The Turner Entertainment Company promotes film preservation and their own library of goods in THE RACE TO SAVE 100 YEARS, a sort of THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! with a mission.
This 57-minute documentary runs briskly through the history of film preservation and illustrates its points with film clips. Most classical Hollywood films are considered lost or in need of preservation because the nitrate base of the film stock that was once used caused explosions and because the
studios carelessly threw away material, even deliberately burning their libraries in order to recover the silver compounds.
Though most silent films have disintegrated over the years, some early films, including Thomas Edison's turn-of-the-century shorts and D.W. Griffith's first film (THE ADVENTURES OF DOLLIE, 1908), have been salvaged, because filmmakers at the time could only copyright their prints, a material that
outlasted the flammable nitrate-based stock. Other films long-thought lost have turned up in archives recently, including a fragment from THE DIVINE WOMAN (1928), starring Greta Garbo, which was discovered in Russia in 1995.
Early sound film preservation has been complicated by those films that used separate sound disks: in some cases, the soundtracks have survived without the film, but in other cases the film has survived without the soundtracks. Finding and restoring early color film prints has been an equally
daunting task. Also, some original negative prints of films were not well-protected by the studios, and have been restored only recently by labs (including TOP HAT, 1935, starring Astaire and Rogers).
In the 1950s, acetate replaced nitrate as a film base, and the some preservation efforts began by the transfer of classic films to the new "safety stock." Meanwhile, however, many nonclassics perished and some aficionados complained they missed the luminous quality of the nitrate. Technicians also
realized that acetate could decompose, too, and that the popular new color processes of the 1950s period faded more rapidly than the three-strip Technicolor technique of yore. By the 1980s, the Library of Congress, Turner Entertainment, and many other organizations expanded their preservation
efforts to all kinds of films, hoping to save as many as possible.
THE RACE TO SAVE 100 YEARS is a respectable documentary about the importance of saving the American film heritage. The clips and interviews are well-chosen and well-edited into the mostly chronological story. The highlights include the glimpses of early works saved, including the Edison and
Griffith films and the bit from the Garbo picture. Interestingly, fragments of one film cited as completely "lost," Theda Bara's version of CLEOPATRA (1917), was recently discovered but not included here.
It's also fun to see and hear early sound films thought lost, including a 1926 short Al Jolson made before THE JAZZ SINGER (1927) and a short scene with Laurel and Hardy from THE ROGUE SONG (1930). THE RACE TO SAVE 100 YEARS also shows a little of the process of how films are saved (the bad print
of TOP HAT and the color restoration of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, 1944, are examples), although more lab and technical information might have been illuminating. Other highlights include the discovery of cut footage and the way alternate prints are used in the reconstruction. The stories behind the
restoration of TARZAN, THE APE MAN (1932), THE BIG SLEEP (1946), and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951), are actually more entertaining than the restored versions of the films are.
In its desire to stay positive, however, THE RACE TO SAVE 100 YEARS skirts around some of the sins of the past by the studios and gives too much credit to the institutions today, without properly explaining the financial and commercial reasons behind the preservation efforts. Also, it's tiring to
hear always from director-collector Martin Scorsese on the issue of saving films-- how about an interview with one of the lab people? Historian Kevin Brownlow and Mary Lea Bandy (of the Museum of Modern Art) briefly discuss some of the larger cultural issues, but the thoughts of one more historian
or even a film fan might have better rounded out the documentary. As it is, THE RACE TO SAVE 100 YEARS is completely entertaining, partly informative, and just slightly thought-provoking.
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- Released: 1998
- Rating: PG
- Review: The Turner Entertainment Company promotes film preservation and their own library of goods in THE RACE TO SAVE 100 YEARS, a sort of THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! with a mission. This 57-minute documentary runs briskly through the history of film preservation and… (more)