Film Preservation is something near and dear to my heart. I am even thinking of pursuing it as a career, but I'm not totally sure i'm cut out for it. Either way, I will support it for the rest of my life, because it literally pains me to see bad prints of films in wide circulation. The most recent one I can think of was Love Affair. There were huge scratches, dark spots, and brightness inconsistencies throughout the whole movie, and this was on TCM!
Right now the kid I am babysitting is watching Cars for about the billionth time. I too was an obsessive repeater: particularly Home Alone and The Addams Family. The advance of home video technology, and now DVDs, Blu-Rays and now digital copies ensure that no film will be lost again, even the terrible ones, because they are all distributed and archived in multiple formats. Many peoplewho see our work as less than urgent argue that "these were pretty bad films anyway, so who cares if they're lost?". Well if you don't mind, I'm going to go ahead and destroy all copies of From Justin to Kelly, since it wasn't very good anyway.
So what does a lost film like The Awful Truth (1929) and From Justin to Kelly have in common? They both paint an important picture in Hollywood history: one of how a single story can evolve in to several subsequent versions, and the other a commentary on pop-culture status. Who cares if The Awful Truth is terrible? I want to see it!
There are important lost films as well. Two early Hitchcock films are gone: one feature-length and one short. Fanny Foley Herself may not sound too intriguing, but it is a feature-length all-technicolor film from 1931! I'm sure you have all heard by now, but a more complete version of Metropolis was discovered a couple of years ago, and it was screened this weekend in Berlin. Expect a DVD in April.
This brings me to an important website that I just happened upon: Lost Films is an effort to catalogue and fin as many lost films as possible. They also post caps of unidentified films, in the hope that at least an actor can be identified. Please check it out and try to do some identification!
That's all for now, but expect me to come back this week to talk about preservation and the public domain, a growing problem.
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.