[This post is a contribution to the third annual For the Love of Film blogathon and fundraiser, which will be running from May 13-18. This year, hosts Marilyn Ferdinand, Farran Smith Nehme and Roderick Heath have dedicated the week to Alfred Hitchcock, whose early (non-directorial) work The White Shadow will be the beneficiary of any money earned during the event, to support the National Film Preservation Foundation's desire to stream the film online for free. Be sure to donate so you can see this very-nearly lost film yourself!]
[Note: I suppose I spoil The White Shadow a bit in here, but it's an incomplete film, and in terms of film preservation, that's part of its power. I wanted to get across the sense of what it was like to be in the Academy screening when we came to the end of the portion that exists. But if you particularly don't want to know anything about the film until you can see it streaming thanks to the NFPF and this blogathon's fundraising efforts, skim lightly especially in two paragraphs before and after the image of Hitchcock directing.]
We excitedly gathered on the sidewalk, anticipating being let into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ own screening room, the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills. VIPs slipped by, headed toward the bar or lounge in their finery, while the rest of us waited, patient but anxious to begin the evening’s entertainment. Any screening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre is a treat, a step into a more opulent past presented by the self-appointed guardians of Hollywood history, but this was no ordinary screening. This was the very first appearance of an early, long-thought-lost Hitchcock film pretty much since its original release in 1924. Well, technically Hitchcock was the Assistant Director on the film (and he tended to get in on every part of production he could in those early days, so likely he was doing much more), the second of two collaborations with director Graham Cutts and actress Betty Compson, apparently rushed into production to capitalize on the popularity of the first, Woman to Woman. According to producer Michael Balcon, “it was as big a flop as Woman to Woman had been a success.” But Woman to Woman remains a lost film, and in any case, The White Shadow could’ve been a terrible movie and we still would’ve been ecstatic to see it.
Our excitement was first of all out of curiosity to see if we could see any glimpses of Hitchcock in the film’s style, but also simply because here’s a film that has been thought lost for decades, turned up (partially at least) in an archive in New Zealand, along with a bunch of other long-lost films. If we can still locate treasure troves like this in 2011, what else might still be out there, waiting for intrepid archivists to find it, figure out what it is, and restore it so the world can rediscover it?
I’ve toyed on and off (mostly off) with the idea of working with film preservation – actually physically restoring aging films frame by frame before time and the elements destroy them. Theoretically film is timeless – it captures a moment in time and preserves it forever, allowing us to see actors, public figures, and our families and friends forever ageless. But physically, film is very delicate indeed; the nitrate stock used in non-digital film is highly flammable and prone to disintegration if not stored carefully. It’s estimated that over half of all films made before 1950 have been lost forever, and as many as 80-90% of silent-era films will never be seen again. With my love of classic film, those numbers horrify me. And while I haven’t actually gone into film preservation myself, Ferdy on Films and The Self-Styled Siren are setting up the opportunity to raise awareness of the need for it with an upcoming blogathon dedicated to the film preservation efforts of the National Film Preservation Foundation.
Here are a couple of paragraphs (copied from Marilyn, copied from the NFPF’s site) about the NFPF:
The NFPF raises money, awards grants, and organizes cooperative projects that enable archives, libraries, museums, historical societies, and universities to work together to save American films. Since opening our doors, we have helped preserve more than 1,560 films and assisted organizations in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. In 2009, we partnered with the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia to preserve and make available on the Internet several American silent films that no longer survived in the United States; another such project will be announced later in 2010.
A two-year study prepared by the Library’s National Film Preservation Board documented that American films are disintegrating faster than archives can save them. The types of motion pictures most at-risk are documentaries, silent-era films, avant-garde works, ethnic films, newsreels, home movies, and independent works. These are not Hollywood sound features belonging to the film studios, but ‘orphans’ that fall outside the scope of commercial preservation programs and exist as one-of-a-kind copies in archives, libraries, museums, and historical societies.
Because it is where the need is highest, the NFPF focuses on films that aren’t well-known, that don’t belong to a major studio, and that you’ve probably never heard of. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important – these are the films that belong to the counterculture, to the individual, and to the world. These are films that will show the future that film doesn’t only belong to the big corporations, but to anyone who wants to make a film. And these are the films that preserve our history and our culture – but that won’t if they aren’t preserved themselves.
The blogathon starts officially a month from today, on February 14th. Keep an eye on Ferdy on Films and the Self-Styled Siren for more, as well as the site specifically set up for the blogathon, For the Love of Film. There you can also find some banners that Greg of CinemaStyles created (as well as the video embedded below) and use them to promote the blogathon as well, if you’re so inclined. I haven’t yet figured out what I will contribute, but I’m very excited to see what others will come up with.
Cinephile, music lover, internet junkie, gamer, and recovering academic (English Lit).
Currently I live in Los Angeles. I moved here for the low cost of living. Somehow that is not working out so well. Actually, I moved here to be in a big city with plenty of stuff to do. I needed lots of film stuff, lots of music stuff, and lots of warm, preferably dry, weather. LA met all the criteria, and so far I still completely love being here.