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Visit biografmuseet.dk about Danish cinemas

 

"Keepers of the Frame"
a documentary on film preservation and restoration
70 minutes, color, 16mm, 1999

Read more at
in70mm.com
The 70mm Newsletter
Text and images supplied by: Randy Gitsch Date: 19 April 2007
Cinerama in your house! If you're John Harvey, why not. Harvey, a life-long projectionist and Cinerama enthusiast, leads you through his converted home theatre in Mount Pilot's production's documentary on film preservation and restoration, "Keepers of the Frame". Harvey stands with the films' producers, Randy Gitsch, and director Mark McLaughlin.

Photo Copyright 1999 Mount Pilot Productions.


Early in 1996 Mark McLaughlin and Randy Gitsch began making the film you are about to see. There were at that time archives, organizations and individuals raising their collective voices to champion film preservation as a cause and an important one. We wanted to bring the subject into a wider public consciousness, and to raise awareness as to the fragile state of the most important document of the 20th Century, the motion picture.

One of our first interviews was with the late Laurence Austin, of the now closed Silent Movie theatre in Los Angeles. Mark was compelled to capture this unique theater, which was for years the only weekly-scheduled, silent movie venue in America, and to tell the story of it's founder, John Hampton, who as a collector, had persevered to preserve and screen silent films when they were out of style and largely discarded. Laurence Austin continued what John Hampton had started, by sharing silent cinema (along with live organ accompaniment) with contemporary audiences, thus reminding them of the importance of saving these films.

Laurence Austin was tragically murdered just a few months later, during an evenings' program in that theater. A voice of preservation was silenced that night, but in Laurence Austin's death, we as filmmakers were reinforced in our desire to inspire others, in the way that he had inspired us, to see, enjoy and respect the cinema of the other-than mainstream.

We hope your respect for filmed imagery, and appreciation for its' preservation, may grow after viewing “Keepers of the Frame”.
 

What you'll see in “Keepers of the Frame”

The now shuttered Silent Movie theatre in Los Angeles, USA, has been closed since the tragic murder therein of owner/host Laurence Austin. Austin eloquently discusses the need to preserve silent motion pictures in Mount Pilot Productions' documentary on film preservation and restoration, "Keepers of the Frame". Photo Copyright 1999 Mount Pilot Productions. *) = see sidebar

Think of your favourite movie... A film that you identify with, attach a memory to, or one that has motivated you in some way. How would you feel if you found out that it no longer existed? You would never be able to watch it at a revival theater, rent it on video or share it with anyone. More importantly, no one in the future would be able to see it, be entertained by it, or learn from it.

Our recent history has been clearly defined because of the advent of movies, newsreels, documentaries and all types of films. The ideals, style and culture of the 20th century are resting on celluloid. But everyday, some part of that legacy is lost as our motion pictures turn to dust before we can preserve them. Nearly 90% of all silent films and nearly 50% of sound pictures made before 1950 have been lost. Problems continue as "vinegar syndrome" and color fading attack our beloved contemporary classics.

“Keepers of the Frame” is the first filmed documentary to examine with depth, the history, science and struggles of those committed to film preservation. It witnesses artists and technicians passionately preserving our filmed heritage. Their story is an adventure, rife with discoveries of lost treasures.

However, “Keepers of the Frame” is more than a technical explanation of how films deteriorate and how they are restored. It brings to light the damage done not only to our Hollywood film heritage, but also the plight of special collections and film genres never before discussed in the preservation context. These include such important and varied filmed works as newsreels, black cast films, experimental and avant-garde films, ethnographic film studies, "Soundies" musical performances and even home movies. Our documentary imparts the importance of all kinds of films, the education they provide and the enchantment they create.

“Keepers of the Frame” has a logical, linear structure to examine and discuss its major concepts;
 
Capturing Time

As portable cameras were invented, cinematographers were soon roaming the world. The films of this early era are the very first moving records of our history, providing glimpses into a living past. Early motion pictures had no ensuing life after short theatrical runs and they were largely discarded. Ninety percent of the films from this era are now gone.

