Saturday, February 20, 2010

Restoring Film, Preserving Art and Conserving Culture

Shelfers- the time is now. It is the end of a very special week- one that hits a cause near and dear to my heart and many others. It is the week of the For the Love of Film: Film Preservation Blogathon that has been hosted by The Self-Styled Siren and Furdy on Film. Allow me the indulgence of doing something I have never done on The Shelf; I am asking for your help and your donations. You see, this is the point of the blogathon; not merely to discuss and call attention to the need for Film Preservation, but to also ask for your donation to The National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF).

As described by the Self Styled Siren, the role of The National Film Preservation Foundation is thus: “The National Film Preservation Foundation is the independent, nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America’s film heritage. They work directly with archives to rescue endangered films that will not survive without public support.” When you make a donation, The NFPF will enter you in a drawing to give away 4 DVD sets as thank-you gifts. Winners will be chosen in a random drawing, and could receive: Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934 and Treasures IV: American Avant Garde Film, 1947-1986.

I ask that you take a moment to consider it and to donate- you can do so by clicking the button below. I can wait.

Click Here to Donate

Are you back? If you didn’t click- why I’ll give you the button a second time:

Click Here to Donate

OK- hopefully you have taken full advantage of this time to make a contribution towards the preservation of film. I know that readers of this blog fully appreciate the need for preservation and have appreciated popping in a DVD of your favorite film and have marveled when you discovered a re-mastered print and improved sound over that old VHS copy you had. Or perhaps you have purchased a copy of a DVD with a restored print that restored precious minutes to a film you last saw on TV. Studios and distributors have made the effort to restore these films, and in some cases preserve and rescue them from oblivion. Costs, however, are often prohibitive. And although some studios have gone the route of MOD or digital distribution to lower costs, but meet demand; often restoration is not done because of said costs.

But what about the film that isn’t in good enough condition to release- or to allow a theatrical screening? Often they are languishing in libraries, studio archives and even in private collections- deteriorating slowly, but surely, over time. Some films are in such a state that to take them out and even expose them to air and light would cause them irreparable harm. Further, there are those films that exist only in partial prints. One good example is Fritz Lang’s great silent epic Metropolis. Missing footage in a foreign print has only been recently discovered and a restoration project ensued which has culminated in a complete version of the film which will be shown this year at the TCM Film Festival; the first time the complete film has been seen by an audience in decades.

So why should you be concerned? You, after all, are not a professional film technician. Maybe you don’t write articles about or research movies or film history. Maybe you don’t have a private collection of prints – you, after all, are merely a film fan. You don’t have the resources or the know how to do anything about it. Or do you? Your contribution is a direct way for you to be involved in this process. It is a way for you to make a real difference.

Now, many bloggers have been contributing their time and considerable talents to this blogathon. Everyone from Film critics like Roger Ebert to hall of fame film writers and bloggers like the Self Styled Siren to little old amateurs such as myself, have been writing to tell you why this effort is so important. I want to take just a moment and perhaps demonstrate the importance of your donation from another angle.

Your old Uncle Loophole teaches history and humanities at a local campus of a large University. I went to school and majored in History and minored in Anthropological Archaeology. My graduate work was in American History with another degree in Museum Administration specializing in Material Culture studies. I don’t tell you this to scare you away (“Oh noooo- academia! Run!”) or to brag on myself. No, I tell you this so you can appreciate where I am coming from, and so you can understand the full impact of what I am going to say. Film Preservation is nothing short than the preservation of our culture and our history. Our Federal Government, National museums, public committees and local governments around our nation spend millions annually to preserve historic sites, battlefields, buildings and many material objects. Conserving areas of land considered vitally important to our culture and to our future is considered of major importance. And these things should be preserved. In fact, I would venture to say there is much more out there that needs preservation and they can’t, or won’t, preserve them all. It is a daunting task, but it is one that is well worth the effort. A historian once said that a people that forgets their past is like a scary, lost person – lost without any guide to their future path. I would also add that a nation that loses the connection with its past, also loses its connection to the present; like a rudderless ship that has had no embarking point and has no destination, and can’t fix its present location. With nothing to guide it or give the ship information- the stars, sea charts, knowledge of its course- that ship will aimlessly travel on and perhaps never reach its intended destination.

I greatly value our history and our material culture. When I look at things that the people of the past created I can often see reflected therein their values, concerns, fears and hopes. And nowhere is that more the case than in the art and expressive materials that a culture creates: sculptures, novels, paintings, music and even in the case of the 20th century and on- films. I use film in my classes to teach and to illustrate because I find that few material objects can reach a person with such immediacy as film. When I teach my 20th Century American Experience class- film plays a vital part. In past classes I have used The Grapes of Wrath and I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang when discussing how the Great Depression affected the American People. I have screen clips from The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman when discussing American culture in the 1950s and its concern with Atomic power, racism and its perception of youth rebellion. My class has viewed In the Heat of the Night and watched interviews with the makers and stars of the film when discussing changes in the culture in the 1960s. I have used film footage of the moon landing, Civil Rights marches, World War II fighting to vividly demonstrate where we have been as a nation. In other words I use film as context- and to help students make a personal connection to the past. There is a difference between using film in class to demonstrate context and then using a film in class (such as a historical epic) and say “This is what happened.” I do not do the later- but using it as context is as valuable as discussing the nation’s literature, music or art. I can’t recall a class on The Civil War that didn’t mention Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or a class on the Renaissance that didn’t discuss the art of the period. In short- a culture creates- and what it creates also contains elements of what it values and believes. Its material culture is nothing short of a mirror held up to capture the image and light of the person holding it to admire.

