A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies by Dennis Bartok
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It only took about a century for the world to go from moving images printed on some pretty dangerous nitrate stock to having full access to digital copies of movies, television shows and other types of programs at their fingertips. But what about all of those original film prints that were made over decades by studios? Do they just exist in some expertly preserved archive? Sadly, this is not the case as explained inA Thousand Cuts by Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph.
Reading this book gave me an immediate visceral reaction: I wanted to jump out of my chair and go save neglected film prints that could vanish at any moment due to someone's ignorance of what they have, due to poor storage or any other factor that may put it at risk. But I know nothing of collecting prints, preserving them or even the basics of running a projector, so I sat back down (I'll stick with collecting vinyl). The stories in the book from a wide range of collectors from the seventies and eighties were fascinating, especially when they were being targeted by the FBI for collecting, but it's the idea of the unknown that made me want to read more. I love old movies, and thanks to things like TCM I can see a lot of things that I wouldn't have access if the channel hadn't been created. However, it was on a particular day when TCM was showing Metropolis that I first got interested in seeing everything that was once labeled lost—there's still plenty of lost footage to that silent film, even though a lot of it has been restored. The parts of this book that fascinated me the most was the discussions about lost films, or films thought to be lost.
I was also deeply interested in the stories of film collectors that didn't want to collect the obvious—they wanted to collect the prints they knew wouldn't be saved otherwise. It is a vital role in the preservation of film. In other areas of collecting, you don't have the same amount of urgency to get anything original into a state of preservation. Printed books will never go out of style. Listening to music on vinyl is having a huge resurgence. But film is going the way of the dinosaur. The world could lose a lot more one-of-a-kind movies, trailers and other images that no one sees the value in until it's too late. This book not only tells the story of these collectors that saved some fascinating material, but it also provides a call to those who have a desire to continue the preservation work.
*Received a copy of this book through NetGalley
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