How to help save film history

Julia Chan

4/3/2023 9:00:00 AM

It’s one of the most spectacular dance sequences ever captured on film: the Nicholas Brothers cutting loose on a double staircase in the classic musical Stormy Weather (1943).

“It would be terrible if a film like this was not around,” says Donald Bogle, the pioneering film historian of African American cinema and the recipient of this year’s Robert Osborne Award at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. (TCM and CNN are both subsidiaries of Warner Bros. Discovery.)

Unfortunately, many films from Stormy Weather’s era have not survived. Federal estimates suggest half of films made before 1950 and most before 1929 have deteriorated beyond repair or disappeared entirely.

“These movies, we don’t want to lose them,” Bogle says, “so preservation becomes very important. It’s part of our cultural history.”

This direct line to history underscores the power of cinema, says TCM General Manager Pola Chagnon. “I think the more that we as a culture can be connected not only to films of today but films of the past, we only gain empathy and understanding of what came before.”

Huge undertaking

Film restoration is expensive and time-consuming. According to The Film Foundation, digitally restoring a color feature with sound can cost up to several hundred thousand dollars. Even with multiple teams working simultaneously, restoration can take months, says Daphne Dentz, Senior Vice President of Emerging Formats, Mastering & Content Acquisition at Warner Bros.

Working with original camera negatives and audio, Dentz adds, “the aim of the restoration is to stay true to the content creator’s original creative intent.”

While the content stays the same, technology does not. That means once a film has been restored, the work is never really over.

“As the ways that people access these films change, films need preservation, and restoration is kind of an ongoing process,” says Margaret Bodde, The Film Foundation’s Executive Director. “The difference between something mastered for VHS and something mastered for Blu-ray is like night and day.”

“Since I’ve been here, The Wizard of Oz has been restored at least three times,” notes Dentz, who has worked at the studio 17 years. “This is something that is going to be a constant.”

Teaming up

With so many films in need of help, collaboration is vital. The Film Foundation, one of the leading organizations in film preservation, restoration, and education, works with studios, archives, and exhibitors. Board members from the non-profit also identify and suggest titles for prioritization, taking into account the film’s physical condition, historic, cultural, and artistic value, and whether it is the only surviving version.

In honor of Warner Bros.’ 100th anniversary, the foundation teamed up with the studio and TCM to restore Rio Bravo (1959), East of Eden (1955), One Way Passage (1932), and The Strawberry Blonde (1941) for the 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival. Board members like Steven Spielberg will appear at the event and on TCM air to talk about the importance of the restoration effort, and every film shown on TCM in April will be from the Warner Bros. library.

“It’s a terrific collaboration,” says Dentz, “because we all have the same ideas about how important it is to preserve these films culturally and to preserve these stories. These are stories that we want to be able to share with the world forever, if possible.”

How to support the cause

Whether you’re a casual moviegoer or a die-hard film buff, anyone can support film preservation and restoration.

“The main thing is to watch these movies,” says TCM General Manager Chagnon. “Try it. Give yourself license to be curious about other films.”

Bodde recommends seeing films in theaters and watching TCM. “It’s such a great way to celebrate and learn more about different filmmakers from the past and different films from around the world.”

Another way to support the cause: donating to non-profits committed to finding, restoring, and sharing classic films before it’s too late. Some of the major players in this space include:

American Film Institute

Academy Foundation

The Academy Foundation is the educational and cultural wing of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the historic Hollywood organization behind the Academy Awards. Established in 1927 – the same year that saw (and heard) the first feature-length film with sound – the Academy began acquiring material for its archives in 1929, later launching the foundation in 1944 with sponsors such as Cary Grant and Howard Hawks. Today, the organization is home to the Academy Film Archive, one of the most extensive motion picture collections in the world; the Margaret Herrick Library, a research center focused on film history, craft, and industry; fellowships and educational programs; and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, a 300,000 square-foot facility devoted to film history and education that opened in 2021.

