November/December 2014

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62 CINEMONTAGE / NOV-DEC 14 The Past Is a Moving Picture: Preserving the Twentieth Century on Film by Janna Jones University Press of Florida Paperback, 212 pps., $18.95 ISBN: 9780813060378 by Betsy A. McLane A lmost everyone in the business has heard the statistics: Only 10 percent of films made between 1910 and 1920 still exist; 20 percent of the films made in the 1920s survive; and only around half of the films made before 1950 remain — some only in part. The majority of these still need restoration. No one is able to calculate how many documentaries, shorts of all types, independent films, television programs, industrials and home movies are gone, since there is little or no record of their fates. Today, most major studios and TV channels preserve their own product, but the early films and the "orphans" (as the field calls titles that don't have clear rights owners, or because those owners cannot or will not pay for preservation) continue to disappear regularly. This means that many Guild members' achievements are gone forever, and that sound and picture work of today's members could conceivably vanish. These facts alone should prompt readers to pick up Janna Jones' book The Past Is a Moving Picture: Preserving the Twentieth Century on Film, but there are yet more enticements to read it. Instead of a dry recitation or polemic, Jones offers access to our film archives via a solid intellectual framework made vivid with stories of the field's leading players, institutions and film titles. Many of the champions of preservation are included — from Iris Barry, the first head of the Department of Film at the Museum of Modern Art, to Martin Scorsese's high-profile efforts. As its title states, the book is devoted to the first 100 years of cinema preservation and restoration. Although acknowledged, the book does not dwell on analog video or digital developments. Lest this emphasis on the past seem to make the book an academic exercise, consider that none of the classic moments of sound and picture editing would be available to emulate and inspire without the work of archivists and restoration experts. The Past Is a Moving Picture clearly outlines the development of the United States' archival institutions and poses important contemporary questions with a jargon-free chronological examination. Jones considers film archives as active participants in creating a particular 20th century history. She talks about the pre- 1980 period, a time when a "scarcity paradigm" prevailed. This was the era when few cared about older films (even less about video) and parts of studio libraries. The few archivists who knew what was going on frantically tried to save and store everything they could. This mindset is rightfully still at work, even though it is impossible to save everything. No one can accurately predict what might be important in 100 years, just as no one in 1914 knew how vital films made that year would become. That was the year in which Charlie Chaplin made dozens of Keystone shorts and became filmdom's first great star; Winsor McCay created the animated Gertie the Dinosaur; Paramount Pictures was founded in Los Angeles; and Cecil B. DeMille's The Squaw Man became the first feature produced in Hollywood proper. The fact that all but one of Chaplin's Keystone comedies still exist is due to their enormous popularity. The earliest efforts at collecting and preserving films were, according to Jones, often driven by a sense of patriotic duty to explain and enshrine collective ideals about America. The first attempt to establish a nationwide collection was begun by Will Hays, President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association, the precursor of today's MPAA. Best known for enforcing Hollywood censorship, Hays lobbied the federal government for 11 years to establish a collection of sound and image recordings to form a cultural, commercial and patriotic legacy that would, not coincidentally, enhance the status of his constituents — the studio bosses. His proposed site for the archive was the basement of the White House. Hays' goals included free screenings for immigrants traveling in steerage, through which he hoped to acquaint them with American customs. Hays' aims were not realized, but his work did help lead to the inclusion of film in the National Archives in the 1930s. Problems of archiving changed over the decades and continue to multiply. Unlike the "scarcity paradigm" of the last century, many archives now have far too much material to sort, catalogue, store, digitize and make available. In most places, only a small fraction of the holdings have been "processed." Access has become a priority, with different policies of the archival community providing various levels of public access. The existence of some films is due to restrictions on their use that were placed by rights holders. Also, some were acquired and stored by collectors who often did not own copyrights, prompting some archives' reluctance to screen or even acknowledge certain holdings. That TO PROTECT AND PRESERVE CUT/PRINT

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