shows the importance of preservation and restoration of all of this, our history.

These Amazing Shadows: The Movies That Make America is a good documentary and it covers a lot of ground. PBS may cut it down from its original time which is about 90 minutes. I really like documentaries and most that I watch are between an hour 45 minutes and two hours. If you have Amazon Prime you get unlimited viewings.

Included are discussions on movies like Topaz a 1945 documentary film showing life in the Japanese internment camps. The people on board to narrate the different topics are interesting. They may be associated with The Film Registry and may not. 

Actor George Takei is among those discussing Masaharu Tatsuno's film, Topaz. Takei and his family were among those Japanese Americans who were interned for no reason but that they were of Japanese heritage. The Takei family was first taken to the Rohwer War Relocation Center in rural southeastern Arkansas.

Abraham Zapruder's famous home movie of the assassination of John Kennedy was inducted in 1994. 

Historical films, art films even Cold War propaganda are included. How about the bumper film that came between features at the drive-in, Let's go to the Lobby. There is discussion of the 1980s debate of colorization.

B and Z movies are included. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was inducted
Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter
Carolyn Jones
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
in 1994. 

There's a long history of writers and directors making a message more palatable or getting through the walls of censorship by cloaking it in the world of fantasy or science fiction.  

Invasion of the Body Snatchers has critics and film-goers debating whether or not it has an intended anti-McCarthy message as it was released in 1956 during the height of the Red Scare.   

What is agreed on is that the creators of the film didn't do much to stop people's associating the two.

I just wrote about Joseph L. Mankiewicz's People Will Talk from 1951. It's not science fiction but is a film that appears to pretty clearly tackle the issues of their day. 

"These Amazing Shadows reveals how American movies tell us so much about ourselves... not just what we did, but what we thought, what we felt, what we aspired to, and the lies we told ourselves." 
-- from the film web site

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, Notorious 1946
[public domain img from trailer]
Censorship blocks the free expression of an era talking to another era, the documentary reminds us. When you watch a movie from the past you're involved in a dialogue.

"Every movie that's popular captures the ideas, something popular at the time. Very often the ideas that they capture make them
acceptable to the public are lies."
Mick LaSalle

Once in a while when watching old movies with friends someone will pipe up, "How could they do that?! How could they say that?! I guess in 1940 that was funny to people?" The watching brings good discussion, an examination of ourselves, our past as it really was, how and who are we now? What we want to hide is probably one of the most important things to show future generations. Learn not to repeat.

Boyz N the Hood Movie Poster 1991
Laurence "Larry" Fishburne Ice Cube
Cuba Gooding Jr. Nia Long Morris Chestnut
D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation was inducted into The Film Registry in 1992. The Searchers, in 1989. John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood (inducted 2002). This is our history and it's important to see where we came from and where we are going. 

These films show something about race relations in the US. Look at other mainstream films for the way minorities are portrayed if they are included at all. This tells you something, too. 

You're hard pressed to find a hero in a film who wears glasses, let alone a hero who has any sort of disability. What's the predominant age, weight, gender? Who is underrepresented?

The important role of women in film making is discussed with mention of early female directors such as Lois Weber and Dorothy Arzner. The 1939 film, The Women was inducted in 2007. Directed by George Cukor, all actors were women, it's said that even every animal featured was female. Authors of any books shown were female.

Lois Weber's contribution in the Film Registry is the 1916 Where are My Children is included in the set Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film 1900-1934. Her film was inducted in 1993. We'll learn how similar we are to those who came before us, and maybe have even more respect for those who came before us.

A rare unedited version the 1933 Barbara Stanwyck film Baby Face was
Babara Stanwyck, from Baby Face trailer
public domain, WikiMedia Commons
discovered and is compared to its edited and better known counterpart. 

They noticed that they had two negatives of the film, one was larger -- it was the unedited version. The differences between the two tell us about film making, about censorship and our history. 

The film was inducted in 2005 and having both versions makes it even more valuable. The Production Code also known as the Hays Code was just coming into Hollywood in the early thirties. 

The film is described as being about an attractive young woman who uses sex to advance her social and financial status. The censors would cut several minutes before it would be shown.

It's a funny time now as we're seeing so many television shows begin with disclaimers. Don't even talk about the PBS programs about native peoples in far off lands, I saw a show where mannequins' body parts digitally obscured. Not sure what's going on today. At the same time the freedom to broadcast has never been as it is today, particularly when you include the Internet. 

Cold War public safety propaganda films are on the Registry. Duck and Cover was produced by the federal government's Civil Defense branch. It was directed primarily at kids showing what to do in case of a nuclear attack.

Also included is the dramatic House in the Middle. It's a 1954 film implying that you may survive a nuclear attack if your yard is clear and your home always has a fresh coat of paint. 

The sponsor is The National Clean Up-Paint Up-Fix Up Bureau. That sounds like a mysterious group of people my Mom & Dad would've threatened me with when I had a messy room. But turns out the Bureau is actually part of the National Paint, Varnish and Lacquer Association. 

