Two articles on the perils of film preservation.

First, a Variety story from three weeks ago:

In Cannes this year, Martin Scorsese talked about the importance of preserving such films as Ahmed El Maanouni’s 1981 Moroccan music documentary “Trances.”

But he didn’t mention that his own “Taxi Driver” is deteriorating.

Although the 1976 film is part of Sony’s vast library, few are rallying to its aid. The myriad film-preservation orgs throw their money and muscle behind titles that are indie, foreign or obscure. It’s assumed Hollywood’s majors will take care of their own films. In fact, they don’t.

One Paramount veteran compared the studio’s vault to a teenager’s chaotic bedroom. In fact, a visitor accidentally stepped on the negative of “Rosemary’s Baby,” which was unspooled on the floor.

With constant pressure on the bottom line, studio execs often lack the funds — or interest — to make sure their heritage is being cared for properly. Digital technology, which was touted as the salvation of film, has turned out to be deeply flawed, deteriorating faster than anyone imagined.

Movies “get lost in the wilderness unless (studios) pay attention to them,” says Ridley Scott, who found the digital version of his 1982 “Blade Runner” in fragile condition. “We discovered inadvertently that a lot of digital stuff was fading quicker than expected. We think it’s safe forever on disc, but, in fact, it was actually fading.”

Roger Mayer, a former MGM honcho who’s now chairman of the National Film Preservation Foundation, estimates each studio spends $5 million to $10 million a year to fund preservation or restoration programs — a sum that wouldn’t even cover the marketing costs of a low-budget comedy. . . .

Things get scarier from there. And now for a story that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times:

But then came digital. And suddenly the film industry is wrestling again with the possibility that its most precious assets, the pictures, aren’t as durable as they used to be.

The problem became public, but just barely, last month, when the science and technology council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the results of a yearlong study of digital archiving in the movie business. Titled “The Digital Dilemma,” the council’s report surfaced just as Hollywood’s writers began their walkout. Busy walking, or dodging, the picket lines, industry types largely missed the report’s startling bottom line: To store a digital master record of a movie costs about $12,514 a year, versus the $1,059 it costs to keep a conventional film master.

Much worse, to keep the enormous swarm of data produced when a picture is “born digital” — that is, produced using all-electronic processes, rather than relying wholly or partially on film — pushes the cost of preservation to $208,569 a year, vastly higher than the $486 it costs to toss the equivalent camera negatives, audio recordings, on-set photographs and annotated scripts of an all-film production into the cold-storage vault.

All of this may seem counterintuitive. After all, digital magic is supposed to make information of all kinds more available, not less. But ubiquity, it turns out, is not the same as permanence.

In a telephone interview earlier this month, Milton Shefter, a longtime film preservationist who helped prepare the academy’s report, said the problems associated with digital movie storage, if not addressed, could point the industry “back to the early days, when they showed a picture for a week or two, and it was thrown away.” . . .

So perhaps copyright violation is really the least of anyone’s worries. Either the movies simply won’t exist to be pirated in the future, or the pirates will have inadvertently filled the gaps in the studios’ own archives. So democratize the process, I say.

Another overexposed typeface!

Hot on the heels of the feature-length documentary Helvetica comes this two-minute short, Trajan is the Movie Font:

UPDATE: More examples abound at the Retire Trajan blog.

Canadian librarians vs. “Hollywood lobbyists”


The arrests have begun under Canada’s new anti-piracy law, but apparently there is even more legislation to come — and Canada’s librarians are not happy. The Globe and Mail reports:

The Conservative government hasn’t even released its proposed copyright reform legislation, but already a showdown is brewing between media producers demanding protection from tech-savvy pirates and the grassroots efforts of thousands of Canadians who believe the bill will be unjustifiably restrictive.

As a result, what was once a low-key issue in Ottawa is morphing into a potential political storm.

Bemoaning the influence of “Hollywood lobbyists” on the federal government, Canadian librarians yesterday added their voice to the noisy chorus of people opposing a new copyright bill that has yet to see the light of day.

