Showing posts with label National Film Registry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label National Film Registry. Show all posts

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fury (1936) Essay for the National Film Registry

Recently I had the honor to write an article about Fury (1936) for the Library of Congress. This Fritz Lang film is part of the National Film Registry and my essay is one of numerous expanded essays available online. Every year the National Film Registry selects “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films” to be archived and preserved. They do great work and if you haven’t watched it already These Amazing Shadows is a wonderful documentary about the history of the National Film Registry.

Thank you so much the Library of Congress for allowing me to contribute an article!

You can check out the list of expanded essays here. My good friend Jonas wrote an article on King of Jazz (1930)!

Here is my article about Fury (1936).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Interview with Kurt Norton, co-director/producer of These Amazing Shadows (2011)

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kurt Norton, director/producer alongside Paul Mariano of the amazing documentary These Amazing Shadows (2011). This interview was conducted earlier in the year but I have been saving it to post here to celebrate the documentary's broadcast on PBS tomorrow! A big thank you to Kurt Norton for granting me the interview and for introducing me to These Amazing Shadows.

1) How did you two come to decide that you wanted to film These Amazing Shadows?

Paul (Mariano) saw an article in the New York Times in 2008 about the National Film Registry. He was struck by two things: that he had never heard of the National Film Registry and a statistic quoted in the article that 90% of films made before 1920 no longer exist and 50% before 1950 are lost forever. He called and told me about the article. I, too, had never heard of the National Film Registry. We both consider ourselves fairly knowledgeable about film, so it was quite a surprise that this very cool list of America's most important films existed and we knew nothing about it. We had just come off two documentary projects that didn't work out for a variety of reasons. We both liked the idea of doing a documentary on the movies. Seemed like a lot of fun. Paul called Steve Leggett at the Library of Congress who coordinates the National Film Registry and found out that no one had ever made a film about the Registry. We dove in without really figuring out what our story would look like. How do you make a movie about a list?

2) How did you two meet?

We met in 1985 at the Contra Costa County (California) Public Defender Office. Paul was a Deputy Public Defender and I was an defense investigator. We became friends, then discovered our common interest in filmmaking. Our first collaboration was making goofy videos for the office softball team end of season party. By a weird coincidence in those softball videos we used a lot of clips from famous movies, which we audio dubbed with our own dialogue.

3) How long did the documentary take to film and produce?

We spent over two years producing These Amazing Shadows. One reason it took that long was because we had difficulty figuring out how to tell our story. We spent a lot of time at first focusing on film preservation. As time went on our story evolved into one about the movies - its power, how it connects us all, how it reflects who we are and the joy it brings people. Another reason it took so long was because we had to find just the right people to work with: our producer Christine O'Malley, editors Doug Blush and Alex Calleros, graphic designer Brian Oakes, composer Peter Golub. We found them one by one - it was a very challenging process. The only person we had in place to began our project with was our outstanding director of photography Frazer Bradshaw. It was important to us and the project to find just the right people - people with the right temperament, point of view and artistry.

4) Working together as directors, did each of you have different roles to play or did you work side-by-side during the process?

We worked side-by-side. Sort of a two-headed monster. Having two directors is both a blessing and curse. It is a blessing because often two heads are better than one to develop ideas. Also, when one of us was feeling low energy the other was there to carry the load. The negative part is that sometimes people we worked with would get confused as to whether it was necessary to get both our approvals for decisions. It was a little cumbersome at times. Mostly it was very positive. Making a film, narrative or documentary, is a real marathon. The director has to inspire and motivate the production team - keep the whole ship moving forward. Having a partner is a real advantage because we kept inspiring each other and in turn the whole team. In terms of the interviews Paul and I took turns. By just luck of the draw Paul interviewed Rob Reiner and I interviewed Christopher Nolan. There was no grand plan as to who interviewed whom.

5) Why do you think it's important for people to know about Film Restoration and The National Film Registry?

