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Even 1970s Rock Fests Need Film Preservation

August 30, 2002|LYNN ELBER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

It is accurate to say that David Bowie and the Rolling Stones are equally well-preserved. On film, that is.

The proof is in American Movie Classics' 10th annual film preservation festival, which includes restored versions of Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars" (1973) and the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" (1970).

The theme for the anniversary celebration is "Rock 'n' Roll in the Movies," with an emphasis on the 1970s, when Hollywood moviemakers and the rock world were groovin' to the same beat--or trying to.

The three-day festival, today through Sunday, includes "Ziggy Stardust," "Gimme Shelter" and the Bee Gees-flavored "Saturday Night Fever" (1977) among films in which the art forms clicked. Then there are misses such as "Godspell" (1973) and "Thank God It's Friday" (1978).

Even the latter movie, despite its mediocrity, had an excuse for living: It offers disco queen Donna Summer and that unbeatably catchy anthem "Last Dance."

"A lot of great moments of rock 'n' roll have been captured in movies," AMC programming executive David Serhing said.

Some of those moments and some influential films, including the 1970 documentary "Woodstock," are absent from the festival.

But there are key films, including a restored "The Last Waltz," which chronicled the final concert of the Band in 1976.

Martin Scorsese, the film's director, supervised the restoration; the Band's Robbie Robertson took charge of remixing and remastering the soundtrack.

Scorsese is president of the Film Foundation, which helps promote and fund film preservation and is involved in the AMC festival.

"The Last Waltz" helps kick off the first night, airing at 7 tonight. It follows the 5 p.m. debut of an original documentary, "Hollywood Rocks the Movies: The 1970s."

The ever-elegant Bowie narrates the documentary, which boogies through the decade when Hollywood was unafraid of movie musicals and musicians found success through exposure in films.

Offering generous clips, the documentary trips through a dizzying array of '70s genres: reggae; disco; glam, classic and punk rock; and "avant-garde extravaganzas," as Bowie puts it, including the resounding flop "Xanadu" (1980).

"There's a lot of bad films that came out in the '70s, especially when you got on the music side," the Bee Gees' Maurice Gibb says in the documentary. "It was really cashing in on what 'Saturday Night Fever' had done, and you cannot repeat a phenomenon."

Repetition being a Hollywood trademark, the studios tried. One mind-boggling failure was "Can't Stop the Music" (1980), featuring the Village People, Valerie Perrine and Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner.

Among the documentary's juicy tidbits: Elvis Presley's manager talked him out of playing a fading rock star in "A Star Is Born" (1976), giving Kris Kristofferson the role opposite Barbra Streisand.

AMC, which has drawn fire for introducing commercial breaks during movies, said it will present "Gimme Shelter," "The Last Waltz" and "Ziggy Stardust" uninterrupted. Other films will include a break to promote preservation.

AMC has raised about $2 million for preservation, Serhing said.

"The fact is people take movies for granted," he said, or tend to think only of obscure silent films as suffering the ravages of time. But newer movies, including beloved rock fests, can become victims.

"We want to get the message across that even these may fade and pass if we're not careful or are unaware," Serhing said.

Pre-1950 movies on nitrate stock are most vulnerable to degradation. But newer, acetate plastic film can suffer "vinegar syndrome"--which affects quality. Early diagnosis and cool, dry storage are the answers.

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