Killing Time

Early storage problems caused tragic nitrate film explosions and fires, resulting in lost films and lost lives. “Keepers of the Frame” explains how film deteriorates through nitrate decomposition, vinegar syndrome, color fading and warping. It also reveals how soundtracks have been lost through the deterioration of magnetic film elements, as well as by the breaking and loss of sound on discs.

Saving Time

Restoration experts passionately piece together picture and sound elements from all over the world. “Keepers of the Frame” will witness the detective work, the surprising discoveries, and the science and technologies that go into preservation.

Buying time

“Keepers of the Frame” examines the optimistic outlook of preservation with proper storage in underground salt mines and in state-of-the-art facilities. It also explores significant archives, major studio vaults and special film collections.

Cherishing Time

People make old films live again. “Keepers of the Frame” hears from film collectors, noteworthy filmmakers and movie stars exuberant about film and its survival.

and Timeless Moments

You will see the "last pass" possible through a printer of a significant, badly decomposing film. As attending technicians try to impede its loss, the film falls apart before your eyes.

Many individuals, not only entertainment personalities, but educators, historians and scientists reached out in allowing Mount Pilot Productions to interview them, to film inside their workplaces and homes. They wanted this documentary to be made, their story to be told, and attention paid to this important subject.

Film preservation and restoration is vital to our future. People living hundreds or thousands of years from now will be able to look at us and understand their own history in a way that we can only imagine. Those who see “Keepers of the Frame” will be inspired by a greater understanding of the twentieth century's culture and art as uniquely reflected through the motion picture.
 

Some of the very special visuals in “Keepers of the Frame”

Mount Pilot Productions is proud to bring to the screen many very rare and very precious films and sound clips in “Keepers of the Frame”. Many of these clips have never before been seen or heard, and many others may sadly, never be again. Included among these clips are;

The oldest film in the holdings of the Library of Congress: Edison's “Imperial Japanese Dance” (1894) - as deteriorated.

The oldest surviving complete american feature-length film “Richard III” (1912) starring Frederick Warde.

From the only known existent film print “Cinerama Holiday" (1955) a 3-panel Cinerama-process motion picture that has faded entirely to shades of pink.

Restored 3-strip Technicolor feature films “A Star is Born” (1937-restored by UCLA - before and after restoration sequences shown) starring Janet Gaynor & Fredric March.

Rematched to Vitaphone sound disc restorations “Evangeline” (1929-rematched and now in the full restoration by UCLA) starring Dolores Del Rio.

Vitaphone discs for which the matching film no longer exists ”Theater Opening” (1928) starring Al Jolson.

Never before seen ethnographic films “Yupik eskimo life, St. Lawrence Island, Alaska" (1930) photographed by the late ethnocinematographer Henry Col!ins for the Smithsonian Institution. Never before seen or used in any other documentary compilation.

Never before seen news films “Famed outlaws, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker met death in Gibsland, LA" (1934) Never before seen or used in Any other documentary compiration.

Seldom seen avantgarde films, black-cast pictures, "soundies" musical Performances and pre-1911 "paper print" films.

And also brought to our audience...Still photos, ad art & reviews of films that no longer exist "Cleopatra" (1917) starring Theda Bara, “Lone Glorlous Day" (1922) starring Will Rogers, "Beau Sabreur" (1928) starring Gary Cooper
 

The FAQ:

What is "film preservation"?

Basically, film preservation is proper storage...storage of film elements, film negatives and prints, under the optimal conditions, low temperatures and low humidity. But at a larger, more timelier level, film preservation is the restoration of a film. That restoration can involve the duplication of films, the composition of images from different copies of films to make one best copy, sound track re-recording, digital enhancement and a whole lot more.

How did you become interested in film preservation?