It is important for people to recognize that our cultural heritage won't just take care of itself. We have to, as individuals and a society, make focused efforts to preserve our culture. Movies are an important part of that goal because as Robin Blaetz, one of our interview subject says, film is the art form of the 20th century. It is amazing how ideas, habits, fashions can get lost or forgotten from one generation to another. For us to connect as human beings we need to understand each other. Understand where we have come from - our connections - our common history - the good and the bad. Our lives have become so busy and technology is pushing change to the point that rather than a generation being measured in perhaps a thirty year block, it is now measured in three to four years. If that is true, then we need to protect our cultural heritage more than ever. We are lucky in this country that we have institutions like the Library of Congress. We found in the Library a part of the government that really works. That is because of the people who work there - they are passionate and dedicated. I know it sounds corny but it is true. Whether you belong to the Tea Party or are a liberal Democrat you can take pride that the Library of Congress works.

6) How did you come to select the films that were discussed in the documentary?

We, meaning our production team, had certain ideas about what films we should include in our documentary. We went dutifully about our interviews asking people about those films. But, what we found was that people told us about films they thought important. When a person tells you about a film they love or find important there is passion. We realized that we needed to follow the path being laid before us by our interview subjects. It was in their passion that we found our story. The films that Paul and I love didn't matter because we were not in front of the camera. Our interview subject took us on a great trip that we formed into our documentary.

7) How did you come to select the people who were interviewed in the documentary?

We selected people to interview that we thought were interesting - had something to say. A lot of people are wonderful, but don't really have anything to say. A good interviewer can bring out the best in anyone. Charlie Rose, Tavis Smiley and Terry Gross are good examples of that. But, just bringing out the best is not good enough for a documentary. The person has to have some inherent ability to express their inner world and passion. That is what makes them documentary worthy, so to speak. Convincing prominent people to be in a documentary being produced by two guys with no discernible track record is very difficult. We got a lot of rejections from some great people. Our success in getting interviews was based on two thing: persistence and luck. We got Christopher Nolan because his daughter and our editor Doug Blush's daughter share the same piano teacher. It was through that personal connection we were able to submit our request. Dumb luck can sometimes be pretty important.

8) What do you hope that These Amazing Shadows accomplishes?

We hope that These Amazing Shadows entertains and inspires people. We certainly want to create awareness about the need for film preservation and the preservation of our cultural heritage in general. But, we've found that something else has happened that we couldn't have anticipated. We've had high school and college students come up to us after a screening and tell us that because of our film they want a career in filmmaking. We never expected that kind of response. So many people have told us how they have rediscovered the movies. Fallen in love with movies from the 1930s and 40s. Watched an experimental film for the first time in their life. Preservation is important, but it is the films themselves and how they affect people that is most important.

9) Tell us a little about your social media campaign for the documentary.

Paul and I are not in our 20s or 30s. Before this project I knew nothing about facebook, twitter, blogging, foursquare, tumblr, etc. We found with a limited promotion and advertising budget that social media was very important. We realized that there were people out there that had established connections to online communities with a shared interest. And, that those connections are very powerful. It took us a while to tap into that world. We began by just surfing the net looking for bloggers and facebook pages who we simply enjoyed reading. We learned a lot from just reading and reading. We started our social media campaign in December of 2010. We now know we should have started it a year before. It takes time to make the right connections. I am afraid that we won't really know how to have a really effective social media until 2012! Thank goodness for my 26 year old niece, Tessa Rexroat, because she really educated us.

10) These Amazing Shadows has already been screened at big film festivals such as Sundance. Tell us a little about the cross-country tour of the documentary and the reactions you've been getting so far. (as of June 2011)

In many ways distribution is harder than making the documentary. Marketing the film is so challenging because the market place is so crowded. We suffer a bit because we have been slow to develop a clever marketing hook. Film preservation is not the most exciting hook. I was at the Denver FilmCenter recently and before the screening people were coming up to me and saying, "So, this is a clip show?" Well it kind of is, but it is so much more than that. After the screening the same people came up to say how much they loved, learned and were inspired by our film. Though our marketing can be poor, once we get people in the theater they love our film. We are very lucky to have IFC behind us. They have been so supportive. They own our North American distribution rights. Even though they have guided us it is still the responsibility of the filmmakers to promote the film. Because we are the ones who have the most passion about the project. We were also lucky to be part of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. That festival is such a boost for a documentary like ours. It's short hand in our country for "a good film." Sundance began a whirlwind experience that has not stopped for almost six months. We still have a long way to go because we are scheduled to be broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens on December 28th and our DVD will be released by PBS Video in the fall. We just keep telling ourselves sleep and free time is highly overrated.

