Saturday, December 10, 2011


Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton's These Amazing Shadows, a one-hour documentary, premiers on Independent Lens on PBS, Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 10 PM.

My favorite "history books" are movies. Want to know how people lived in 1912? Watch a 1912 movie. Want to know how people dressed in 1940? Watch a 1940 movie. Want to know a society's passion, prejudices, thoughts and dreams from any era in the 20th or 21st century? Right - watch a movie!

These Amazing Shadows presents the story of how the US Government finally got the point and passed legislation calling for a National Film Registry. Ironically, it all started with the "T" in our beloved TCM. Remember when Ted Turner thought it would be a good idea to computer colorize black and white films? 
James Stewart lent his voice to those against 
the colorization of black and white films
Remember the firestorm of artistic indignation (not to mention how really bad they all looked)? It was this action that lead to the congressional hearings that resulted in the passage of The National Film Preservation Act of 1988. Besides thanking Ted for our favorite commercial-free TV station, we can also thank him for inadvertently igniting the spark that lead to the Nation Film Registry, the list of films (currently at 550 ) deemed culturally, historically or aesthetically significant and  preserved in the Library of Congress.

The documentary presents a panorama of films that, pieced together, create a celluloid quilt of American cultural history in the last and present century. Referred to as the art form of the 20th century, films remain our most immediate communal artistic experience. Watched in a theater as it is meant to be, a movie is a unique art form. At once solitary and inward, its joys multiply when shared with a crowd. We know what we feel, but those feelings are validated by the rest of the audience. That's why I was so happy to see that Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles made the list.
Blazing Saddles? Yes! Sitting in a theater in 1974, I experienced one of my most memorable audience reactions while watching that famous campfire scene. You know the one - campfire, beans, Mr. Taggert... The sheer joy of being in a room full of so many laughing viewers is something I will never forget. The fact that this film made the registry tells me that this list truly is representative of public treasures. There is nothing more precious than laughter.

Filled with interviews from such a diverse group as John Waters, Zoey Deschanel, Barbara Kopple, Leonard Maltin, Rob Reiner, Christopher Nolan, Debbie Reynolds, and Anthony Slide, all attest to the influence and impact films have had upon their lives and art. You'd be surprised at the films that influenced future film makers. Debbie Reynolds describes movies as an escape when she was a child, noting that "I loved them all and I still do today." She's such a fan, bless her heart. My favorite comment is from Del Reisman, former president of the Writers Guild of America: "As a child there were no good movies or bad movies, just movies." We grow up to be such critics!

The registry is filled with expected films, such as Casablanca, The Godfather, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, animated classics such as Fantasia and Toy Story, documentaries such as Harlan County USA and Grey Gardens, as well as a variety of newsreels, short subjects and even the famous "Let's All Go To the Lobby" promo for popcorn and soda.

Home movies, a true depiction of our life and times, are also part of the registry. One of the most fascinating is Topaz, a home movie that depicts the day to day life in a WWII Japanese Internment Camp in Utah. 

A vivid testament to a painful and shameful episode in our history, it lives as a permanent reminder for all future generations. Through the pain and injustice comes compassion and education. The sheer diversity of the films form a "national memory" of times, places and attitudes.
From the culturally and artistically significant, but often impossible to watch, Birth of a Nation, to Atticus Finch, a better angel of our national nature, in To Kill a Mockingbird, changing attitudes, social prejudice and social justice depicted in film hold up a mirror to society. Sometimes, what we see in the mirror makes us cringe, but sometimes it fills us with pride.
The film also examines the role of women behind the camera, noting that in early cinema, women were evident as writers and even directors. As the industry grew, the position of women waned. Sigh...
It's hard to cram over 100 years of film history into an hour, but I'm sure there are more than a few films and stories that will trigger a memory and a giggle, as well as those that will fascinate and educate. To learn more about These Amazing Shadows, click here.

For a list of the current National Film Registry, click here.

And now, let's all go to the lobby, stock up on some buttered popcorn, sit back and relax and enjoy the show! And, by the way... thanks, Uncle Sam. You're getting a bad rap these days, so it's nice to know you're doing something right!
I want you..... to support film preservation!


The Lady Eve said...

A review both fabulous and impeccable, FlickChick.

THESE AMAZING SHADOWS is a stirring and inspiring experience, especially for those of us who are in love with the classics and 'film' in general. I'm hoping it has many repeat airings on PBS and eventually makes its way to TCM.

FlickChick said...

Oh, Lady Eve - high praise from you is high praise, indeed. TCM is exactly where this film belongs after its PBS run. I do so hope that people will watch. It's fun as well as important.

Freder said...

Another great post. I always thought that Ted Turner was being "crazy like a fox" when he came up with the colorizing thing. Look at the interest it generated in old films. I think that was his plan all along -- to increase the value of his holdings. Looking forward to this film Thursday night!

FlickChick said...

It's nice to think TT had a plan, but I think he is just clever at switching gears. Enjoy the show!

Christian Esquevin said...

Thanks for promoting These Amazing Shadows and this great LC project. As the old MGM has again been bakrupted and taken over, now occupying a few floors of an office building,the roller-coaster ride of the studio and Ted Turner makes an interesting but melancholy story. This especially given the auction of the Debbie Reynolds costume and prop collection. She had wanted to preserve the whole studio lot as a museum. Wouldn't that have been wonderful.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Christian. So much has already been lost. It's a shame what happened to Debbie's dream.