The Film Foundation

In 1990, a team of powerhouse filmmakers – Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Sydney Pollack, Robert Redford, and Steven Spielberg – launched The Film Foundation to protect and preserve motion picture history for future generations. Scorsese still chairs the Directors Guild of America-affiliated organization, and since its founding, the non-profit has helped restore more than 950 films across every genre and era. The foundation has expanded its impact internationally with its World Cinema Project, and offers free virtual screenings every month through the Restoration Screening Room. The Film Foundation’s free educational initiative, The Story of Movies, has been featured in 45,000 schools across the U.S. and taught more than 10 million students.

Film Noir Foundation

Created by writer, film historian, and TCM host Eddie Muller in 2005, the Film Noir Foundation was born out of NOIR CITY, the annual Bay Area film festival devoted to the genre. The non-profit hosts screenings across the country and publishes a magazine to promote the “cultural, historical, and artistic significance of film noir as an international cinematic movement.” Proceeds are used to locate and restore genre films. The foundation has saved more than three dozen titles and offers a $5,000 grant for students focused on film restoration, preservation, or archiving.

National Film Preservation Foundation

After a federal report found fragile but historically significant motion pictures decaying faster than they could be saved, the film community teamed up with the Library of Congress in the 1990s to help Congress create the National Film Preservation Foundation. The NFPF began operating in 1997, issuing grants to archives, libraries, museums, and other organizations to help save the most at-risk material not included in commercial restoration projects, such as documentaries, silent-era films, home movies, and newsreels. The foundation has helped preserve more than 2,700 films across the country, with many available to view online, and partnered with international archives to restore American silent films discovered in their collections. NFPF’s federal funding goes directly to its preservation work so the organization relies on private donations and grants to keep it running.

UCLA Film & Television Archive

With more than 520,000 films, television shows, newsreels, and radio recordings, the University of California, Los Angeles’ Film & Television Archive houses one of the largest media collections in the country – second only to the Library of Congress. Founded in 1965, the archive collectspreserves and restoresscreens, loans, and licenses archival moving images. A part of the university library system, the archive also operates the Archive Research and Study Center for the campus community and public.


‘Eight Deadly Shots’: A Finnish Film of Fierce Realism

Kristin M. Jones

3/28/2023 5:55:00 PM

Made for television in 1972, Mikko Niskanen’s four-part, five-hour work about moonshine-drenched desperation in a rural village is opening in a new restoration at New York’s Film Forum.

In the woods next to a gleaming lake, several men secretly drink moonshine, cook fish and sing songs by a fire in the waning light. It’s one of numerous vivid scenes involving illicit alcohol in “Eight Deadly Shots” (1972), a gripping miniseries by the Finnish actor and director Mikko Niskanen (1929-1990) about desperation and addiction in a rural community, and the events leading up to a shocking crime.

An important work in Finnish film history that deserves wider acclaim, “Eight Deadly Shots” was made for television and also later edited down for theatrical release. The original version, more than five hours long and in four parts, will screen at Film Forum in New York from March 31 to April 6 in a new 4K restoration by the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, Yleisradio Oy, Fiction Finland ry and Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory. It will also screen at other U.S. venues, including the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque in April and the American Cinematheque in Southern California in June.

Niskanen’s searing tale was inspired by the real-life killing of four police officers by a Finnish farmer, but it is grounded in memories of the rural area where the director was raised. A statement at the beginning of each episode reads in part, “Everyone may have his own truth, but this is the truth I saw and experienced, having been born into these surroundings, having lived this particular life, and having studied these matters.”

Summoning a fierce unity of vision, Niskanen directed, wrote and produced all four episodes, contributed some of the cinematography, and took on the demanding central role of a struggling farmer, Pasi. Tarja-Tuulikki Tarsala played Pasi’s wife, Vaimo, and Paavo Pentikäinen was Pasi’s friend Reiska, but the rest of the cast were nonprofessionals. The settings also convey a compelling realism.

Immediately evoking a powerful sense of place, the first episode opens with views of buildings, vegetation and trees filmed in what seems to be springtime from a vehicle driving on a road as children sing on the soundtrack. The sound of gunfire heralds a cut to the wintry murder scene, followed by glimpses of the funeral service for the victims, the anguished killer in a cell, and his wife and four children silent together at home. And then the film returns to a warmer season, with Pasi again a figure in a landscape holding a gun, but on a day when he shot a bird from a tall tree.


