Film Preservation Goes West

By , Columnist
When you think film preservation, your first thought is most likely classic feature films like Lawrence Of Arabia. While it's certainly important to preserve great works of art for future generations, that's really only part of the goal of film archives around the world. Newsreels, industrial films, and early test footage from the silent era are all equally deserving of preservation and in much graver danger of being lost forever.

You may not have considered your parents' Super 8 home movies to be important historical documents, but they are. They capture day-to-day life, images of ordinary people in a bygone era. Imagine how valuable it would be to have film of Victorian England or Colonial America.

For the past decade, the National Film Preservation Foundation has released a series of DVD box sets called Treasures From American Film Archives. The first two volumes collected a vast overview of the types of films these archives are preserving, everything from peepshow kinetoscopes from 1894, to the earliest surviving film version of The Wizard Of Oz from 1910. They included animation, newsreels, travelogues and even excerpts from Groucho Marx's home movies.

With Treasures III: Social Issues In American Film, 1900-1934, the NFPF began organizing their collections thematically. Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986 was a high-water mark for the series, collecting experimental films by such pioneers as Shirley Clarke, Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol, Stan Brakhage, George Kuchar, and many others.

The fifth volume, Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938, is due to be released on September 27 and it looks to continue the high level of quality set by its predecessors. The lineup on the three-disc set includes The Lady Of The Dugout, a 1918 silent starring Al Jennings, a real-life cowboy and bank robber who reformed and turned to acting; the 1926 comedy Mantrap starring Clara Bow; footage from 1912 of an active cattle ranch in Santa Monica, of all places; newsreel and travelogues of Yosemite National Park, Castle Hot Springs in Arizona, and much, much more.

Obviously these sets are designed more for the serious collector than for casual viewing. But for film fanatics and history buffs, they're an invaluable, endlessly fascinating tour of the past. Treasures 5 is due out September 27 with a suggested retail price of $59.98. For more information, check out the National Film Preservation Foundation's website at

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Adam Jahnke has been writing about film since age 13, when he began foisting a self-published newsletter on friends and family (copies of which are now mercifully lost to the ages). In 2000, he joined the staff of the highly respected DVD website The Digital Bits, where he continues to serve as columnist…

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