On the Warner Brothers release DVD of Mildred Pierce, there is one of those good-but-not-great star profile docos, this time called Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star. Crawford’s biographer, Bob Thomas, closes the 2002 film out with some reflections on the unfortunate private life of his subject, as he remarks that her abuse of her children has, to some extent (or rather to great extent), overshadowed her star presence. Thomas expresses hope that one day, perhaps in fifty years, all the books that detail her abuse of her children will gather so much dust that no one will care to pick them up anymore. At this point, hopes Thomas, her star presence and her influence on the silver screen will again have its immutable hold on Hollywood history. She will be known only as a pure screen beauty. He longs for this day, and he really believes it might come, because books do gather dust but, in his words, the films will always be around.
One again, as I do when this sentiment is expressed, I teared up. Having just read this article in The Atlantic, the sad reality that films will not always be around is far too pressing. It’s done the rounds, this article. I’m sure many of us cinephiles have by now read this one, and many many more, with the same harsh truth as ‘With 35mm Film Dead, Will Classic Movies Ever Look the Same Again?’ Only a few lines from the article needed here: ‘Digital formats change so rapidly that restorations can quickly become obsolete,’ and, ‘Film archivists face additional problems. Digital has turned out to be a fragile archiving format. Information can be lost if hard drives aren’t maintained properly.’ Of course these things are well known by now, but unfortunately not accepted by short-sighted, money-hungry modern studio execs.
I don’t want this to be just another one of those boring posts that laments the death of film, because we’ve all been there too many times and there’s no point. But that line on the Mildred Pierce DVD made me sad. Unless someone gives me several billion dollars nothing can be done. Although I have said before that if I marry a millionaire, I will dedicate all my money to the restoration, one by one, of all the celluloid prints I desire. I suppose I would love to one day see a 35mm print of Humoresque, for example, but I’m not sure that I ever will. I really hope that these films are always around. I hope it’s not too late already.