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Focus : Preventing Film Decay : AMC REELS OFF SECOND CAMPAIGN FOR THE PRESERVATION OF CLASSICS

October 16, 1994|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The facts are grim. According to film experts, half of the 21,000 Hollywood-produced short films and features made before 1950 on highly unstable nitrate stock have been lost forever. The news gets even worse for films made between 1893 and 1930--75% of the features have crumbled into dust.

But cable's American Movie Classics is coming to the rescue. Last year, AMC and the Film Foundation, the film-preservation organization headed by director Martin Scorsese, presented its First Annual Film Preservation Festival.

"Our primary goal was to raise consumers' consciousness that this art form was being decayed," says Kate McEnroe, AMC senior vice president and general manager. "We found a great many people didn't understand that. I don't think people realized to what extent the films were becoming extinct."

The three-day event on AMC screened restored and preserved films and raised $250,000 for the five major American film archives: the UCLA Film and Television Archive, Museum of Modern Art, Library of Congress, International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House and the National Center for Film and Video Preservation at the American Film Institute.

The festival was such a rousing success that AMC is presenting its Second Annual Film Preservation Festival beginning Friday and concluding Oct. 24 at 7 a.m. The festival will feature classic Westerns, John Ford films, Gary Cooper movies, nine Cecil B. DeMille epics, Gene Autry movies and a new Autry documentary.

"We're so delighted that the public is eager to see restored films," says Mary Lea Bandy, director of the Museum of Modern Art archive. "I think there are lots of people who don't know what film preservation means. When they have a chance to see restored films, they're excited and grateful and willing to help."

"The thing is a lot of people, when they think of old movies, somehow think they are movies that somehow are flawed because they have seen them on inferior copies," says Robert Rosen, director of UCLA's archive. "The cinematography and the artistry were wonderful back then."

Bandy says that young audiences finally are appreciating black-and-white films. "People are coming to understand more and more about movie history," she says. "They grew up on color, so to them black and white is as far removed as the pyramids."

Each archive received approximately $44,000 from money raised during the first festival. "It gave us a tremendous boost," Bandy says. "Our share has gone into a fund that's helping us to complete preservation of films that have been partially preserved and to make new prints so that these films can be widely accessible. What we intend to do with the funding is put it right back into completing preservation work and making prints, so the films can be loaned to other archives and seen on AMC."

Of the films in this festival, 80% are new titles; the rest were shown last year. Highlights include a tinted print of the 1903 landmark Western "The Great Train Robbery"; DeMille's 1914 Western "The Virginian," as well as his 1923 epic "The Ten Commandments"; four John Ford films, "The Informer," "Stagecoach," "My Darling Clementine" and "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon"; and the restored 1943 Gary Cooper-Ingrid Bergman drama in Technicolor, "For Whom the Bell Tolls."

The festival is presenting two versions of "My Darling Clementine," the original 1946 release version, preserved by MOMA, and a pre-release version, preserved by UCLA, which had been shown to sneak-preview audiences. The pre-release "Clementine" is approximately 10 minutes longer and has a different ending.

"The version everyone knows and the pre-release version are different in many ways after the first reel," Rosen says. "Reels two through five have different sound mixes. One of them has less music and additional bits of dialogue. It was discovered by our cataloguers who were looking at this thing and said, 'This one is longer. How can that be?' Then when you went back and looked at it, not only is it longer, it's different."

Each version, Rosen says, has its own validity.

UCLA also restored "From Whom the Bell Tolls," based on the Ernest Hemingway novel. For nearly four decades, only the 130-minute version of the film has been available.

"The premiere version had a running time of 170 minutes, plus a 10-minute intermission," Rosen explains. "A lot of the critics were critical that it was too long. So the director (Sam Wood) very quickly made some cuts and brought it down to 156 minutes. What happened is that around 1957, Paramount reissued the film and shortened it. The pieces of the negative they cut out were thrown away and don't survive."

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