CNN Showbiz

Film-makers fight to preserve films

October 3, 1995
Web posted at: 12:55 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Jim Moret

LOS ANGELES (CNN)--Many modern film-makers learned their craft by watching old movies.

Now, they're fighting to preserve the films for future generations.

It's impossible to watch the original 1924 picture "Poisoned Paradise" starring Clara Bow. The film is extremely deteriorated and bubbles replace much of the original images. It is among the 100 million feet of nitrate film currently rotting away, needing preservation.

A vast amount of movies made are gone forever. All that is left of a 1928 Gary Cooper movie, entitled "Beau Sabreur", is a damaged trailer. "Before 1950 half of the films, half are gone. Twenty-one thousand films, long films, short films, half of them will never be seen again," said Eva Marie Saint.

On the Waterfront

Saint, who took home the Oscar for her role in "On the Waterfront", is just one of the celebrities joining American Movie Classics' crusade to save the art form.


This week, the cable channel will be playing a century's span of American comedies in conjunction with their third annual film preservation fund-raiser. The money raised will benefit The Film Foundation, a non-profit organization formed by preservation activist and director Martin Scorsese. "We've seen growing awareness of film preservation, yet the deterioration and eventual disappearance of films have not come to an end. There's still a race against the clock to save what we can at some point," said Scorsese.

As the clock is ticking in the UCLA Film and TV Archives, Chief Preservation Officer Robert Gitt tries to get as many deteriorating films copied as he can. "It isn't just old films from the 1920's on nitrate base that are going bad. We discovered about ten years ago that newer films that we thought were on better stock are also going bad," said Gitt.

It's not all bad news at the archives. The 1925 Hal Roach film "Fast Company" can now bring laughs into the next century. "It's effectively preserved now. It was a lost movie two months ago and now it's preserved for generations to come," said Eric Aijalal, film preservationist.

"When something is starting to deteriorate and you know it's an emergency you have to copy it," said Aijalal. "It may not be a masterpiece but just make a copy of it so people can study and judge it in the future and learn from it."

Many famous faces have learned techniques from films of Buster Keaton. "There's a lot of comics who've studied his work and said they've learned from him. From Woody Allen, Steve Martin...all of those people have done so," said Eleanor Keaton, Buster Keaton's widow.

But preserving these "lessons" are a costly matter. The most inexpensive process costs approximately $40,000 for one color film and $15,000 for a black and white. To make thing more difficult, last year the National Endowment for the Arts had its film preservation budget cut by $700,000.

"Painters can study the masters can't they? Musicians can hear Beethoven. What will filmmakers do?" asked Saint.

For now they'll have to support saving what's in the stacks.

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