Mikko Niskanen and Paavo Pentikäinen

Guns and alcohol are woven into the plot from the start. Pasi has been sneaking off to make moonshine with Reiska, telling his wife he is going hunting. As the seasons change and he and Vaimo struggle to provide for their family, he returns to drink for camaraderie and fleeting escape. Sometimes trying to outwit authorities seems like a boyishly defiant game, but he can’t elude arrests, fines, unpaid taxes and his own darker impulses.

Alcohol is a release from the sadness of underemployment, but also a family legacy, as Pasi’s father used to drink to excess. “You should stop the moonshining. Nothing good comes out of it,” Vaimo says to him in a moonlit scene in the first episode, when he has come home late. “Yes, I should move on to cognac,” he replies. Over time, his health suffers and marital strife becomes more disastrous. And yet there are moments of tenderness and humor, such as when the family celebrates Christmas by a tree glowing with candles and one of the boys plays Santa.

Scenes showing characters engaging in physical labor are as beautifully filmed as those in which men make and enjoy moonshine. Whether Pasi is energetically working the land or tackling odd jobs in harsh weather, such as logging or digging trenches for sewers, the camera takes in the grueling work and natural landscape like an intensely curious observer.


Tarja-Tuulikki Tarsala

Niskanen’s writing and direction yielded a riveting story. His immersion into the part of Pasi—a character both ordinary and full of contradictions—makes it unforgettable. In Pasi’s most agonizing moments, such as after he drunkenly frightens his family, his face is a haunted mask. Near the end, his features keep slackening, he seems to terrifyingly fold into himself and his behavior is beyond easy explanation.

Playing the part took a physical toll. In a piece on “Eight Deadly Shots” for Film Comment magazine in 2012, the Finnish filmmaker and film historian Peter von Bagh, who made a documentary about Niskanen, wrote that the series was “wrought through friction and adversity, and it’s difficult to see it as anything but savagely independent filmmaking.”

In the second episode, Pasi, Vaimo and their children attend a wedding, an outing they prepare for with poignant anticipation, though Pasi will get drunk again. At this ostensibly hopeful gathering, glances exchanged in the crowd reflect social hierarchies and tensions. As the newlyweds waltz before a sea of faces, the bride reminds the groom that they have to dance, as if they could be Pasi and Vaimo’s younger selves. Out of many such small details, Niskanen built a devastating saga.

Ms. Jones writes about film and culture for the Journal.

Mikko Niskanen, “Eight Deadly Shots” (1972)

Film Forum, NY, 3/31–4/6


Every Film on TCM in April Will Be From Warner Bros.

Mike Barnes

3/22/2023 9:00:00 AM

The network is devoting the entire month to its sister studio, which turned 100 this year.

Warner Bros. will be top of the world on TCM in April when the network devotes the entire month to films and more from the studio that is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, it was announced Wednesday.

TCM will shower viewers with scores of Warners movies, from every decade of its sister studio’s history, plus interstitials, documentaries, trailers, archival interviews, shorts and Looney Tunes cartoons.

“Warner Bros.’ history is TCM history. Where would this network be without films like CasablancaThe Maltese Falcon or A Star Is Born? We are thrilled to be honoring the studio that has given us so many iconic films since 1923,” Pola Changnon, general manager of TCM, said in a statement.

The network also will debut the restorations/remasters of 10 iconic Warner Bros. films — complete with introductions from filmmakers and film experts — as part of its multiyear partnership with The Film Foundation.

The titles are East of Eden (1955), introduced by Wes Anderson and Joanna Hogg; Storm Warning (1951), Land of the Pharaohs (1955) and Rio Bravo (1959), introduced by Martin ScorseseRachel, Rachel (1968), introduced by Ethan HawkeSafe in Hell (1931), introduced by Alexander PayneThe Strawberry Blonde (1941), introduced by Anderson; A Lion Is in the Streets (1953), introduced by Daphne Dentz and Robyn Sklaren from the Warner Bros. Discovery Library; One Way Passage (1932); and Helen of Troy (1956).

