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Return to Table of Contents September 2010 Return to Table of Contents
Boardwalk Empire
Presidents Desk
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Cinema is truly an international medium. In every country of the world, there are movies and documentaries that define who we are and what we believe in, and they become a time capsule of our culture.

There is a fascinating piece of film making the rounds on the Internet, a view from a streetcar on Market Street in San Francisco in 1905, one year before the earthquake forever changed the landscape. (A version of this can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NINOxRxze9k.) As you watch this single-camera traveling view of everyday life, it’s easy to become drawn to individual people on the street, curious about their stories — the man walking with his young son through the maze of streetcars, the car filled with five portly men passing a much more upscale car with a lone driver, the man with the butcher’s apron dashing across the street in front of the camera, the boys dangerously holding onto the back of a car while running behind it. You get a real sense of what life felt like at that time.

I get this same sense of fascination when I watch the early New York-based films of Michael and Roberta Findlay. Though they are unabashedly exploitation films, with titles like Kiss of Her Flesh and Body of A Female, they are also glimpses of a New York City that does not exist in that form any more. If future generations want to know what the mean streets of The Deuce felt like, Andy Milligan’s Fleshpot on 42nd Street may end up providing the answer.

I recently returned from a fantastic trip to India that was sponsored by the Indian Society of Cinematographers and Cinematographers’ Combine. I was treated to glimpses of India’s current filmmaking output, amazingly sophisticated movies that reflect not only India’s culture, but also the influence of filming styles from other parts of the world. I was also privileged to visit a couple of prominent schools dedicated to filmmaking, Whistling Woods in Mumbai and the Film and Television Institute in Pune. I was treated to a showing of advanced students’ films, and the level of creativity they exhibited, from cinematography to sound design, story construction to editing, was truly impressive. The highlight of my visit was being named an honorary member of the ISC.

The sobering part of the trip was my visit to the Film Preservation Vault, also in Pune. Its staff is committed to preserving as many of the films and advertising materials from Indian cinema as possible. I was shown a 1913 production, recently preserved, that demonstrated storytelling and filmic techniques that equaled the work of D.W. Griffith and Louis Feuillade. Through the vault’s considerable care and effort, 6,000 films dating from 1899 to the present have been preserved. India produces about 1,000 movies a year. If you do the math, it’s staggering to think about what has possibly been lost.

I recently appointed John Bailey, ASC chairman of the ASC Film and Digital Preservation Subcommittee of the Technology Committee. John will add his considerable expertise and passion to the excellent efforts that ASC associate members Grover Crisp and Garrett Smith have already undertaken in this field, and he will utilize his knowledge of the industry and key players to focus attention where it needs to be. Preserving and archiving our work is not just a matter of saving what is old; it is also determining the right methodology for handling everything new, before formats become obsolete. (Remember Hi-8?)

When I was 13, my optometrist said I would be blind by age 30 (don’t worry, it didn’t happen), and I responded by watching every movie I could get to because I wanted to have all those images in my memory when my sight went away. The Parkway Theater in Chicago ran three double features a week of anything they could buy for $50, so I saw eclectic programs such as Charlton Heston in Will Penny along with the Phyllis Diller film Did You Hear The One About The Traveling Saleslady? All these films formed my knowledge of what cinema was.

I can’t see every movie ever made, no matter how much I’d like to. But I’d be disappointed if future generations were unable to see that 1905 San Francisco film or those Indian student films. It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen.



 

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