An exploration of film preservation and restoration in the United States.






Credited cast:
Forrest J. Ackerman ...
Eric Aijala ...
Laurence Austin ...
Himself - Silent Movie Theatre Owner
Stan Brakhage ...
Mark Cantor ...
Mayme Clayton ...
Herself (as Dr. Mayme Clayton)
Carla Deger ...
Raymond Fielding ...
Herself (as Jean Picker Firstenberg)
David Francis ...
Larry Franklin ...
Robert Gitt ...
Himself - UCLA Film Preservation Officer (as Bob Gitt)
George Hall ...
Himself (as 'Professor' George Hall)
John Harvey ...
Himself - Cinerama Expert


An exploration of film preservation and restoration in the United States. We learn about nitrate film, which turns gummy before either disintegrating or burning, and which can cause nearby films to also go bad. We see "safety" film, which can also deteriorate with "vinegar syndrome." We see some of the places where films, once thought to have no lasting value, were discarded and rediscovered decades later. Soundtracks are often on film and are prone to the same problems, or for the earliest sound films, are on separate discs that often get separated from the film. Colors can fade, sometimes to the extent that the image is gone. The impressive Cinerama format has been abandoned except for some dedicated enthusiasts. Also worth preserving, but presenting their own problems, are avant-garde/experimental films and home movies. Written by Jon Reeves <>

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Release Date:

March 1999 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Fascinating but not altogether truthful documentary.
22 July 2012 | by (usa) – See all my reviews

It is ironic that this documentary about preserving films is itself almost lost. Today Amazon has for sale a single videotape of the show and I saw it only because someone put it on Youtube. While the show is clearly made by people who love film, they are sometimes wrong about the subject. Alan Alda opens the discourse and tells us about nitrate film. "First it turns green and then it turns to powder." Well, it doesn't turn green. And there are many stages of deterioration before the powder phase. We have film stock shown to us, supposedly old silent rarities that is clearly sound film. Old lost silent prints are presented wound on modern plastic cores. And the original camera negative of "The Great Train Robbery" is obviously a modern positive print, and it is about 400 feet shorter than the film it pretends to be. The very idea that something so rare as the original negative of such a landmark film would be rattling around in a METAL can without tissue or plastic wrap and wound in such a sloppy fashion is absurd.

OK, I'll concede some of these anachronisms would not register with the majority of viewers. What should not be ignored is the fact that the loss of so many titles and the deterioration of so many prints is due, not to fate or unstable film base or the ravages of time but to the carelessness and appalling policies of the film copyright owners. Roddy MacDowell begins to speak of this in one segment and is almost immediately cut off.

Leonard Maltin introduces us to a fellow who set up a Cinerama system in his home. Mr. Maltin thinks it's wonderful that this individual cared enough about the films to preserve them. What he doesn't mention is that film collectors were systematically hounded and harassed by the film studios and the FBI in the years before DVDs and videotape. Many had their collections confiscated and destroyed and some were sued just as so-called "film pirates" are today. Yet it was the collectors who saved the "one last print" of so many films that would otherwise be lost. The Cinerama guy probably paid somebody to give him the print that was destined for destruction and technically he stole it! Another segment describes how a silent film lover set up a silent theater and lovingly accumulated a library of rare silent prints. What they don't tell you is that the copyright owner of "The Covered Wagon" sued this man for showing the film.....even though they cared so little about it that they junked the negatives for their silver content decades earlier.

And one thing you might not notice until the show is over; where can you and I see these wonderful treasures that have been preserved and restored? Well in many cases, you can't. Unless there is a DVD release such as "Metropolis" received recently, you and I must depend on somebody leaking a copy when they get their hands on a DVD at a film festival. Films must be preserved for the future generations, but not for the likes of us. Well, at least we know they still exist. Better than nothing.

On the bright side, this is a fascinating show. Check it out on Youtube and hope that an updated edition might someday find its way to a DVD and maybe get packaged with a few of those restored treasures as well.

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