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How much has changed since this article? MGM was going dump these in the ocean like FOX! (1 Viewer)


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Jun 23, 2006
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Robert M. Grippo
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By Deseret News
Feb 10, 1990, 2:00am EST
Catherine Hinman, Orlando Sentinel

Fifteen years ago, MGM Studios almost dumped a truckload of old Technicolor film negatives - including the original negative of the 1939 classic "Gone With the Wind" - into the Pacific Ocean.
Fortunately, the company first asked the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, a film archive in Rochester, N.Y., if it would like to have the collection, which was taking up valuable storage space. Archivists there, cringing at the thought of such treasures being sunk in salt water, didn't even hesitate.Without the existence of these original negatives, Turner Entertainment Co.'s recent restoration of "Gone With the Wind" for its 50th anniversary showing last year would not have been possible. The color in the copies MGM had made was faded.
Complete preservation of the film, which involves the expensive and painstaking process of making a new negative, still has not been accomplished, and the effort hasn't even begun on many other films from the MGM Technicolor collection, including "The Clock" (1945) with Judy Garland and "Northwest Passage" (1940) with Spencer Tracy.
Saving the Technicolor films from burial at sea, indeed, was only one small victory in the war to rescue them and many others for posterity. The Technicolor films, like all films before 1952, were made on nitrate negatives, which are both highly flammable and chemically unstable. Over a period of years, depending on how well they are stored, nitrate films will inevitably crumble and disintegrate.
Thousands of films yet to be transferred from nitrate stock to "safety" or non-flammable acetate film stock are in danger of being lost forever if the money is not found with which to do the work, archivists say.
"We need $200 million over the next 20 years if we are going to preserve our country's heritage," said Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, director of the American Film Institute's National Center for Film and Video Preservation in Los Angeles.
Haizlip's 5-year-old organization serves as a clearinghouse for film archive information and preservation money. The center receives about $355,000 annually from the National Endowment for the Arts, which it doles out as grants to the nation's archives. There are more than 100 small archives and seven major ones, including the Library of Congress, the University of California at Los Angeles, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the George Eastman House, the University of Wisconsin, the National Archives and the Smithsonian Institution.
The center has identified 200 million feet of film in these archives, including features, newsreels, short subjects and documentaries, that must be transferred (at a cost of about $1 a foot) to safety stock if they are to survive. While many of the titles are obscure art films, others are more prestigious theatrical releases, such as "The Dark Mirror" (1946), with Olivia De Havilland, "Johnny Come Lately" (1943), starring James Cagney, and "Tonight or Never" (1931), starring Gloria Swanson.
Despite archival efforts, 80 percent of all films made before 1930 and half of all films made before 1950 no longer exist, according to the Library of Congress. The negatives and copies were trashed, burned or lost by the studios that made them. Some were recycled for the silver in the film stock.
The studios' early disregard of film preservation is not as callous as it may seem, said Pat Loughney, film curator of the Library of Congress' motion picture, broadcasting and recorded sound division. The pioneering filmmakers were, first and foremost, business people, he said. When films had finished their run in the theaters, few studio executives saw good reason to store and maintain the negatives.
Not until the home video revolution of the last decade and the advent of cable television outlets for films have the studios had much economic incentive to preserve their motion pictures.
Contributing to the change in the prevailing attitude, Loughney said, is the evolution of motion picture production into an art form as well as a business.
Although their priority today is saving the nitrate-based films, the archivists have growing concerns about the longevity of many color films in the post-nitrate era. The Eastman color film that replaced most Technicolor, which became exorbitant in price, was also unstable. Although color film today is viewed as longer lasting, films from as late as the '70s have been fading.
The funding shortage for preservation has reached crisis proportions in the archives, but some preservationists are optimistic that their little-heralded cause may soon get support. Thanks to the Film Preservation Act of 1988, the job at hand has gained national attention.
The law was the upshot of a campaign by the Directors Guild of America against the colorization of black and white films. The resulting compromise legislation created a National Film Registry to which films deserving special protection by the government are named. By 1991, the registry will include 75 films representing a cross-section of U.S. films believed to be "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant." Should these films be colorized or altered in any way, the law requires that they carry labels stating what alterations were made.
Fay Kanin, a screenwriter and former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a member of the board administering the program, said she hopes the law will be renewed and expanded in scope once the preservation need is better understood. The law, she said, is only the first step.
5000+v The first 25 films were voted into the registry last September and, while the list included obvious choices such as "The Maltese Falcon" (1941), "Casablanca" (1942) and "Citizen Kane" (1941), all of which are in mint condition now at the Library of Congress, a number of others, including "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), "The Searchers" (1956), "High Noon" (1952), "On The Waterfront" (1954), "Vertigo" (1958) and "Sunset Boulevard" (1950) are still in the hands of the studios and in unknown condition.
The Library of Congress, as the keeper of the registry, is negotiating with the studios to obtain the film negatives.
Some archivists say the law is meaningless because it provides no money for preservation. The Library of Congress, which receives only $1.2 million annually for film preservation and has in its lab some 90 million feet of film yet to transfer from nitrate stock, is counting on the studios to subsidize the preservation of the films on the registry out of good will.
The archivists know little about the condition of the studios' inventory. Even though the studios say they have preservation efforts under way, the archives and the studios have different definitions of preservation.
To the studios, preservation may be transferring the film from a nitrate negative to a videotape. Even if they have transferred the nitrate film to safety film, the color may be fading. By contrast, to an archivist, preservation is nothing less than creating a new negative resembling as nearly as possible the former beauty of the original.
Archivists worry that the story of "Lawrence of Arabia" (1963) is more the rule than the exception. Independent preservationist Robert Harris found the original negative a shambles. Parts were missing, splices were falling apart, frames were scratched. Even the original sound track had been lost. A new regime at Columbia Pictures restored the picture for almost $1 million and re-released it last year.
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Senior HTF Member
Oct 3, 2008
New York City
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Who knows how many film materials across the various studios have actually already been dumped into the ocean or otherwise destroyed/disposed of. It's the same thing as burning books and there should be laws against it. Imagine the outcry if Picasso paintings were disposed of because of lack of storage space!


Stunt Coordinator
Nov 24, 2020
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I hate to think of how many wonderful TV movies from the 60s and 70s were dumped. Several of the ones I've long been looking for never got a DVD release-or even available via streaming, which I refuse to buy into as it's what's primarily killing off not only DVD and BD movie and TV formats but internal and external BD drive production.
Jul 16, 2008
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A: Your story is rubbish. These films were made by MGM, but have been owned by Warner Bros. since 1986. The current Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has nothing to do with these films. They are so heavily invested in film preservation and derive enough income from home video that they would never dump any film elements unless they were nitrate and had turned to completely un-runnable goo or dust.


Senior HTF Member
May 3, 2008
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A: Your story is rubbish. These films were made by MGM, but have been owned by Warner Bros. since 1986. The current Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has nothing to do with these films. They are so heavily invested in film preservation and derive enough income from home video that they would never dump any film elements unless they were nitrate and had turned to completely un-runnable goo or dust.
Look at the *date on the story* - 1990 - and then that it's talking about an incident 15 years *prior to that date* - 1975. Warner did not own the library then.

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