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Preserving Spencer Tracy, Laurel & Hardy and More

nullThe UCLA Film & Television Archive is showing off its
latest work in an eagerly-anticipated series of screenings beginning this week,
for one simple reason: there is no point in preserving films and television
shows if you don’t show them to an audience. The year 2015 marks the Archive’s
fiftieth anniversary, and this is its 17th festival. As always, UCLA
casts a wide net; the series includes newsreels, surviving fragments of silent
films, Hollywood features both famous and obscure, independent American cinema,
and kinescopes of vintage television shows. The estimable Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times says, “Forget Cannes,
Sundance, even the Oscars: This is the cinematic event I look forward to most
of all.” For a complete schedule, click HERE.

Movie buffs in the Los Angeles area will want to see the
work of such directors as Anthony Mann and Samuel Fuller on the big screen at
the Hammer Museum in Westwood, along with the latest examples of UCLA’s ongoing
efforts to bring the Laurel and Hardy comedies of the 1930s back to vivid life
in 35mm. Several titles have been preserved in conjunction with major studios
and such institutions as the Film Noir
Foundation
and the Mary Pickford
Foundation
.
Many programs feature special guests, and all are introduced by
the archivists who worked on these restorations.

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Pickford fans may know her delightful feature My Best Girl, but it’s unlikely anyone
has seen the 1909 D.W. Griffith short The
Son’s Return
, which has just been restored from its original camera
negative. A double-bill of The Big
Broadcast
and Harold Lloyd’s The
Milky Way
will be preceded by a newly-found early-talkie short, Me and the Boys (1929) that features
early appearances by Benny Goodman and other budding jazz greats. Its
restoration was facilitated by The
Vitaphone Project
and funded by a handful of enthusiasts: Dudley Heer,
Frank Buxton and Cynthia Sears, Hugh Hefner, and Mark Cantor

The Archive’s director, Dr. Jan-Christopher Horak writes,
“An area of increasing interest for the Archive is exploitation films, which
have been for the most part ignored by film historians, even though such films
were hugely popular at the time of their release.  Our head of preservation, Scott MacQueen, has
taken the lead in restoring the Archive’s exploitation holdings, so we are
proud to present a number of truly weird and wild films from the early 1930s: White Zombie (1932) features Bela Lugosi
in the aftermath of Dracula (1931) in
a horror film that has become a cult classic; Ouanga (1935) reprises White
Zombie’s
Haitian setting for a tale of voodoo and miscegenation, starring
the tragic African American actress, Fredi Washington, who could have had a
huge career if she had not refused to ‘pass’ for white.  Based on Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Premature
Burial,’ The Crime of Dr. Crespi
(1935) stars the great Erich von Stroheim after his fall from grace in
Hollywood.  Finally, Leslie Stevens’
directorial debut, Private Property
(1960), is another rare find, the film straddling both the exploitation and art
house markets.

          “In the past
two years, the Archive has stepped up its efforts under television archivist
Dan Einstein to preserve classic television. 
We begin with The Execution of
Private Slovik
(1974), one of the most celebrated made-for-television
movies of the 1970s, and an episode of Chevy
Mystery Theatre
(NBC, 7/31/60), both programs penned by the writing team of
Richard Levinson and William Link. 
Another program includes a classic episode from Playhouse 90, a popular omnibus show from the late 1950s, which
visualizes a nuclear holocaust for American viewers.

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          “The
Archive’s efforts to restore the work of independent filmmakers are represented
by two long-neglected masterpieces, director Stanton Kaye’s brilliant road
movie, Brandy in the Wilderness (1969),
and J.L. Anderson’s Spring Night, Summer
Night
(1967), an amazingly realistic film from rural Appalachia.  We also continue our efforts to preserve and
protect the legacy of the ‘L.A. Rebellion,’ with a program of shorts by African
American women, including a new restoration of filmmaker Julie Dash’s Illusions (1982), which finally corrects
deficits on the soundtrack that had been present since the film’s premiere.

          “Last, but
not least, our newsreel preservation team of Blaine Bartell and Jeffrey Bickel
present two programs from our Hearst Metrotone News Collection, including one
night dedicated to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and another celebrating the 50th
anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a milestone in the Civil Rights
Movement.”

My only complaint is that the Festival unspools at the same
time as the Cinefest in Syracuse, New York and, later on, the TCM Classic Film
Festival
. That means I’ll miss some rarities I’d love to see, but I guess you’d
have to call this an embarrassment of riches.

2 comments

  1. Jim Reinecke says:

    It is so heartening to hear of (and subsequently see!) these efforts to preserve our filmic heritage. As a Spencer Tracy fan, I always thought that NOW I’LL TELL was one of those Fox Films of the early 30’s that supposedly perished in a fire at the studio. What a relief to hear that this film still exists! (Any chance that we’ll ever see SOCIETY GIRL or DISORDERLY CONDUCT?) Keep updating us whenever good news about film preservation comes your way, Leonard!

  2. Norm says:

    Wow, saving
    Playhouse 90 AND the Chevy Mystery Theater should be e ouhh to quench anyones appetite for buried treasure among the archives , even LM’s…at least for the moment…

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