Monday, February 15, 2010
Why We Fight: For the Love of Film, Part Two
It was posted on the Net last fall, and has been watched by millions since: 20 seconds of film that offer a fleeting image of Anne Frank. It was July 22, 1941, and a young couple next door had just been married. There is a glimpse of Anne at the window above, happily watching the newlyweds, resting her elbows on the sill and calling to someone, we'll never know to whom. The view of her face is gone in an instant.
It is one of the most intensely moving pieces of film I have ever seen.
Now clearly that is because neither I nor anyone else who views Anne at the window can do so without terrible hindsight. History crushes those watching such films with Cassandra's fate of knowing what will happen, yet being forever unable to stop it. That is why few moments in the fictional movies can match the eerie jolt of one brief view of the real Titanic in Belfast, men walking up and down inspecting her magnificence.
Many newsreels and home movies capture quite ordinary moments, ones that history never reached out to give larger significance. And yet even a film of a homecoming parade fascinates, the spectators and beautiful young women speaking of happiness that can be created no matter what events roil beyond.
Home movies and newsreels, however, are some of the most endangered of all films.
Newsreels were a particular passion of the great Lillian Gish. The one movie she directed, Remodeling Her Husband, was lost, but when she testified before Congress in 1979 about the urgency of film preservation, Gish talked about newsreels and the need to protect the "living record" of American history. As Anthony Slide says in Nitrate Won't Wait: A History of Film Preservation, hers "was not an idle gesture, for while the features and shorts produced by the American film industry have been sought after and preserved, America's newsreels had generally been allowed to disappear through neglect and lack of funding."
The NFPF has made a special effort over the years to support cultural institutions as they work to preserve these bits of our country's "powerful history," as Gish called it. When you give through the blogathon, so are you.