Yesterday I wanted some background noise TV, but when I turned it on an error message popped up on my screen, and that led me to contacting cable support, who worked me through a series of steps only to tell me that my receiver/DVR combo unit had died. I thought I had lost all my recordings. So many movies had been waiting to be watched! Most were recorded off of Turner Classic Movies, and many were pre-codes. Some starred Kay Francis, whose photo starts this post. I wish I could say I was as cool to the news as she looks above, but I wasn’t.
Sharing the news on social media brought out not only support from friends, but also their own stories of movies and old time radio show recordings lost when technology failed them. To put things in perspective, we were sad to lose quick and easy access to digital copies of entertainment to watch or listen to at our leisure. Even if some of the films or programs aired rarely or were harder to find, their originals or other copies existed. The chance remained to get more copies. Amassing them all again would be time-consuming, not impossible.
Now imagine that there are no surviving original prints or copies. No theatre audience ever would have the chance to view these movies. There would be no moments of shared laughter, tears, gasps, or the rare applause. No solo viewer could binge-watch an era, genre, screenwriter, performer, director, or gender. Entire film careers could be lost or their evaluations impacted by missing important works, and cultural history would be written around these gaps or rely solely on aging firsthand accounts.
Let’s take a step back and say the prints that exist are damaged and deteriorating. Feel a little relief? There’s little chance anyone will get to enjoy these movies unless action is taken. There are those people whose skills and connections allow them to find, restore, preserve works, and grant others access to them. Most of us can promote film preservation through spreading the word of its urgency and by fundraising or making donations. The good news is there’s an opportunity to do any or all of these things!
The For the Love of Film Blogathon: The Film Preservation Blogathon returns tomorrow! Starting Wednesday, May 13 and running through Sunday, May 17, dedicated film bloggers will be writing about science fiction movies to raise awareness and funds for film preservation. I’ll be among the participating bloggers. This year the event is co-hosted by Ferdy on Films, This Island Rod, and Wonders in the Dark. The goal is to raise $10,000 to restore, score, and stream silent film Cupid in Quarantine (1918), “a one-reel Strand Comedy that tells the story of a young couple conspiring to stay together by staging a smallpox outbreak.” I know you want to see that! Bonus: If the fundraiser is successful anyone will get to watch this romantic comedy for free. So check out the host blogs for post links, share the word, and contribute if you can!