February 16, 1996
Thank you. I'm very honored to receive this award.
You've just heard me talk at length, maybe too much at length, about the way I feel on these issues.
The end of the '80s saw a new awareness about reassessing the conditions of our film heritage. What was particularly new was that people in the creative community were beginning to get involved. In fact, within a few months from each other, in a spontaneous, independent way, two organizations were set up by filmmakers: the Artists Rights Foundation, set up to fight for the integrity of our work, and The Film Foundation, set up to take action with the studios to preserve the films in their vaults.
In the spring of 1990, I was in Milan working on a documentary, when I received a letter from Elliot Silverstein expressing concern about the two organizations overlapping. On my return, Elliot and I met at Wally and Joseph's restaurant, on 49th Street, by the Brill Building ( I was editing "Cape Fear" at the time), to discuss this. Over dinner we came to realize that, without planning it, we had been dealing all along with two sides of the same issue:
1. The actual preservation of film.
2. The recognition of moral rights of filmmakers.
As I've said repeatedly, you can't have one without the other. Lots of films are already gone, many recent films are in need of restoration. My own film, "Taxi Driver," made in 1976, was just restored, and the "Star Wars" trilogy is now in the process of being restored.
This is why we're here tonight. It's great to get awards but we're not here only to congratulate each other. Rather, what this event does is to focus once more on what we're concerned about. It's another great opportunity to keep on spreading the message.
And I always look at these events with the hope of some forward motion, of seeing some real progress. And there is some progress tonight. The fact that I'm being presented this award by Jack Valenti, who is the spokesman for the MPAA, shows this. Since I first met Jack, in 1970 at the Sorrento Film Festival, he has always been a supporter of my artists' rights. As we found out through the work of The Film Foundation on film preservation, the studios and the archives are coming together. And if tonight is any indication, the same can happen with artists' rights. At least we're talking.
Look let's face it, the cinema - the classical cinema - is gone. It's over. The cinema as we know it up to now, is disappearing. It doesn't mean that cinema is dead. Rather, it's evolving. It's new, totally new. So new, that some of us may not even be aware of what changes will occur in the next decade.
We're witnessing a new cinema being born and that's exciting. However, whatever cinema evolves into, you still need an author.
Cinema is not just technology. It's not impersonal. The "author" is not an abstract corporation. It didn't just drop from the sky. It isn't off an assembly line, like you make a car. Film is not factory made, it's a human creation. And so what we're saying is, let's keep the "human" in the creative process.
Look, the reality is that cinema is an art. It may not all be great art. Like all art, you have good, bad, mediocre, indifferent art. But when it comes to film, lots of people feel you can do whatever you want with it - cut it, manipulate it any way you want. But you have to be very careful about deciding what is art and what isn't. There are dangers in making hasty judgments about which filmmakers are more important. Take for instance Alfred Hitchcock. Young people today who study his work may find it hard to believe that, in his time, despite his work being enjoyed and being commercially successful, was not taken seriously. Some felt his films were just "thrillers," or clever story-telling.
Or for instance, "film noir." Those post-war low-budget, gritty black and white films of the '40s and '50s. Films of urban violence and paranoia that may not have been viewed as the highest form of cinema at the time, but films that in the 1960s were rediscovered by critics and audiences and viewed as a major proof of film as an artistic medium. Thank God all of these films were not tossed out at the time, like many of the silent films were, which were considered too insignificant to be passed on to future generations. You see, in those days it was more important to save the silver in the film stock than film itself. Today "film noir" has generated new genres, evolved into big movies - blockbusters in fact, which are the heart of the industry - the summer movies.
So, what are we really talking about when we say artists' rights? Studios, corporations own movies. Because they own it, it doesn't mean they should update them, revise them, distort them, or let them rot in their vaults. In fact, in light of the new technologies and possible future uses, you never know when you'll have to go back to the original negatives.
And what does this say about the owners of the work? It says really that they are custodians. They may own it, but they have a responsibility. The work belongs to the world. They are custodians.
As far as the American tradition goes, there is nothing new about this responsibility. Years ago, wealthy families - Carnegie, Rockefeller - who helped build American industry, shared the notion that if you had great wealth you held it as a kind of custodian on behalf of society and you had a responsibility to use that wealth for that society's benefit. It used to be called stewardship. In the film industry, we're asking studios to show that stewardship by preserving their films and by respecting its integrity.
But I go further. Major corporations own some studios today and they have received so much from film, they should give something back and render a great service to the nation. They should preserve not only their own libraries but help in the preservation of orphan films: documentaries, independent films, and most of all, newsreels - which are historical documents. There are a hundred million feet of nitrate film, at a cost of $2.00 per foot. It's $200 million that need to be transferred to safety. By losing them, we lose an important part of our history, our culture.
I'll come to ask your help on this. I promise.
What concerns me is that our attitude towards art and culture reflects how our own society sees itself - what it thinks of itself.
And we will be judged in the future, among other things, by the way we treat our art and our culture. In fact, we're being judged in our own time. Like jazz, we must remember that cinema is the great indigenous American art form, and all we're saying is that we want it to be preserved and we want it to be shown, now and in the future, the way it was meant to be, by those who originally created it.
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