The Race to Save Treasured Old Films

Posted on September 9, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Old films are disintegrating, and we risk losing forever indispensable works of art and cultural artifacts. In an article in the New York Times, movie critic Manola Dargis describes another challenge: there were different versions of some earlier films, so detective work is required along with preservation of the fragile nitrate prints.

Preservationists seek out both the best-preserved prints and elements from different film copies, and often work with outside technicians. (Some handle the visuals, others the audio; some work with photochemical elements, others with digital.) It’s like assembling a jigsaw puzzle with pieces from many copies of that puzzle — pieces that sometimes need to be shipped from France and spruced up in Los Angeles. Flaws remain because, Mr. Pogorzelski said, he has “to stretch dollars as far as they can go.” Carrying out a “100 percent frame-by-frame cleaning” and focusing all of the archive’s resources on one film might mean ignoring dozens of others.

And she reminds us why it is so important.

All movies are time machines, and restoration helps bring the moving-image present together with a past that is always — as prints decay, labs close and money ebbs — moving further away.

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