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May 13, 2011

These Amazing Shadows

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Paul Mariano & Kurt Norton - 2011
Sundance Selects Digital presentation

Oh, the irony of it all! A movie about film preservation was shown as a digital presentation.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect out of These Amazing Shadows even after seeing the trailer. Talk about film preservation, film as culture, etc., well, that's speaking to the choir. What was interesting was, first, the reminder of how the Library of Congress got into the act of naming twenty-five movies a year as being important. Ted Turner's decision to broadcast films made in black and white in colorized versions in 1986 brought out a truly bipartisan cast of Hollywood players to congress. Turner, who had used his ownership of MGM's film library as the basis for his cable network empire, defiantly proclaims that these are "his movies" and he can do what he wants with them. Unsaid in the film is that Turner saw the error in his ways, possibly due to some encouraging words from his wife at the time, Jane Fonda, who was known to have been in a few classic movies herself, and that the cable channel he launched a few years later, has become associated with film preservation as well.

There is also the revelation of how the films are chosen, with interviews with members of the National Film Preservation Board. Even though films are voted on by board members, it is ultimately James Billington, of the Library of Congress, who makes the final decision. There is a bit of humor provided by John Waters in discussing how The Rocky Horror Picture Show got added to a group of films with the usual suspects, like, well, Casablanca. For most film scholars, adding Birth of a Nation would seem obvious, but more surprising was seeing John Singleton discuss his part in arguing for that film's inclusion in the registry. Most poignant is Stephen Peck, son of Gregory Peck, talking about his own experience as a Viet-Nam war era veteran and watching The Deer Hunter.

These Amazing Shadows was made primarily for a general audience, so there isn't to much of the geekery that some of us love regarding the actual work involved in film preservation. Still, there is the tale of how a complete version of the pre-code Baby Face was discovered, and a demonstration of some of the procedures involved in saving nitrate film. Co-director Kurt Norton was on hand in the Denver show to explain why there were also only a few glimpses of the many "experimental" films that have been listed. I am hoping to see the companion film made, Lost Forever, about the films that either no longer exist or remain in a few small fragments.

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Posted by peter at May 13, 2011 08:40 AM