Joanne Woodward and Kate Harrington in RACHEL, RACHEL, 1968

Joanne Woodward (left) and Kate Harrington in 1968’s ‘Rachel, Rachel’ COURTESY EVERETT COLLECTION

Several of these also will be available for streaming in the Classics Curated by TCM hub on HBO Max.

Programming will be organized thematically to showcase the breadth of the 100-year-old studio’s films from classic to current, with categories including “Studio Contract Players,” “Warner Joins a Gang,” “Warner Goes to School,” “Warner Finds Religion,” “Warner Turns to Crime” and more.

TCM premieres will include such features as Full Metal Jacket (1987), Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Argo (2012), such documentaries as Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul (1993) and such TCM Originals as Jet Jockeys in Love: The Making of Chain Lightning.

The whole thing kicks off April 1 at 3 a.m. PT with Beau Brummel (1924) and ends April 30 with Going in Style (1979). Click here for the monthlong TCM programming schedule.


Warner Bros’ 100th To Be Celebrated At TCM Classic Film Festival With Steven Spielberg & Paul Thomas Anderson...

Pete Hammond

3/15/2023 10:20:00 AM

A big feature of the TCM Classic Film Festival is providing world premieres of major restorations of some of those classics. This year’s 14th annual fest is no different as Turner Classic Movies has announced its opening night, April 13, will feature the premiere of a 4K restoration of Howard Hawks’ 1959 Western Rio Bravo, in partnership with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, as part of the yearlong celebration of Warner Bros’ 100th anniversary.

The movie, more celebrated now than ever 63 years after its initial release, stars John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson, the latter the pic’s only surviving major star. She is scheduled to join TCM host Ben Mankiewicz for an onstage conversation before the screening at the TCL Chinese Theatre Imax.


Warner Bros’ logo, circa 1948Warner Bros./Everett Collection

In addition, Film Foundation board members Steven Spielberg and Paul Thomas Anderson will take the stage to celebrate the continuation of Warner Bros Discovery’s multiyear partnership with the organization, which has restored or preserved more than 950 films to ensure their survival for future generations.

The 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival, set for April 13-16 in the heart of Hollywood, will center on the theme “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” celebrating film legacies, in particular the enduring legacy of Warner Bros; the studio marks its 100th anniversary on April 4. In conjunction with Warner Bros. Discovery’s centennial WB100 campaign “Celebrating Every Story,” the festival — which is very much a part of the corporate family here — will shine a spotlight on some of the studio’s landmark creations including this restoration of Rio Bravo.

“Any movie with Angie Dickinson is made better by the fact that Angie Dickinson is in it,” Mankiewicz said. “Certainly, Rio Bravo is no exception. As an added bonus, it also has a couple of guys named John Wayne and Dean Martin. Moreover, to have Paul Thomas Anderson and Steven Spielberg back for a second year in a row is such an honor, as well as an indication of the vital role TCM plays among the filmmaking community. This restoration is important not just for the film or for the 100th anniversary of Warner Bros, but for the film-loving community at large.”

Angie Dickinson in ‘Rio Bravo’Everettt

Rio Bravo, which I think never really was appreciated the way it should have been in 1959 — completely ignored by the Oscars among other critical benchmarks — stars Wayne as a sheriff with an unlikely group of allies including Martin, Nelson and Dickinson along with a host of great character actors and Western staples, as they help defend against a gang of armed attackers intent on breaking out a prisoner. Richly filmed in Technicolor, Rio Bravo was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress in 2014 and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It now often makes the lists of all-time favorite movies.

TCM previously said that Oscar-winning production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein and actor-dancer-choreographer-director-artist Russ Tamblyn will be honored with tributes at this year’s festival. The fourth annual Robert Osborne Award, recognizing an individual who has helped keep the cultural heritage of classic film alive for future generations, will be presented to film historian Donald Bogle.



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