Director, Mark Mclaughlin:

When I was 12, I saw a print of the 1933 classic, "King Kong", which contained scenes that were originally excised from the film 's U.S. release because the Hays office thought they were graphically violent or sexual. In one of the scenes, Kong slowly peels the clothes off Fay Wray like she's a banana. The new scenes fascinated me, especially that one I guess. But they also made me aware of the history and the process of making one of my favourite movies at that time. So I had an interest in the search for rare film from an early age. About ten years ago. I was in a lab in Denver and I walked past a room where a couple of people were carefully cleaning an old nitrate negative. They explained the process of restoring these films to me. But what really excited me was the fact that they had in their hands, the original camera negatives to a very early Disney silent cartoon. It amazed me that significant pieces of film history were being cared for by small groups of technicians, and that if they didn’t make this effort, the films would probably just disappear forever. ,

Producer Randy Gitsch:

I once worked with a collection of nitrate newsreels and regularly would go into the vault to retrieve the film for a particular news story. All too frequency, I'd pull a metal film can out of its' rack, only to have the film fall right out of the bottom of the can through a hole it had created as it deteriorated. I then had to regularly throw away precious news films of the events of WWI, of Women's Suffragettes marching, Presidents Wilson, Harding and Coolidge, wing-walkers doing stunts; so very much of the twenties... I felt terrible! I joined The Association of Moving Image Archivists shortly thereafter...and found a new job, immediately.

 

What effect do you hope to have on your film's audience?

The poster

Although its' possible, we don't expect people seeing “Keepers of the Frame” to rush out and volunteer to save films. But to realize that they can help to save films by patronage is extremely important. The best thing any person can do is to watch films and support the places that bring older, eclectic and rare films to them. If your town has any kind of movie retrospective, go to the theater, library or college and pay to watch their programming. That demand requires that they have prints to show, and that leads to preservation. Starting in your own closet...just be aware that transfer of your families precious home movies to video isn't a solve-all. Those videotapes you make will not outlast the film from which you make them. Your own home movies truly are priceless. More importantly, think of the worldwide variety and sources of films, and in this information-on-demand age, understand that precious images may be found, preserved and restored if you want to see them. Realize that without patronage, no film, regardless of it's genre or initial capital investment, can survive.
 

Director Mark McLaughlin

After graduating from the University of Colorado, Mark immediately embarked on a career producing, directing and writing television commercials and short films. He began to hone a keen sense of just how to create high production value for little money.

Subsequently, Mark began working on feature films, television programs and documentaries. Mark has now worked on well over 100 documentaries, from cinema verité projects to highly stylized, narrative studies, has earned a national Emmy nomination and is a member of The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. "Keepers of the Frame" is Mark's debut as director of a feature film.

He is currently a member of the International Documentary Association (IDA), the Angeles Conservancy and the Independent Feature Project.
 

Producer Randy Gitsch

Randy Gitsch, producer of "Cinerama Adventure and director of "Keepers of the Frame" - on imdb.com

Randy grew up in a film family. His grandfather, A.S. "Bert" Bates, had been an accomplished and respected film editor for 50 years. Randy made it a goal to compile his grandfather's filmography. In assembling such, he learned that the negatives of several of Bert's films from the 1930's had been destroyed during the WWII Nazi bombardments of Warner Brothers Teddington Studios outside London, and they were now lost.

After Randy graduated from the University of lowa, he began working for the RKO Pictures Archives, the best-maintained studio collections. While working with a collection of nitrate newsreels he daily witnessed the ravages of nitrate decomposition. The experience prompted him, in 1990, to become one of the first to join the newly formed Association of Moving Image Archivists.

He is also a member of the Society of American Archivists, the British Film Institute and the Independent Feature Project. “Keepers of the Frame” is the first feature-length film he has produced.

One of Randy Gitsch's first jobs in Hollywood was as a staff researcher in the RKO Studio Archives, which led to his ultimately becoming that collection's manager. There, Randy assisted the BBC in their 6-part studio history, entitled "Hollywood; The Golden Years", and veteran director, Richard Wilson, with the restoration of a "lost" Orson Welles feature, "It's All True".

