movie camera

Movies have been in our world for many years, ever since the 17th century. People have been going to theaters and drive-ins to watch new films just for the pure enjoyment and to have the memory of the experience for the rest of their lives. By the late 1800’s, companies were screening 15 minute movies at the Parisian Theater while Thomas Edison was inventing the light bulb to be later used in film projection. Since the beginning, filmmakers have been using all kinds of tools to make movies. Films became most popular during WWII, when movies were being made about soldiers going into battle, how they were dressed, what guns they used and depicting foreign, unfamiliar lands. It was not only a source of entertainment, but also information about things going on away from home.


Restoration Process


It wasn’t until the 1920’s that the realization of restoring films was needed and shown to be time consuming. Only 10% of silent movies before 1950 are preserved and only 50% of “talkies”, or films that had sound. Films during the first half of the 20th century were copied for a duplicate and were not really restored. Most were disposed of due to lack of storage space. Today the concept is different. The preferred method of film restoration and storage is to transfer the film to another, newer film stock. With today’s technology we can restore and preserve up to 100 years by controlling the exterior forces like air, wind, dust, and water. Basic restoration also includes splicing, rewinding, cleaning, and repairing damaged films. Some of the films that have been preserved from the early 1900’s include; Alice in Wonderland (1903), Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1903), Jack Frost (1906),& Ben Hur (1907).

After 1930, the silent films had no resale value and were not kept. The few that are left have high priority for restoration. Later films are hard to preserve from copies made because the originals are in such bad condition or do not exist. Some organizations that restore films prefer to transfer the film to a different source, such as film to digital image, which results in proper storage protection. The New York Museum of Modern Arts, the earliest institution to start preservation, and The Library of Congress, are considered dedicated resources for restoration.

New Beginnings


In 1970, Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer saw that many films from the “Golden Age” had been destroyed by fire and recognized the need for restoration and preservation. Ted Turner, now Time Warner, bought MGM, Warner Bros. and RKO Radio/Pictures with the intent to restore and preserve all pre-1986 movies. In the same year, explorers in the Yukon Territory found 500 early 20th century films that had been naturally preserved in ice and were added to the Library of Congress. In the 1980’s and 1990’s Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, both directors of famous films, contributed greatly to restoration when they discovered films like “Jaws” and “Raging Bull” were badly decomposing. Today’s technology gives us a better opportunity to preserve and restore films that will hopefully be seen for hundreds of years to come.