June 25, 2010

Consider the case of Hector Mann

Once sound entered the movies, silent films had been left to rot in vaults, had been destroyed by fires, had been carted away as trash, and hundreds of performances had disappeared forever. But all hope was not dead, the voice added. Old films occasionally turned up, and a number of remarkable discoveries had been made in recent years. Consider the case of Hector Mann, it said. Until 1981, only three of his films had been available anywhere in the world. Vestiges of the other nine were buried in an assortment of secondary materials -- press reports, contemporary reviews, production stills, synopses -- but the films themselves were presumed to be lost. Then, in December of that year, an anonymous package was delivered to the offices of the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris. Apparently mailed from somewhere in central Los Angeles, it contained a nearly pristine copy of Jumping Jacks, the seventh of Hector Mann's 12 films. At irregular intervals over the next three years, eight similar packages were sent to major film archives around the world: the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the British Film Institute in London, Eastman House in Rochester, the American Film Institute in Washington, the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, and again to the Cinematheque in Paris. By 1984, Hector Mann's entire output had been dispersed among these six organisations.

-- Paul Auster, from The Book of Illusions. Faber and Faber, 2002.

STILL: From Upstream (1927), the formerly lost John Ford film -- one of 75 American silent films recently discovered in the New Zealand Film Archive. Auster on silent films: "It struck me that I was witnessing a dead art, a wholly defunct genre that would never be practiced again ... They were like poems, like the rendering of dreams, like some intricate choreography of the spirit, and because they were dead, they probably spoke to us more deeply than they had to the audiences of their time."

June 8, 2010

The endless noisy boredom

People sitting around, two people asleep in a lump or tripped out or they could be unnoticeably dead, the endless noisy boredom of the tour — tunnels and runways. Don DeLillo.

June 7, 2010

There must be a word for it

Writing about e-books in the paper the other weekend, I opened with: "There must be a word for it -- feeling nostalgia for things that have not even gone yet. Newspapers, CDs, movies that aren't in 3D. They're all still here but are talked about as though they have already disappeared or are close to extinction. Books are just the latest cultural artefact to go on the endangered species list."

Roger Ebert found a better way of expressing the same kind of feeling in the conclusion of his Cannes report:
Apart from the films themselves, a general cloud of gloom and doubt seemed to hang over the Croisette. The films that Cannes favors are hard to finance this year. Serious directors find themselves frustrated. Everything is falling apart. Manohla Dargis wrote of her complex feelings upon discovering that Cannes, even Cannes, seems ready to abandon film for video.
While the festival was underway, the announcement came that some studios want to release their big first-run films to On Demand TV within a month of their theatrical openings. This is bad news for theaters, bad news for what seeing a movie has traditionally meant, and bad news for adults, because that distribution pattern will lend itself to easily-promoted "high concept" trivia.
I've been to 35 festivals in Cannes. I'll tell you the truth. I doubt if there will even be a Cannes Film Festival in another 35 years. If there is, it will have little to do with the kinds of films and audiences we grew up treasuring. More and more, I'm feeling it's goodbye to all that.