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  • These Amazing Shadows | Review


    By | January 22, 2011

    Directors: Paul Mariano, Kurt Norton

    Writers: Paul Mariano, Kurt Norton

    Starring: Christopher Nolan, Tim Roth, John Waters, Barbara Kopple, Rob Reiner, Julie Dash, Wayne Wang, Robert Rosen, Zooey Deschanel, Caleb Deschanel, John Lasseter, George Takei and Dr. James Billington (Librarian of Congress)

    As a direct result of Ted Turner’s push to colorize black and white films from the MGM archives, President Ronald Reagan signed the National Film Preservation Act on September 27, 1988. This law established the United States National Film Preservation Board. The National Film Registry is the National Film Preservation Board’s list of films slated for preservation in the Library of Congress. Ever since 1989, a maximum of 25 films per year have been deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and added to the Registry. Films must be at least 10 years old in order to qualify. (I often wish that I could wait 10 years before creating my year-end list of favorite films.)

    Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton’s These Amazing Shadows interweaves an endless array of archival footage — of the work of the Registry, of course — with interviews featuring Registry board members, archivists, a plethora of famous filmmakers (including Christopher Nolan, Rob Reiner, John Waters, Barbara Kopple, John Lasseter, John Singleton, Wayne Wang, Steve James, and Amy Heckerling), and let’s not forget the Librarian of Congress Dr. James H. Billington, to make a case for film preservation. The justifications vary from the importance of documenting American history (both truths and lies) and developing a historical archive of cinema to protecting fragile negatives (as we learned in Inglorious Basterds, nitrate film is quite flammable) and legitimizing film as an art form. Some interviewees pull for their childhood favorites, while others seek to better represent a specific demographic (women filmmakers, black or indigenous subjects) in film history; censored films also get notable attention.

    The Registry runs the gamut from Hollywood classics to extremely rare films. It contains newsreels, silent films, experimental films, short subjects, film serials, home movies, documentaries, independent films, television movies, and even music videos. As of the 2010 listing, there are 550 films currently in the Registry (it is worth noting that inclusion on the list is not a guarantee of actual preservation).

    As a fleeting glimpse at the cross section of films in the Registry, These Amazing Shadows is a film historian’s (or at least an avid film enthusiast’s) wet dream; I seem to think These Amazing Shadows might be rather boring for the non-film enthusiasts in the audience. Other than that, Mariano and Norton’s somewhat stale documentary possesses one very definitive political goal: to ensure that the National Film Preservation Board forges onward well into the future.

    This is as good of a time as any to make this case, with Republicans and Libertarians teaming up in their anti-big government rhetoric. It would not be without irony if this new generation of Reagan’s army destroyed one of Reagan’s very own creations. Ted Turner has already proved once that the interests of film history are not best served in the hands of free market Capitalists, so who is going to protect and preserve cinema’s incredible history if this role taken out of the hands of the National Film Preservation Board?

    These Amazing Shadows will make its world premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in the Documentary Premieres section and simultaneously on IFC Films On-Demand on January 22, 2011.

    Rating: 5/10

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