There are many, many films that are pure escapism- and pure entertainment- but even they are important as a part of our common heritage. Before the radio and moving picture- there was still so much to divide us culturally. The 20th century is nothing, if not the story of a nation that found a common language in radio, film, and television and created a common culture- and a nation that became less and less isolated from itself and from the world. The images we have of our nation, of our entertainment, of our highs and lows, and of how we interpret those highs and lows are as important as the self-same written documents and government papers that we spend so much time and effort to preserve. My assertion is thus- when you aid in preserving our film heritage, you are doing nothing short of preserving and conserving our culture.

I know that not all films necessarily share equal importance in terms of what they contain or even their entertainment value. But there are many films in University holdings, studio archives, private collections and in libraries that have important historical documentary footage- or are films that hold a special place in out entertainment culture. Your donation can go to help find and preserve those films before they are lost forever. We have already lost some- let’s make the move to try and preserve what we can for future generations. Your love of film and your favorite cartoons, shorts, documentaries, comedies, romances and on and on can be passed on to your children and their children and provide the rich cultural heritage and common language of film that we all share.

Again, please donate to the Film Preservation cause. You effort and contribution can do much to help and we can united in a common cause that makes a mark, makes a difference towards our history and our culture. Again here is the link to donate:
Click here to Donate

Thank you for your enthusiasm and thank you for your support. And please go to the Siren’s post with the blogathon’s master list for links to many, many great articles and posts. (By the way- you know this is important to Uncle Loophole when he breaks with 5 years of Shelf tradition and include capitalization in the post title!)

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

We've seen growing awareness of film preservation, yet the deterioration and eventual disappearance of films have not come to an end. There's still a race against the clock to save what we can at some point.


Joe Thompson said...

J. Cheever Loophole (excellent choice of name): I'm happy to hear that you use film to help your students understand our past. It is important for us to know where we have gone. Thhank you for the well-written and well-thought-out post. Your students are lucky.

J.C. Loophole said...

Joe- I am honored by your visit! And I very much enjoyed you blogathon series on Nitrate-I saw London street scene footage on Youtube briefly the other day- is this the same footage you mentioned in part II as being shot by Robert Paul? If so what DVD is it on? It is something I would love to show in class (You Tube is a hassle to use via the University Network)
By the way thanks for noticing about my nom de plume! One of my favorite Groucho aliases.

Joe Thompson said...


>I am honored by your visit! And I very much enjoyed you blogathon series on Nitrate-

Very kind of you to say. I had fun doing it.

>I saw London street scene footage on Youtube briefly the other day- is this the same footage you mentioned in part II as being shot by Robert Paul? If so what DVD is it on? It is something I would love to show in class (You Tube is a hassle to use via the University Network)

I heard about it from Luke McKernan who does The Bioscope ( He works at the British Library, lucky guy. I had hoped it would be available in the US on Kino's "The Movies Begin," which has a selection of Paul's films on the disc titled "The European Pioneers," but I don't see it listed. It does have the Derby film.

>By the way thanks for noticing about my nom de plume! One of my favorite Groucho aliases.

I agree, although I was also fond of Quincy Adams Wagstaff.

Marilyn Ferdinand said...

Great post that really gets to the heart of why film preservation - like that of our public lands and monuments - is so important. Let Mt. Rushmore go to pot and hear the outcry. Let a few nitrate films that show Mt. Rushmore turn to dust, and not a sound is heard, but just as much is lost. Thanks for being a part of our blogathon.

Tinky said...

Hi, J.C.--As a former academician myself (yes, I taught Freshman Comp among other things) I blush but do not hesitate to point out that you spelled the word "its" as "it's" at one point in this post.

Otherwise, I found this an excellent post; I love all the different perspectives and passions that come out in this blogathon. I'm sure your students appreciate having you as a teacher.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Excelent post, J.C.

"The 20th century is nothing, if not the story of a nation that found a common language in radio, film, and television and created a common culture- and a nation that became less and less isolated from itself and from the world."


J.C. Loophole said...

Thanks everyone for you kind comments-
>Joe - thanks for the info and the link to Luke's site, (now I have yet another site to check out). I would be interested if they ever packaged similar footage like that for release here in the states. Here is the youtube footage I think I saw earlier:

>Marilyn- thank you for your kind words and the visit! And thanks for the wonderful work you did on the blogathon- I am eager to find out exactly how well the blogathon did. And the Mt. Rushmore analogy is very apt. Many countries have some sort of nation film library or agency related to preservation or cataloging- we have no real, effective group at that level to preserve in the national interest outside of the LOC- but they are overwhelmed with materials and request. It makes me wonder what would be a first step in an industry that is used to self-regulation and little government oversite (which is fine by me, btw- but I would be interested in a preservation or national heritage or library agency of somesort dedicated to preservation and cataloging.

>Tinky, blushing is not necessary. I am the first to remind my students that I have to proofread everything I write and I try to get someone else to do so as well (especially when I write fast like this!) I will make sure to make corrections.

>Jacqueline- so kind of you to say. It is something I have been trying to express to my students and to find a way to discuss here- the blogathon was a perfect opportunity. And I very much enjoyed your article on the Restoration of Vertigo- perhaps one of my favorite Hitchcock films. And you are correct- the restoration made a huge difference in even the symbolic subtleness of the film.

Unknown said...


A great post! So nice to know there are still people on the grassroots teaching these stuff. I'm sure the legacy will live on. More power to you and god bless.


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