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WRITTEN REVIEW: These Amazing Shadows: The Movies That Make America

It is still difficult to convince people that film is an art even to this day. In the early days of cinema, film was viewed as nothing more than crude entertainment for carnival and fair goers: an easy way for entertainers to make a quick buck and then thrown away, never to be heard from again. In the modern age that mentality still holds and as a result, many people have made excuses to alter films in ways they see fit. They've colorized, pan-and-scanned and altered or completely removed entire scenes from films. If only there was some respected organization that could protect and preserve film the same way that art museums protect paintings and libraries protect books. Enter the National Film Registry.

Founded in 1989, the National Film Registry picks twenty-five films every year that they deem "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" and preserves them for all time in the Library of Congress. The 2011 documentary These Amazing Shadows follows the history and importance of the Registry from its beginnings when it was used to protect classic films from Ted Turner's colorization, all the way to today where the Registry has come to encompass all manner of films from true classics like Citizen Kane and The Godfather, to cult classics like This is Spinal Tap and Blazing Saddles, to little oddities like Michael Jackson's Thriller and the Let's All Go to the Lobby bumper.

The efforts of the Film Preservation Society are also covered in the documentary and their work is arguable more important than the work of the Registry. The Film Preservation Society takes hundreds of old film reels that have fallen into disarray either through general neglect or the simple ravishes of time and works their hardest to save that damaged footage. Countless numbers of films thought lost forever have been saved by the Preservation Society. One particular story involves the discovery of lost footage from the 1933 film Baby Face. When it was released, the film was heavily cut by the Hays Code not just for its sexuality, but also for its frank Nietschean philosophy. That footage was thought gone for good, but then a Preservation Society member discovered a copy that just happened to contain all the cut footage. Thanks to the efforts of the Film Preservation Society, Baby Face can now be enjoyed in its original uncut version.

Probably the greatest thing about the National Film Registry is the fact that they allow the public to voice their suggestions on what films to be included in the 25 every year. As a result, while the Registry has plenty of classics in their roster (Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, etc.), they also have plenty of fan favorites like Back to the Future as well. The most enjoyable part of the film involves the efforts to get The Rocky Horror Picture Show into the Registry. Fans argued that it has millions of fans that still crowd theaters to watch it to this very day, its images and dialogue have become part of the public consciousness, it truly is an American classic. The National Film Registry... agreed with their assertion! The Rocky Horror Picture Show is now preserved for all time in film history! Thanks to this story, I will now make it my life's work to see that The Toxic Avenger makes its way there as well.

This documentary is must see not only for its insistence on the importance of narrative cinema, but also for stressing the importance of the moving image as preserving our history, our culture and yes, even our mistakes (the segment on Topaz was particularly eye-opening). So in conclusion, I must say thank you to the National Film Registry and the Film Preservation Society for saving this beautiful artform I love so much for future generations to enjoy.

Also, be sure to send them your list of films you'd like to see preserved at the National Film Registry. I know I'll be sending them mine! And for more information about These Amazing Shadows, visit their website, TheseAmazingShadows.com.


★ ★ ★ ★