These Amazing Shadows is a documentary that delivers many messages. Films are important. They need to be preserved for current and future generations before it's too late. The language of film is a human language. Films are a filter through which we view history and culture. Film is love.
Directed by Kurt Norton and Paul Mariano, this documentary examines the importance of films by focusing on the National Film Registry, part of the Library of Congress. Since 1989, the National Film Registry choses 25 films of historical, cultural and aesthetic importance to be recognized and preserved. This form of preservation keeps the film in the state in which it was meant to be seen.
It all started back in the early 1980s when Ted Turner purchased the MGM library along with many other films and film collections and started colorizing classics such as The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and It's a Wonderful Life. There was outrage because these films, originally in black & white, were being tampered with. They were being altered and shown in a way that was completely different from it's original intended composition. Film directors such as Sidney Pollack and Woody Allen as well as film actors such as Jimmy Stewart were outraged. Turner's response? They are my films, I can do what I want with them.
For much of the early history of the film industry, movies were treated as commodities. Products to be created, packaged, sold and then discarded. Movie studios saw films not as art but as a way to make money. Because of this many early films have been lost. The documentary revealed that 80% of early silent film movies are lost and 50% of films pre 1950 are also lost. Why? Because these films, again treated like products, were not treated well, not kept in good conditions and often times discarded or burned either on purpose or by accident. Turner saw them as a product in another way: a pre-existing stock of content we could still squeeze some money out of.
Let's not vilify Turner though. He is the Turner of Turner Classic Movies remember! And because of Turner's colorizations and the backlash that ensued, it was brought to the American government that films should be treated as art that should be maintained for historical and cultural reasons. From this, The National Registry was born.
These Amazing Shadows: The Movies That Made America interviews a wide variety of film critics, historians, preservationists, writers, actors, directors, cultural historians, etc. to delve into the importance of films and why something like The National Film Registry is so important. How did Kurt Noonan and Paul Mariano, the directors of the documentary, chose the films that were to be showcased? Because after all there are hundreds of films already in the registry and it's impossible to show clips of all of them in the documentary! They let the interviewees sway their decision. For example, the film Baby Face (1933), one of my favorite pre-code movies, was very important to George Willeman, the Nitrate Film Vault Manager at the Library of Congress Packard Campus. He found two reels of the film. One significantly longer than the other. After closely examining both he noticed that one was heavily edited, with certain scenes cut, replaced and sometimes dubbed for new dialogue. The original film, of course, was much more sexual and philosophical and overall taboo. What would happen if we only had the censored version of Baby Face? We would have never experienced the film as it was meant to be seen. And this is why the methodical work of film preservationists is so important! And why Baby Face was featured in the documentary.
These Amazing Shadows is a masterpiece of a documentary. It's completely engrossing, thorough without being overwhelming and a delight for any film fan. It has an important message one that should be conveyed to anyone who truly cares about films.
I have to say, I was thoroughly impressed with These Amazing Shadows. It captured my attention and I didn't want it to end. These Amazing Shadows was the nice swift kick in the rear end that I needed to jump start my love of classic films again. It's been waning due to personal stresses as well as a busy season in book publishing. These Amazing Shadows reminded me why I love films, why they are important and why we, as classic film enthusiasts, should be champions for their preservation.
Stay tuned, tomorrow I will write about my experience watching this film on the big screen at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA.
Meanwhile, make sure you check out some sneak peaks of These Amazing Shadows and take a look at their social media sites. They are everywhere!
These Amazing Shadows Website
These Amazing Shadows on Twitter @AmazingShadows
These Amazing Shadows on Facebook
These Amazing Shadows Blog
These Amazing Shadows YouTube Channel