Joseph Losey’s caustic 1951 film noir “The Prowler” is the highlight of this week’s releases, which include a new Blu-ray edition of Disney’s contemporaneous “Alice in Wonderland” (down another rabbit hole) and Stuart Rosenberg’s mighty peculiar and long out of circulation “WUSA” of 1970. Reviews here in the New York Times.
One of Losey’s most striking achievements, “The Prowler” has long been unavailable because of rights problems; they’ve now been resolved, and a beautiful new restoration has been supervised by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, which is the version being released on DVD by VCI. It’s worth noting that the restoration was funded by the Film Noir Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to underwriting high quality, 35-millimeter prints for theatrical exhibition of movies that are no longer available in that or, far too often, any other form through the studios that produced and/or released them.
This is a particularly valuable initiative, given the dangerously widespread notion that, in the age of the internet, every movie ever made is available with the click of a mouse. My old friend Roger Ebert recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “This instant, sitting right here, I can choose to watch virtually any film you can think of via Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, MUBI, the Asia/Pacific Film Archive, Google Video or Vimeo” — something I can only wish were true. The sad fact is that only a tiny fraction of classical Hollywood is available for viewing, and the situation is far worse for independent, avant-garde and foreign films.
We aren’t talking “lost” films here, but movies for which workable prints and even camera negatives exist in the archives. But as long as no one is willing to print them up and put them into even digital distribution, they might as well be lying at the bottom of the ocean along with the lost reels of “The Magnificent Ambersons.” If the rights holders aren’t willing to preserve and promote their own property, it falls upon the end users — us — to do so.
And one way to do it is to contribute to initiatives like The Film Preservation Blogathon, which this year runs Feb. 14-21 and is hosted by Marilyn Ferdinand (Ferdy on Films) and Farran Smith Nehme (The Self-Styled Siren). For 2011, they’ll be raising money for another Film Noir Foundation project, the preservation of another socially engaged noir directed by a victim of the blacklist, Cy Endfield’s 1950 “The Sound of Fury.” Donations can be made through the Facebook page of For the Love of Film or directly to the Film Noir Foundation’s PayPal account.
Here’s a promotional YouTube clip prepared by Greg Ferrara.