After RKO's liquidation, Randy worked as a film sales librarian for both the Sherman Grinberg and Energy stock libraries. Reacting to the film deterioration he found himself dealing with daily, he produced and co-wrote his first documentary on the subject of film preservation and restoration, the critically acclaimed, "Keepers of the Frame". He subsequently teamed with David Strohmaier to produce "Cinerama Adventure", and to bring preservation awareness to this rare format and the films made in it.

In addition to making motion pictures, Randy is a film inspector for Pro-Tek Media Preservation Services. He has been interviewed on the subject of all things-RKO in such programs as "The Passions of Howard Hughes" (Passport DVD) and "History Detectives" (PBS), and on film preservation on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition.
 

Director of Photography Richard Lerner

Rich has been shooting documentaries for over thirty years. He has been principal cinematographer on dozens of PBS programs including NOVA, Scientific American Frontiers, Frontline, Portrait of America, Race To Save the Planet and many more. He also shoots for the Discovery channel, TBS, BBC and others. "A Story of Healing" which Rich filmed, won the 1998 Academy Award for hest documentary short film.
 

Director of Photography David McLaughlin

David is a Lighting Director/Director of Photography who lives and works in Los Angeles. He has photographed many short narratives and numerous music videos. His favourite film genre to work in is the documentary.
 
Individuals and institutions in “Keepers of the Frame”.
Forrest J Ackerman -author and collector of fantasy, horror and "sci-fi" film ephemera

Alan Alda - actor, writer and director

Laurence Austin - late owner/host of the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles

Stan Brakhage - avant-garde filmmaker

Mark Cantor - music film collector and historian

Dr. Mayme Clayton - black-cast film historian

Raymond Fielding - film appraiser and newsreel historian

Jean Picker Firstenberg director, American Film Institute

John Harvey - Cinerama film collector and his home Cinerama Theater, the only one of its kind

Karen L. Ishizuka - senior curator at the Japanese American National Museum and filmmaker, and champion of amateur "home movies"

Herb Jeffries - the "first singing black cowboy" actor

FCP/Kodak Pro-Tek Film Preservation Vault - director, Richard Utley and facilities

The Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center David Francis, Kenneth Weissman, nitrate specialist George Willeman, the vaults and facilities

Leonard Maltin - film historian, critic and author

Roddy McDowall - late actor and film collector

National Archives of Canada -chief, moving image conservation, William O'Farrell

Debbie Reynolds - actress, singer and former owner/host of a museum of motion picture costumes and ephemera, in Las Vegas, Nevada

Ralph Sargent - co-owner of Film Technology Co. And author of the film preservation text, Preserving the Moving Image

Smithsonian Institution - senior archivist, ethnographic collections, human studies film archive, Pamela Wintle

UCLA Film & Television Archive - preservation officer Bob Gjtt and specific color and sound restoration projects

Universal Studios - director of preservation Bob O'Neil
 
Credits for “Keepers of the Frame”
Revised final (5/2/1999)
WinStar Productions presents

A Mount Pilot Productions Film

“Keepers of the Frame”
Directed By Mark McLaughlin

Produced By Randy Gitsch

Executive Producer Earl McLaughlin

Written by Mark McLaughlin & Randy Gitsch

Co-producer Mark McLaughlin

Associate Producer Kim Berman

Cinematography Rich Lerner & David McLaughlin

Edited by Roderick Kent

Original Score by Steve Cornell

Graphics designed by Angela McLaughlin & Casey Loftus

Post production sound David Emrich, Post modern

Sound Editor Ted Kallman

Sound Mixer Chuck Biddlecom

Negative Cutting Chris Weber

The "Keepers" Are

Forrest J Ackerman
Eric Aijala
Alan Alda
Laurence Austin
Stan Brakhage
Mark Cantor
Dr. Mayme Clayton
Carla Deger
Raymond Fielding
Jean Picker Firstenberg
David Francis
Larry Franklin
Bob Gitt
"Professor" George Hall
John Harvey
Jim Harwood
Richard Hincha
Karen L. Ishizuka
Herb Jeffries
Leonard Maltin
Roddy McDowall
Anthony Munroe
William O'Farrell
Bob O'Neil
Debbie Reynolds
Ralph Sargent
Martha Stroud
Richard Utley
Howard Walls
Kenneth Weissman
George Willeman
Pamela Wintle

