This will be a slightly different review than many of my others in that I will be talking about much of this film in the first person. A special presentation was put on tonight at my university by the directors (Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton)of the documentary These Amazing Shadows. The film premiered at Sundance and toured the festival circuit in 2011 and thanks to the Laurier Film Society; we got a screening with the directors. While this is not the kind of controversial documentary that gets around the awards circuit, it demonstrates the love and importance of film like few films do.
These Amazing Shadows is a documentary that chronicles the history and implementation of the National Film Registry. Since 1989, the U.S. National Film Preservation Board selects 25 films to be held and preserved in the Library of Congress. From its inception during the debate over Ted Turner’s “colorization” of classic films, the Board has taken to looking at the cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance of classic films. From early examples of the technology to home movies to classic cinema to new classics, the Board looks at film and its place as the art form of the 20th century. As is said in the film, when scientists of the future look back at our civilization, they will look to our motion pictures for information.
The reason that this documentary is special is that it shows society’s love of film, pure and simple. It is a celebration of the essential documentation of society that has taken place over the past hundred years. It gives us home movies that document the simple lives of folk in the small town of Cologne, Minnesota (Cologne, 1939). It shows us how film can document tragic periods of America’s past (Topaz, 1945; Zapruder film, 1963). It shows us the power of film as propaganda (Why We Fight, 1943; Birth of a Nation, 1915). It demonstrates how we see ourselves and how we see our society and it captivates us all with its beauty and drama and tragedy and love.
There are problems with this film, but the biggest one was that I was captivated. Normally my sense of the quality of a film comes (at least in part) from its ability to distract me with its faults. And while there were a few, it really didn’t matter. This film and all of the people interviewed were giving me a poetic explanation and justification for why I am a film student. Film communicates emotion. It allows us to hear the feelings of individuals from decades and now centuries past in a very real way. We laugh at their jokes and cry at their hardships and understand the universality of humanity. It reinvigorated my love of film in a way that few films do, and for that I will always love it.