These Amazing Shadows (2011)
OR “National Film Registry: The Movie: The Motion Picture: Tokyo Drift”
Directed by Paul Mariano & Kurt Norton
Written by Mariano & Norton & Douglas Blush
Today marks the one-year anniversary of “The Horse’s Head”! To celebrate me writing about watching movies for a year, I watched a movie about all the movies that I have/will watch and write about.
Released back when the National Film Registry had a mere 575 films on the list, “These Amazing Shadows” is a standard talking-head documentary about the creation of the National Film Registry and its efforts to preserve American film. Interviews are conducted with a variety of subjects: from those who select the films, to those whose work is being preserved. Clips from the honored films are highlighted throughout. Covered topics include proper preservation, racial and cultural representation, the early success and later sidelining of women in the film industry, film as a historical document, and the overall power of the movies. Ultimately the best description of the NFR comes at the end, when it is compared to preserving family photos: This is what we want to show future generations. This is what was important to us.
While conventional in its approach, “These Amazing Shadows” is a rare glimpse into what it takes to become an NFR film. I applaud the filmmakers for making a movie about movies that doesn’t talk down to those who study film, nor alienates those who don’t. If you’re a film nut like me, you’ll get a lot out of this. Personally, “These Amazing Shadows” is a lovely opportunity for me to not only revisit the great films I’ve already watched for this blog, but also to get excited for the films I have yet to see (except you, “Birth of a Nation”). I look forward to the controversial/confusing inclusion of “These Amazing Shadows” on the National Film Registry in 2021.
Shout Outs: By my count there are 126 Registry titles featured in this film (35 of which I have already covered on this blog).
Title Track: NFR preservationist George Willeman utters the title about 17 minutes in. It seems a bit forced, but it works. I personally prefer one of their alternate titles, “To Protect and Preserve”. I wish I had come up with that.
Seriously, Emmys?: “These Amazing Shadows” premiered on PBS in December of 2011, and didn’t get a single Emmy nomination in 2012. Come on, TV Academy! How do you have 900 categories and still not nominate something? What about “Best Adapted Writing for a Nonfiction Unstructured Special Class Program (Non-Prosthetic)”?
- Ted Turner was an asshole for colorizing these films in the first place (even arrogantly referring to them as “my movies”), but without him we wouldn’t have a government-funded film preservation agency. So thank/fuck you, Ted Turner.
- Of the first 25 films, “The Learning Tree” always gets the shaft. Its only appearance in this film is its poster during the end credits. Come on NFR; you picked it, show some support!
- Do you think it gets awkward in the meeting room when one of cinematographer/board member Caleb Deschanel’s films comes up for consideration? At the time of filming, only one of his movies (“The Black Stallion”) had made the cut. And how often do you think Leonard Maltin tries to get “Gremlins 2” inducted?
- Why is Tim Roth being interviewed? “Pulp Fiction” wasn’t on the list yet.
- “Very often history proves [The Oscars] wrong.” In the case of Best Picture winners (the point this part of the film is trying to make), that’s not true. So far, about 60% of all eligible Best Picture winners have made the cut. Not an exceptional record, but not a rarity either.
- Hey, don’t knock “Thriller”. It’s awesome!
- At some point I would love to visit the Library of Congress Packard Campus in Culpeper, Virginia. It may be my personal Mecca.
- Don’t burn rare film nitrate to prove your point! We can take your word for it!
- Shout-out to “The Greatest” the 1977 Muhammad Ali film that’s playing at the same theater as “Star Wars”. Coincidentally, both films feature James Earl Jones.
- The film is quick to switch over to the original unaltered “Star Wars” when the situation dictates (to the point where the dip in quality is noticeable), but manages to overlook using a shot from the “E.T.” Special Edition. The added cape effect is the giveaway. Don’t think I didn’t notice.
- At face value, having George Takai as a talking head in this film is a bit random. But then you hear him talk about his own experience in a Japanese internment camp and you realize how important it is to not only preserve that footage (“Topaz”) but also to hear about the experience from those who were there.
- It’s nice to put a face to some of the people whose names I recognize as NFR essay authors.
- Rob Reiner insists that “The Princess Bride” should be on the list. Give it five more years, Meathead.
- Filmmaker Barry Jenkins only had a handful of shorts to his credit at the time of this film, but not only is he interviewed, he’s on the National Film Preservation Board. I’m sure we can expect “Moonlight” to make the cut in 2026.
- Rights clearance to “Apocalypse Now”? Check. Rights clearance to “The End” by The Doors? Well…
- Debbie Reynolds is only in this film for a hot second, but it’s enough to make me miss her and appreciate how much she did for the preservation of classic movies throughout her life. And now I have something completely unrelated in my eye…
Thanks for joining me for the first year of “The Horse’s Head”. There’s plenty more to come. As always, Happy Viewing!