Freaks 1932- Movie Poster Inducted 1994
Checking out who created and who is repeating or publicizing the information you're hearing is important to this day. A fancy sounding name may be a cover for something else.

The segment on colorizing films is interesting. Ted Turner purchased the film studio MGM/UA Entertainment in 1986. He set about colorizing some of the black and white classics.

"The last time I checked, I owned the films that we're in the process of colorizing," said Ted Turner. "I can do whatever I want with them, and if they're going to be shown on television, they're going to be in color." 
-- Los Angeles Times October 23, 1986

A rationalization was that colorizing the films would get a whole new audience, people who wouldn't be open to viewing a black and white movie. Apparently sales of some colorized movies showed it to be true, with VHS tape sales and rentals. The cash register was winning.

Film professionals, past and present went before Congress, appealing to them to
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
11x17 Movie Poster
stop the colorization. The value of film, America's history, was stressed. Roger Ebert, James Stewart, John Huston, George Lucas and Woody Allen were among those who testified. In 1988, the Film Preservation Act was passed and through the Library of Congress' National Film Preservation Board, brought about the National Film Registry.

The irony in this is that Turner's own television channels, particularly Turner Classic Movies, TCM, are much lauded today for its showing of classic movies uninterrupted and in as original a version as possible. 

On TCM viewers may also see old newsreels, travelogues, short features and the occasional interview or tribute. Lovers of old black and white films gravitate to channels such as TCM. 

The Film Registry has art films and those that honor and recognize early sound technology, like Gus Visser and his Singing Duck. Interesting that some of the earliest films included animals. Why didn't this duck ever become a star?
Who could have imagined this film would survive? 

Films are, as they said, our country's family album. Through film we have stories to tell, how we were as a country, what we valued then and now. And we do value our history. In 2009, Michael Jackson's Thriller became the first music video to be inducted into the Film Registry.

Rocky Horror Picture Show 1975 Tim Curry 8x10 inducted 2005

Among the impressive group people interviewed on this film you'll see Rob Reiner, Peter Coyote, Tim Roth, Wayne Wang and John Waters. They talk about how their lives were changed by films. 

I was so impressed with those who work for and with the National Film Registry, those who work to restore the films, film critics and historians, even the Librarian of Congress was interviewed. These people are dedicated to what they do, they're serious and passionate about the art form and they're fans themselves. We get a peak at their discussion process, how they debate which nominated films should be inducted. 

One film to watch would be the 1920 American Red Cross documentary Heroes All. At the centenary of World War One, it would be a good time to view this movie which examines wounded WWI soldiers who are receiving treatment at Walter Reed Hospital. They also show Washington DC as it was at that time. It's noted that some Red Cross cinematographers went on to careers in Hollywood. This Red Cross Bureau of Pictures production has historical significance and much more.

When I worked at a library a friend came back from an ALA conference wearing a T-Shirt. It said something like, "Visit your local library. There's something there to offend everybody." That's kind of the job of a library regardless of the medium, books or film. Gather the past, be the curator. 

There's an interesting article in a December 2013 edition of The Hollywood Reporter about the politics behind the National Film Registry. There are misunderstandings among some about the Film Registry, including that it is a list of popular films.

"The October government shutdown that led to the furlough of federal workers had an unusual side effect: It canceled the annual meeting of the National Film Preservation Board for the first time in its 25 years of existence.

"Instead, the 44 members (20 active, 22 alternates, two seats vacant) who help decide which 25 films will be added to the 600 titles on the National Film Registry met via email. .... 

"'This is not a popularity contest,'" says National Preservation Board chairman and former MGM film exec Roger L. Mayer. "'It's an attempt to tell people about the history of film and the way film portrays history.' ....

"Of the 42 active board members, 30 are men. The members are submitted by the organizations (including the MPAA, AFI, AMPAS and DGA) that hold chairs on the board, while some at-large members are invited directly by the Librarian. After meeting, each board member submits his or her final 25 picks. 

"Then Billington -- sworn in as the 13th Librarian of Congress in 1987 and the only person to ever have this role and responsibility -- finalizes the list.

"'"We are the sole custodians of the copyright composite of the most creative people in human history," Billington says. "An ordinary person assumes that if it's a museum or it's in an archive, it's going to be there forever. They assume it's something that somebody else will do -- well, we're that somebody else.'"
 -- excerpted from The Hollywood Reporter December 6, 2013 

The National Film Preservation Board Films Chosen 1989-

Learn how to nominate a film to The Film Registry

A list of films that are Not Yet Named, give you some ideas (from the Film Preservation Board)

Celebrity Family Members/Spouses with Hollywood Walk of Fame Stars near one another

Barbara Stanwyck & Robert Taylor Their Wristwatches & Sapphires, wedding & delayed honeymoon

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