Friday, November 28, 2014

A few thoughts about film preservation

The print of Tree in a Test Tube that TCM ran yesterday was terrible, although I'd presume there's no better print available, what with the short having been made by the US Forest Service and the federal government having less reason to look after any movie they might make than the Hollywood studios.

It got me to thinking about the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, which will be turning 25 this year. Sometime in December, they'll be announce the latest set of films to be added to the Registry. As the NFR mentions at its site, "To be eligible for the Registry, a film must be at least 10 years old and be 'culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.'" This means that in addition to Hollywood movies, there are a bunch of traditional documentaries (Harlan County, USA, about a coal miners' strike in Kentucky, was the first documentary added to the NFR in 1990), as well as home moives. George Stevens' films that he took in World War II are there, as is the Zapruder film.

Anybody can nominate films to be added to the Registry, although I've never actually gotten around to doing so myself. There are several that I'd think of nominating:

The Cat Concerto. As best I can tell, there are no Tom and Jerry shorts on the Registry, and this one, which has Tom trying to play Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody on a grand piano that Jerry has turned into his nest, is one of the best, having won an Oscar for the best animated short.

Night Descends on Treasure Island. I don't think any of the Traveltalks shorts are in the Registry either, and some of them -- especially the ones that James A. Fitzpatrick did in the US during the World War II years -- would fit the cultural and historic signifcance part of the Registry's criteria. Fitzpatrick made two shorts about the international exposition that was held on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay in 1939. The two together would probably be a good choice, but the second one with its light show is even more in need of a pristine print.

The Case Against the 20% Federal Admissions Tax on Motion Picture Theaters. This is another one that has clear historical significance, showing what the small movie theaters, and I think smaller towns in general, thought of themselves at the time when TV was really starting to take off.

The complete list of titles in the Regsitry is avaiable here.

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