I believe that times like these underline and reinforce the idea of charity. Crudely put, when conditions are harsh, your charity is you. So, if you DO choose to give to, or support an organization or group or cause, then you must REALLY think that it deserves your support or that it truly needs your help.

For me, the heady combo of dumbass sportscasters and fans happily putting Michael Vick on their shoulders because of a few multiple touchdown games as if it totally makes up for killing and torturing some dogs that don’t look like Benji AND Sarah McLachlan providing the soundtrack to a parade of sad-eyed, soon-to-be-killed puppies and kittens on those ASPCA commercials always gets me to open up the wallet. So too does the thought that our veterans are hardly a priority to the people eagerly sending them over to Iraq and Afghanistan, and – fingers-crossed – to Iran once they’ve returned from playing the real life version of “Risk.” I just have difficulty getting on my high horse or soapbox (either works fine, I just need to be up on top of something before I start spouting politics and stuff) unless I am actually tangibly doing something to contribute or remedy the situation. Inevitably, I’ll have a friend that is doing some kind of marathon for marmosets or a brunch for breast cancer event. And, if I can, I’ll support them.

There is a lot out there because we are in the pathetic times of “I got mine, so F you” politics that need substantial charitable assistance. Arts in schools, food banks, countless animals and creatures teetering on extinction and homeless, homeless, homeless.

And then there is the Film Foundation.

Twenty years ago today, Sgt. Scorsese taught the band to play… Okay, it wasn’t exactly twenty years to today’s date, but it was 1990 when The Film Foundation was created and established to protect and preserve motion picture history through various preservation and restoration projects at major film archives. And I started thinking about this as I looked over the films playing during the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s screening series of some of the best and coolest restoration projects and successes the Film Foundation has turned out over that time. Expansive Westerns like William Wyler’s THE BIG COUNTRY (1958), Howard Hawks’ THE BIG SKY (1952) and Sergio Leone’s sprawling epic ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968), not to mention Budd Boetticher’s first teaming with Randolph Scott on SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956) are panoramic love letters to the genre. Cinematic explosions of color courtesy of Jean Renoir’s THE RIVER (1951), Luchino Visconti’s SENSO (1954) and Albert Lewin’s PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (1951) (which was shot by the original “man of Technicolor” Jack Cardiff) scream “this is what color film stock was created for!”

There are more, but let me just say a title that speaks for itself in so many ways: THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955). Charles Laughton. Robert Mitchum. Lillian Gish, Shelly Winters… What if that went away? What if some original film nitrate was allowed to decay, disintegrate and Mitchum and Gish’s gothic and glorious face-off was lost for all time? How bad would that suck?

But if Mitchum has to face off versus McLachlan’s kittens and puppies or Gish has to throw down with the needs of a shell-shocked soldier fresh from one too many IED details, then it gets tough. Let’s face it, support for the arts is always an uphill climb for the general public. In the battle for concern, sympathy and real action, Jerry’s kids will get the firemen to spend a weekend in traffic extolling people to throw some money into a boot. However, just try to imagine those same firemen giving up a weekend to save the legacy of Ron Howard’s BACKDRAFT. Okay, maybe that’s a bad example.

But I’m going to hope you get my point. Just as the cause of supplying schools with violins, tubas, trumpets and oboes for music education needs a camera-ready Sheryl Crow to get regular people to give a damn, film restoration needs Scorsese to talk a blue streak just as much today as it has for every day of the last twenty years. Because it’s just movies. What would be the big deal, right?

Well, it WOULD be a big deal. Because it is art. And for me, I find the prospects of films from the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s crumbling into dust just as heartbreaking as those walls from the Pompeii ruins collapsing or the Taliban machine-gunning those Buddhist relics several years ago. That’s our society’s art fading into oblivion like it was nothing, that’s (in many cases) a reflection of the best of our creativity and magic of inspiration. And it’s important to take care of that. Otherwise, just as was the intention of the Taliban, you devalue your (and our) uniqueness. And I don’t think you need to be a cinephile or student of film to appreciate that. Now, would I argue that film preservation should get a higher ranking in the BCS poll when grouped with food, shelter, safety, or the environment, animals, kids and education, etc.? No, I would not. But there’s room to actively do something about more than just the base survival concerns.

And it will never take Scorsese talking my ear off (although that would be some damn cool collateral damage) to convince me of that. All it will take is a popcorn fueled viewing at the Walter Reade theater of the restored version of Hitchcock’s SABOTEUR (1942) and, of course, Mitchum and Gish in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER to sell me over and over again.

Posted on December 9, 2010 in Features, Films Gone Wild by

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  1. John Wildman on Fri, 10th Dec 2010 11:01 am 

    And just in case my argument has proved inspirational in any way, here is the link to donate:

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  2. Pat Hobby on Thu, 16th Dec 2010 12:50 pm 


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