Imagine having a world-class film archive at your fingertips, free of charge. Back in 2000, The National Film Preservation Foundation marked a milestone by releasing a DVD set called Treasures from American Film Archives. It was honored by the National Society of Film Critics and named “best set of the year” by The New York Times. Eventually, the beautifully produced boxed set sold out; so did a second run. As one who sits on the Board of the NFPF I know first-hand that there was no way to support another pressing without impairing the organization’s main goal of funding preservation work by libraries and archives (both big and small) around the country.
Here is where technology steps in. To quote from the Foundation’s website, “Today the NFPF makes freely available for online viewing 47 films from its first DVD set, Treasures from American Film Archives. Originally released in 2000 and hailed by Roger Ebert as ‘a treasure trove of old, obscure, forgotten, rediscovered, and fascinating footage from the first century of film,’ Treasures marked the first time that America’s archives had joined forces to share their films with home video audiences and showcase the amazing range of American films…We are committed to keeping the Treasures films accessible to the public and now present them on our website.
“Mastered from the finest archival sources, the 47 films include the first feature-length Snow White (1916), Western star William S. Hart in Hell’s Hinges (1916), The Toll of the Sea (1922) in two-strip Technicolor, The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) by James Sibley Watson Jr. and Melville Webber, John Huston’s searing antiwar documentary The Battle of San Pietro (1945), and footage of Orson Welles’s 1936 “Voodoo” Macbeth. Together they represent 10 stunning hours, including the first publicly exhibited movie, cutting-edge avant-garde works, silent-era features, pioneering special effects films, landmark independent productions, documentaries, newsreels, animation, political ads, and home movies made from coast to coast. All films are accompanied by program notes by the set’s curator Scott Simmon (UC Davis) and feature either their original soundtracks or commissioned scores supervised by music curator Martin Marks (MIT). Since its release Treasures from American Film Archives has been valued by cinephiles and educators—this online release ensures that a wide audience can continue enjoying these films, either as entertainment, a teaching resource, or, best of all, both.” You can see the films and learn more HERE.
The NFPF is largely funded by the Library of Congress, which also oversees the annual National Film Registry. I am proud to be a voting member of that board, and along with several others have campaigned for a years to include D.W. Griffith’s Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912), which is often referred to as the first American gangster movie. When it made the list, announced last month (see complete list HERE) fellow member Dave Kehr persuaded his colleagues at the Museum of Modern Art to post a stream of MoMA’s pristine print, struck from the original negative back in 1944. As Dave told me, “It looks pretty good for a 1944 restoration, but imagine what we could do now, scanning from the nitrate camera negative.” The short will be online for one more week, and if there is sufficient interest perhaps the Museum will be encouraged to put other gems from its collection on the net. It’s also newly scored by Ben Model. To watch, click HERE.
Of course, there are many rare films still being released in physical form on DVD, like the latest rarities from Ben Model’s Undercrank Productions, to which I say “the more the merrier.” But using the internet to distribute films which until now could only be seen by visiting the nation’s archives is a major step that should be encouraged and applauded.