The Canadian Library Association is urging Ottawa to ensure its imminent copyright legislation does not attack Canadians who copy music and videos for their own use.

Don Butcher, the association’s executive director, said he supports laws that crack down on piracy, but is worried Ottawa will go too far.

“This is a battle between Hollywood lobbyists versus the average Canadian,” he said yesterday at news conference on Parliament Hill.

“Over the past few weeks, Canadians across the country have demonstrated that they have serious concerns about the shape of Canadian copyright legislation.”

Mr. Butcher later pointed to the May visit to Parliament Hill of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to support his claim that Hollywood interests are pressing Canada about piracy. . . .

Is Charlie Wilson’s War a “neocon” movie?


Max Boot at Commentary magazine writes:

I once wrote a column congratulating a well-known Hollywood liberal—George Clooney—for making “neocon” movies, i.e., movies like “Three Kings,” “The Peacemaker,” and even “Syriana” that support active American intervention in the world in support of our ideals as well as our strategic interests.

Now we can add some more Hollywood liberals to the “who knew they were neocons?” club. To wit, Mike Nichols, Aaron Sorkin, and Tom Hanks.

This is the trio responsible for “Charlie Wilson’s War,” which I just saw and loved. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, the movie tells the story of how a conservative, hard-partying Texas Democratic Congressman named Charlie Wilson got together with a right-wing Texas socialite and a blue-collar CIA officer to vastly increase the amount of American covert aid being delivered in the 1980s to the mujahideen fighting the Red Army in Afghanistan. . . .

Boot’s remarks are brief and thus lacking in nuance, but I admire their counterintuitive spirit. In fact, I think it would be fantastic if Universal Studios began quoting comments like these in ads pitched at conservative audiences, just as New Line Cinema recently quoted a controversially favourable Catholic review of The Golden Compass in ads pitched at Catholic audiences.

Random debatable movie trivia of the day.


I Am Legend grossed $100 million in its first seven days, so Will Smith may have just tied the record — set by Tom Cruise and possibly Tom Hanks — of starring in seven consecutive movies that crossed the century mark. I say “may have” and “possibly” because it depends on what sort of films you count.

For example, if you don’t count voice-acting in animated films, then Hanks’s role in Toy Story 2 (1999) and Smith’s role in Shark Tale (2004) would have to be cut from their lists, leaving them with six-movie streaks.

And if you count films in which actors had cameos as themselves, then Cruise’s role in Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002) would boost his streak to eight movies, while Smith’s role in Jersey Girl (2004; my review) would interrupt his current streak and cut it down to five (or four, if we don’t count his cartoon).

And if you count the IMAX documentaries that are narrated by these actors, then Cruise’s involvement in Space Station 3-D (2002) would interrupt his streak and cut it down to five (or six, if we count his cameo in the Austin Powers movie).

The main thing that sets Smith apart from Cruise and Hanks right now is that his streak is still ongoing. Cruise’s streak came to an end this year with the flop that was Lions for Lambs, and Hanks’s streak was broken three years ago by The Ladykillers — and it seems likely that any new streak on his part would have to wait until after his current film, Charlie Wilson’s War.

The Day the Earth Stood Still — now filming


Keanu Reeves has been spotted in various locations around downtown Vancouver lately, and that can mean only one thing: The cameras have started rolling on Scott Derrickson‘s remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951; my comments).

I met someone at a party recently who works at one of the local film labs, and he tells me 20th Century Fox has moved into the office in a big way — something that almost never happens, or so he tells me — and he takes this to be a sign of just how big this particular production is.

Meanwhile, casting announcements continue to trickle out; the Hollywood Reporter revealed the other day that Jon Hamm, the Golden Globe-nominated star of Mad Men, is going to play “Dr. Granier, a NASA official who recruits Helen [the Jennifer Connelly character] for the scientific team investigating an alien’s arrival on Earth.”


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