Monday, 24 January 2011
SUNDANCE 2011: These Amazing Shadows
By Alan Bacchus
The story of the National Film Registry, the organization administering the library of Congress mandate to preserve the American art form of cinema gets it's own treatment on film. As a celebration of film from the popular to the obscure, though equally significant in the context of the medium, it’s a treasure, unfortunately it’a surface documentary that fails to go deeper than the spectacle of the clips used in the film.
After a brief introduction to the history and purpose of the Registry and some small insights into the challenges of the job, the film settles down into a lengthy roll call of great scenes or highlights of the 300+ registered films.
There’s the usual suspects Gone With the Wind, Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, as well as lesser known though historical and cultural significant such as a Japanese internment home movie entitled Topaz, or Kent MacKenzie'sThe Exiles, or Julie Dash's new black cinema landmark film Daughters of the Dust.
Along with the dedicated staffers of the registrryt, Norton and Mariano assemble an eclectic group of filmmakers to discuss both their own films on the Registry as well as, in general, their favourite films on the Registry. On a big screen we also get to see some fine film clips projected in top quality, such as The Searchers discussed because of its controversial racist depiction of Native American Indians, which is simply stunning to look at.
Unfortunately there’s very little in the way of the actual technical process of preservation, instead favouring the populist approach of the film clips. In fact, other than the categorized segments such as Native American cinema, Black cinema or experimental cinema, there’s long stretches where the National Registry isn’t even mentioned., As such the film often feels like just another one of those AFI specials, heavy on schmaltz and sentimentality.
So, sure it’s not original and we learn very little of what these dedicated cineastes do for a living, but we can never enough celebration of film - the prevailing and most influential form of art we have today.