Films on Film at the Academy

The Academy's Linwood Dunn Theater

In 2008, only 14 percent of America’s movie theaters had installed digital projection. By 2013, this had increased to 93 percent. Today, the only venue where you are likely to see film projection is at a film archive or at a specialized film festival. Even the member screenings of current releases at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater are almost exclusively DCPs. (For the first 75 years of the Academy’s existence, its screenings and special events featured motion-picture film, mostly 35mm prints of the highest quality available.)

As chairman of the Academy’s new History and Preservation Committee, I have been working with Michael Pogorzelski, director of the Academy Film Archive, and Randy Haberkamp, managing director of programming, education and preservation, to determine how the vast holdings of the archive can be made more available to Academy members, filmmakers and film students. The archive is housed in Hollywood at the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, home of the intimate Linwood Dunn Theater.

The Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study

On May 14 at 10:30 a.m., the Academy will launch Films on Film, a new, monthly screening series featuring titles from the 1,000-plus movies that have been preserved or restored by the Academy Film Archive. Each feature will be presented in context with a trailer, newsreel, documentary or animated short, or experimental or home movie of its own time, and accompanied by a lobby display of materials from the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library that supports the featured film. Each of these morning screenings will feature a brief introduction and will be followed by coffee and passionate discussion.

The film selected to launch this series is Alexander Mackendrick’s 1957 drama of New York tabloid news, Sweet Smell of Success, starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

Sweet Smell of Success
Sweet Smell of Success

The script is by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman; the score is by Elmer Bernstein; and the noiresque cinematography is by James Wong Howe. The screening will be a pristine 35mm print struck from the original camera negative. Here is the film’s trailer:

The June screening will be the Academy Award winner for Best Picture of 1941, How Green Was My Valley. Director John Ford and cinematographer Arthur C. Miller both won Oscars, two of the six statuettes awarded to the film. The original camera negative has been lost, but the Academy will screen a print struck from the internegative with a restored soundtrack. Here’s the trailer:

The July screening will be the Turner-restored version of another Best Picture winner, An American in Paris, with its famous 18-minute ballet sequence in stereo. Co-cinematographers Alfred Gilks and John Alton were among the production's Oscar winners. For Alton, a master of black-and-white film noir, this ballet was his first-ever venture into color. Here's the trailer:

The Academy Film Archive is home to dozens of filmmaker collections, documentaries and newsreels, home movies, and industrial and experimental films, work that represent the zeitgeist of our times, not just the output of Hollywood studios.

E Vault at the Academy Film Archive
E Vault at the Academy Film Archive

Here are clips from just a few of the riches housed in the vaults at Pickford Center, offbeat films that may not represent what you expect from a “movie” archive:

Restored 1920s and 1930s travelogue footage by Aloha Wanderwell Baker, the first woman to travel around the world by car:

Color footage from the Richard Brooks collection showing Satchel Paige pitching in a 1948 exhibition game at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles:

A clip from the lost 1925 film A Lover’s Oath, starring Ramon Navarro:

The restored 1962 B-movie thriller Carnival of Souls, photographed by the obscure Maurice Prather:

The Academy Film Archive often partners with other archives and film-preservation entities, including the UCLA Film and Television Archive, George Eastman House, The Film Foundation and L’Immagine Ritrovata, to do important historical restorations. One such project was Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy (Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar), the restoration of which was a nearly impossible task. Here is a short video about the project that features Michael Pogorzelski; Josef Lindner, a preservationist at the Academy Film Archive; and Peter Becker and Lee Kline of The Criterion Collection:

Although digital scanning and color-correction tools have made it possible to restore films at a quality unimagined in the purely photochemical age, it is the “filmout” print made from the digital intermediate that is the only true archival material. And it is these cool, quiet vaults, with row upon row of 35mm and 16mm film prints, that hold the true memory of movies.

5. TheTitan cans

NEXT: American Photography: A Century of Images

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