Keeping History Alive: FilmStruck's Mission to Preserve Film
by Mandi Harrison
There is a scene in La La Land where Emma Stone’s character, Mia, is explaining to Ryan Gosling’s character, Sebastian, why she wants to be an actress. Her aunt was an actress in a traveling theater company and when she would visit Mia, they would borrow old movies from the library and reenact the tales they had just watched. Between her aunt’s love of acting and the exposure to classic movies, Mia had found her calling at an early age. One of my favorite parts of the movie is Mia looking longly at a soundstage and sighing “I just love it.” That feeling is one I know well. There is something so magical and yet comforting about watching those old black & white movies.
Movies are like time capsules; they document history and show what was popular at the time. Trends may change, but life’s complexities are always the same, no matter the year and that’s what makes movies so relatable. Family is family, love is love, heartbreak is heartbreak, conflict is conflict.
Archiving these movies and keeping them preserved for this and future generations is critical. I recently read an article by Ryan Faughnder in the LA Times that quoted Jan-Christopher Horak, the director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive as saying that with each new viewing medium, from VHS to DVD to download to streaming, 15-20% of material isn’t reformatted due to cost. If the movies aren’t readily available, they won’t get recommended and a piece of history is lost.
There are people working to fix that. Cable channels such as Turner Classic Movies (or TCM) that are dedicated to showcasing these movies and keeping their stories alive. Movie theater chains, including our local Harkins, replay classic movies, in an effort to show them as they were meant to be seen. Getting to see Singin’ In The Rain for the first time on the big screen was mind-blowing!
The Criterion Collection is a distribution company that specializes in classic and contemporary films specifically for people who appreciate film. Hard to find titles, foreign movies, movies that were thought to be revolutionary or have made an impact. They release 6 new titles on DVD or BluRay every month. The older films are remastered and put in the letterbox format, and special features like commentaries and interviews are included. These special editions are an investment, but they are well worth it.
And then two years ago, magic happened. A streaming service called FilmStruck appeared and it had classics, foreign movies, independents and arthouse films. They teamed up with the Criterion Collection, having the Criterion Channel, with even more extras, and it was just bliss. We’ve had the service for almost a year, and have been able to watch so many movies that we were never able to find before. We were like kids in a candy store.
But they say all good things must come to an end. It was announced last month that WarnerMedia, the parent company of FilmStruck, would be shutting down the service at the end of November due to restructuring. Without FilmStruck, these movies won’t be easily accessible. Some of these films could potentially be lost forever. There has been an outpouring of support for the streaming service, with filmmakers and viewers signing petitions and making pleas to preserve FilmStruck. Filmmakers from Steven Spielberg to Judd Apatow to Barry Jenkins to Barbara Striesand and many, many more have spoken up about the importance of a service like this.
And it may be working, for as I write, there is a potential deal to bring back FilmStruck, possibly under a different name, later next year, when WarnerMedia unveils their new streaming platform. Time will tell if that will actually happen, but hope is not lost.
Film Preservation and remastering is an important undertaking. There are many films that are in such poor quality when they come to FilmStruck, little can do done to fix it. Some movies have entire scenes that are destroyed and have to be pieced together with still images. Films are a part of our legacy, and they need to be kept safe, so future generations can watch and learn from them. It is said that up to three quarters of all silent films are gone forever, most lost in storage fires due to not properly storing the flammable film stock. FilmStruck and Criterion are like museums for classic films, curating exhibits and preserving the artwork.
Being able to discover new (old) directors and watch these movies that are discussed in classes and books and learn different styles- that has just been priceless. We have and will be watching as many movies as we can until November 29th, trying to soak up as much knowledge and history as possible. FilmStruck really has been like a film school, and I know that we aren’t the only ones that will miss our classroom.
Our Favorite Movies from FilmStruck/The Criterion Channel
Eat Pray Man Woman- from director Ang Lee. A story about a Taiwanese family, dealing with life changes.
Cat People- A horror/thriller from 1942 about a Serbian woman who moves to America and believes that she will turn into the cat person of her homeland’s legends if she shows any type of strong emotion. (Side note- I really enjoyed this one too)
Fanny and Alexander- Feels like home a first, like a real family. A personal story that humanizes family dynamics.
The Devils- a film that is so over the top, it makes The Exorcist look mild. The full cut of the film has been lost, and the closest thing to the full cut is locked away, only to be brought out for certain showings. It shows how people can confuse their religion and their morals.
Brief Encounter- This movie though. Mmm. It’s about a woman who meets a stranger at a train stranger and is tempted to cheat on her husband. It sounds so scandalous, but it is beautiful and romantic and tragic. Everything is just wonderfully put together. It’s rumored that a scene from this movie inspired Billy Wilder to write The Apartment, which is another movie that is just the bee's knees.
A Room With A View- I’m a huge fan of Jane Austin and movies that have that kind of bite and class, so I knew I would enjoy this. I just didn’t know to what extent. It’s full of characters that are so awful, yet you just can’t help loving them.
City Lights- This is one of Chris’s favorite movies, and now it’s one of mine. The Criterion Channel really opened my eyes to Charlie Chaplin, and there are so many things that he came up with that are still being used in films today. City Lights is one of the most romantic movies I have ever seen; you just root for him the whole time.
Grey Gardens- They always talk about Grey Gardens on Gilmore Girls, and I kind of knew what they were joking about, but I never fully got the full context. It’s a documentary about a mother and daughter who live together in a rundown house and to put it mildly- they are delusional. The house is in ruins, they basically wear costumes all day and are convinced that their luck is going to be coming around the corner, when nothing could be further from the truth. They were distant relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, so they came from substance, but they fell from grace somewhere along the way. At first, it’s funny and endearing to watch, and then it gets sad and difficult. It stuck with me for a long time afterwards, and now I think it’s tragically beautiful how they will always just have each other for eternity.
Before Sunrise- TBH, I never really wanted to watch this; I always thought it was slightly pretentious. Chris told me to give it a try and I’ll admit I was wrong. It was adorable. It’s about a young man and young woman who meet on a train going through Europe and spend the night wandering the streets in Vienna. The sights are beautiful and the conversations they have as they get to know each other are actually more enlightening to themselves. They leave each other in the morning, knowing that they will probably never see each other again. I just loved it. It was like an old Hollywood movie.
Brief Encounter- Seriously, this movie was incredible. This is one of Greta Gerwig’s favorite movies, and watching it, you can really see where she gets inspired by it.