Independent Lens, the Emmy-winning PBS series, airs Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton’s These Amazing Shadows, a one-hour documentary, on Thursday, December 29, at 10:00pm (check local listings).
These Amazing Shadows is an often kaleidoscopic swirl of film clips iconic and obscure, from Casablanca, Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz to 2001, The Godfather and E.T., plus culturally noteworthy home movies, the odd sound film demo and theater intermission bumper. The documentary also outlines the background of the Film Preservation Act and the creation of the National Film Registry.
|The Night of the Hunter|
The outcry against Turner’s penchant for colorizing the classics culminated in Congressional hearings. These Amazing Shadows navigates the colorization controversy, illustrating the hue and cry with news footage of directors Sydney Pollack and Woody Allen appearing before Congress and clips of James Stewart speaking out on network TV. In 1988, the Film Preservation Act was passed and, through the Library of Congress’ National Film Preservation Board, brought about the National Film Registry.
|Gus Visser and his Singing Duck|
These Amazing Shadows covers a lot of ground in an hour. There are nearly as many interviews (Debbie Reynolds, Paul Schrader, Christopher Nolan, Rob Reiner, Peter Coyote, John Waters and many others) as there are film clips. The program features reflections on movies in general as well as specific films and genres but also explores attitudes and issues (race relations, women in film, cold war propaganda). Naturally, D.W. Griffith’s legendary Birth of a Nation has its moment in the spotlight. Though an innovative groundbreaker, this film affects me in the same way Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will does. Each is historically and cinematically relevant but promotes deeply offensive propaganda; Riefenstahl extolled the Nazis, Griffith the Ku Klux Klan.
Currently there are 550 films listed in the National Film Registry. Each year the Librarian of Congress, with input from the public and the National Film Preservation Board, picks 25 films to add to the Registry. To learn more about These Amazing Shadows, an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival, click here.
A footnote: I can’t ignore the irony that Ted Turner, who eventually abandoned colorization (a prohibitively expensive process), just a few years later launched Turner Classic Movies. The channel stands today as a beacon in the night for classic film fans - and airs predominantly black and white films...