Steps must be taken to preserve classic movies

By Doug Cummings

Arizona Daily Wildcat

t's hard to imagine movies as anything other than nebulous

experiences that materialize on the theater or television screen free of the physical world. In reality they are tangible artifacts that are in danger of disappearing.

In 1952, Kodak introduced their single strip Eastmancolor film that replaced the three strip Technicolor film used in Hollywood. It seemed more efficient, and while the colors weren't as saturated as Technicolor, it nevertheless provided favorable and less expensive results. Today, it is known that movies shot on Eastmancolor film fade into a bright pink tint seven to twelve years after development.

After movies are exhibited, the negatives are stored in the studio vaults in large metal cannisters and left there indefinitely. For many years, vaulted movies were forgotten about, unless the studio decided to implement a rare rerelease.

More recently, however, as these old films began to develop "afterlives" through their resurrection on television, video, laserdisc, and satellite, archivists began digging through the vaults and found films in terrible condition, slowly rotting away in battered and rusty cans. Many of the color films had faded into near-oblivion and the filmmakers were justifiably concerned.

One of the most outspoken activists who addressed the problem was director Martin Scorsese ("Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver") who says part of his decision to film "Raging Bull" in black and white stemmed from his knowledge that color movies eventually faded away. As he travelled around the world and promoted the film in 1980, he and his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, lectured extensively on the need to preserve, and in some cases restore, old movies that were virtually gone.

Today, a group of filmmakers including Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Robert Redford, Sydney Pollack, and Francis Coppola have formed The Film Foundation, a group devoted to helping the studios preserve the films of the past so they will be available for future generations. In an interview with film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert in The Future of the Movies, Scorsese says, "People in 2050 are going to look back at this century as the Golden Age of cinema, not only in America but everywhere else... [Those people] are going to say, 'Why didn't they do anything about [film deterioration]?' We're the 'they' in that case!"

Many contemporary movies have also deteriorated. A few years ago, the negative of "Jaws" was found in terrible condition. Steven Spielberg, the film's director, laments about having to search all over the world looking for good prints that might have been missplaced when the movie was first released.

In 1983, Kodak introduced a low-fade color stock which they say should last eighty to one hundred years. Thanks to activists like Scorsese, several classic films like "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Spartacus" have been restored for the enjoyment of contemporary audiences. If the movies of the past generations are to be available for future generations, studios, filmmakers and today's audiences need to support film preservation and the "rediscovery" of classic movies.

To see the work of film restoration first hand, both "Spartacus" and "Lawrence of Arabia" are available on video in their restored forms through Casa Video, 326-6314, and local stores.

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