Rafique Baghdadi gives an insight into the cinematic world of restoring films.
“By not preserving films, we are committing cultural suicide.
It is madness not to preserve it” – Martin Scorsese
Today, the movies of the past are an endangered species. These fragile records of the twentieth century require expert and prompt attention. If we are to preserve our cinematic heritage for future generation, it must be done now.
In both public and private sector, the race against time to salvage what is left in vaults, theaters and private collections, is currently unclear.
Just because a film exists on DVD, simply because it’s shown on cable television, doesn’t mean it has been saved. This is the toughest concept to get across to the average person. Films were meant to be shown in theaters; if the prints don’t exist in superior condition, it is simply not possible to save them.
Films require much more care and money to preserve. Everyone I know agrees that “it should be done” but no one is quite sure how to raise the necessary funds before time runs out. Once a negative of a film has deteriorated, it cannot be brought back to life.
All films are self-destructive and whether it steadily crumbles to dust or consumes itself in a fiery blaze, it destructs at a very rapid rate.
Today, it is universally agreed that the foundation of film preservation is proper storage. Movies of the first half of the 20th century were filmed on an unstable, highly flammable, cellulose nitrate film base, which required careful storage to show its inevitable process of decomposition overtime. A cold/dry environment is required for every kind of film; nitrate and colour films are quickly deposited in a state-of-the-art facility where they may be stable for hundreds of years.
Many of these films have been recycled either for their silver content or either because they were destroyed in studio or vault fires. 90 per cent of all American silent films and 50 per cent of American sound films made before 1954 have been lost.
To study film, to write film history, or even just to enjoy a film of the past, one must be able to see the film. A fully restored version of any movie is bound to change the way the film has been understood. Its merits and complicated history will at last be properly examined and granted a fair hearing.
The struggle to preserve films is ongoing; not just because of the volume of films involved, but also because the awareness of what deserves to be saved, which films are deemed worthy of collecting, preserving and studying is constantly evolving.
The film preservation or film restoration movement is an ongoing project among film historians, archivists, cinema museums, and non-profit organizations, which rescues decaying film stock and preserves the images which they contain. And in this age of digital television, and in order to keep up with the demands of audience for the best picture quality in digital formats, film restoration has taken on a commercial, as well as historical importance.
Preserving films (from turn-of-the-century newsreels to the Godfather) should be everyone’s concern. It is cultural continuity. Film restoration and preservation are essential to conserving our cinematic heritage. Restored or unearthed, lost or worn, classics of world cinema will once again meet their audience years later. Now more films are being preserved than ever.
Jio Mami with Star in its 18th edition recently screened some restored classics like The Saragossa Manuscript directed by Wojcieck Jerzy Has, Poland 1965 and On the Silver Globe directed by Andrzej Zulawski, Poland 1988. Another restored classic Multiple Maniacs directed by John Water (USA 1970) will be screened on October 27, at 11:00 am at Le Reve, Globus Cinema, Bandra West, Mumbai).