For the valuable support provided to this production Mount Pilot Productions would like to specially thank

Alan Stewart and Avid Technology

Mount Pilot Productions gratefully acknowledges the generous support of;
Larry Birstock/Anderson Video
The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA)
Crosspoint Digital Post & Transfer
Debbie Reynolds Hotel/Casino/Hollywood Movie Museum
Film Technology, inc.
Four Media company
Kodak/FPC Pro-Tek Film Vaults
The Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center
Motion Picture & Television Country House
The New Neon Movies
The Silent Movie
Tre Silents Majority
Stanford Theater Foundation Film Preservation Center
Studio Film & Tape, Inc.
Universal Pictures
University of Colorao Film Studies
Western Clne Film & Video
Western States Black Research & Education center
YCM Labs

For the support and assistance Mount Pilot Productions would also like to thank;
Jim & Kelly Armitage
John Atkinson
Dan Barham
Joe Bianchi
Craig Byrd
Bill Brewington
Candace Chapman
William Christopher
Carole Dean
Margaret Easter
Mike Farrell
Mark Fiejo
Todd Fisher
Charles Gary
Mimi George
Jim & Lisa Goldsworthy
Elisabeth Greenbaum
Jere Guldin
Larry Hancock
C.M. Heller
James Holcomb
Penelope Houston
Jana Katzap
Jamie Kirchoff
Susan Kurtz
Margarita Lorenz
Michael Losmandy
Kay McLaughlin
Diane Macintyre
Roger Morse
Dean Morra
Randy Lee Munro
Mike Norman
Kevin O'Connor
Seth Oster
Rick Prelinger
Charles Richards
Larry Smith
Alan Stark
David Ogden Stiers
Valerie Varos

For the use of film sequences and photographs, Mount Pilot Productlons is grateful to;
Forrest J Ackerman
Arlene Alda
American Film Institute
William & Margaret Buffum
Mark Cantor/Celluloid Improvisations
James & Jeanne Card
Henry Collins
Eastman Kodak Company
Kathy Jones-Gates
George Eastman House
Grinberg Worldwille Images
Harold Lloyd Trust
Hollywood Film Registry
Japanese American National Museum
Jeff Joseph/Sabucat Productions
The Library of Congress
Los Angeles Times Syndicate
Mary Pickford Company
Dan McLaughlin
Milestone Films
National Archives of Canada
"Creative Process:
Norman McLaren" / National Film Board of Canada
William O'Farrell
Angie Pike/Creative Film Society
Prelinger Associates, inc.
Dan Price
Rex Rystedt
Anthony Slide
The Smithsonian Institution, Human Studies Film Archive
Technicoler, Inc.
UCLA Film and Television archive Commercial Services
Underground Vaults & Storage, Inc.
Warner Brothers
Kenneth Weissman
Western States Black Research & Education Center
Worldview Entertainment, Inc.
The WPA Film Library

Special thanks to The British Film Institute and BFI Publishing for use of the title "Keepers of the Frame"

For its generous financial support, Mount Pilot Productions thanks; The Donnet Fund, Inc.

and

the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation

This project sponsored by the
International Documentary Association

@1999 Mount Pilot Productions
All rights reserved
 
More in 70mm reading:

2013 Academy Member Randy Gitsch

Randy Gitsch: A Bio

"Cinerama Adventure"

Internet link:

Notes:

*)

L. Austin was murdered in the Silent Movie Theatre on Jan. 17, 1997, nine months after we filmed an interview of him there. The theater was thereafter closed. It was reopened in Nov. 2000 by new owner, Charlie Lustman, and did, for 2-3 years show a regular schedule of silent films. Gradually, these screenings became fewer and fewer, and the theater was sold again. It now books smaller rock music acts.

 
   
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