The importance of film preservation

While talking to a friend of mine about horror movies, I was recently shocked to learn that the classic London After Midnight, starring Lon Chaney, is now a lost film.

I always falsely assumed that a classic horror film featuring one of the most legendary stars of the genre would always be available for viewing, but it is indeed gone.

Unfortunately, there will always be movies and TV shows which slip between the cracks like this.

Variety confirms that half of American movies made before 1950 are no longer with us, and 80% of U.S. films made before 1929 are also gone.

Old kinescopes and movies on nitrate have fallen apart, TV shows were erased, and movies disappeared because no one cared about seeing them – and it wouldn’t be cost effective to restore the films.

As we’ve previously  discussed on TG Daily, there are indeed companies that have the time and resources to restore the grindhouse movies and schlock I like – but they obviously can’t save everything. Of course it would be understandable if some B movies became lost down the road, but what about a classic like The Godfather? 

Several years ago, Variety writer Anne Thomson reported that The Godfather negative was falling apart, and Steven Spielberg personally told Brad Grey, the head of Paramount, about it. After learning one of its best known classics was fading, a million dollars was spent to restore it.

Several years back, Variety also reported that the negatives for Taxi Driver and Blade Runner were disintegrating. As Ridley Scott told the magazine, “We discovered inadvertently that a lot of digital stuff was fading quicker than expected. We think it’s safe forever on disc, but, in fact, it was actually fading.”

These days, there’s many companies fixing movies of all stripes, which is great and important for the future, and now that we’re losing film altogether in favor of hi-def, film preservation will be more important than ever. 

The thought of The Godfather, Taxi Driver and Blade Runner being in danger of being lost to future generations, along with a lot of many other movies nowhere near the stature of those three but just as important, is a very scary thought.