Monday, December 26, 2011

These Amazing Shadows on PBS and a Blu-Ray Giveaway

"All these people who worked on these things, who are all gone now, but they've left behind these amazing shadows for us to enjoy." - George Willeman

Back in May, I had the amazing opportunity to watch the documentary These Amazing Shadows (2011) at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, MA (you can read my original review here). This documentary chronicles the history of the National Film Registry, which is part of the Library of Congress. The films that are made part of the registry vary greatly. They can be full-length cinematic films, documentaries, shorts, music videos, etc. but they all have something in common. They are considered to be culturally, historically and aesthetically significant. The National Film Registry choses 25 films to add to their list each year. Films are a living history of our culture. And anyone who doesn't believe that, needs to watch These Amazing Shadows! In the documentary, many industry professionals, actors, directors, even film writers like The Self-Styled Siren, are interviewed. It's a wonderful documentary that I think film fans and skeptics alike need to see this film. 

And now you can! These Amazing Shadows is available on DVD and Blu-Ray as of last month. Also, PBS is showing the documentary as part of their Independent Lens series. It airs on Wednesday December 28th (check your local listings for time and channel).

PBS has a fun but very challenging Film IQ test you can take. If you want to vote for a film to be included in the 2012 list of 25, you can learn more about how to vote here. Also, if you are curious about which films are not included in the Registry yet, the Library of Congress has a master list you can browse here.

These Amazing Shadows is all over the internet. They have a main website, a trailer, a Facebook page, a Twitter account (this one is fun to follow!),  and a wonderfully informative blog that is updated regularly.

Stay tuned because tomorrow I will be posting an interview with one of the directors Kurt Norton! 

And now for the giveaway! Thanks to the PR folks for These Amazing Shadows, I have the opportunity to give away 4 Blu-Rays of the documentary. 

Contest Rules: Fill out the form below to enter. US & Canada Only. One entry per person, contest ends at 11:59pm EST on Janury 5th. Winners will be chosen at random and announced on the blog. Good luck!

The contest is now over.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

These Amazing Shadows at the Coolidge Corner Theatre

Some weeks ago, I received an email from director Kurt Norton about These Amazing Shadows. I've been in kind of a classic movie slump and I was really hoping that this documentary (read/watch more about it here and read my review here) would help bring me out of it. And boy it did!

Carlos and I headed over to Coolidge Corner in Brookline, MA for the showing. Between the both of us we have the majority of film history covered (early part for me, later part for him). I knew that we would both enjoy the documentary in our own ways.

The documentary was shown at the historic Coolidge Corner Theatre on Tuesday May 10th.

The documentary was introduced by director Paul Mariano (who is a Boston native, woot!)

Before I had attend the event, I mentioned that I was going here and on Twitter. I got this message from none other than the Self-Styled Siren herself.

Really?! We all know that the Siren is a pretty big flippin' deal but I hadn't realized she was in the documentary. So when the Wizard of Oz portion came on, I quickly grabbed my iPhone and took a picture of the screen.

Yay! I hope she doesn't kill me for this.

After the film, there was a panel discussion moderated by film critic Jay Carr and featuring Robin Blaetz, film professor, George Willeman, the film preservationist from the Library of Congress who happened to be wearing a Roy Rogers tie and Paul Mariano, one of the two directors. It was great to hear a bit more about the documentary and to get some different perspectives on the making of it and what was featured, etc. After the discussion was over, I was very brave and went up and introduced myself to Paul Mariano who was very kind to greet me. He knew me by name which blew me away? Little ole me?

At the showing, we got these cool I Heart Movies buttons. Very neat. I wore mine with pride.

Thank you so much to Kurt Norton and Paul Mariano for inviting me to the screening. It was very nice of them. And a special thank to Kurt Norton who helped me a lot. I wish I could have met him to thank him in person.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

These Amazing Shadows: The Movies That Made America (2011) a review

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

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