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FILM IS DEAD. LONG LIVE FILM!

Updated: Jun 19

Review by John Larkin


I recently had the pleasure of attending a special screening of this new documentary by filmmaker Peter Flynn at the Bedford Playhouse in Bedford, NY. In attendance was director Peter Flynn, flanked on his left by former longtime NY Times film critic Janet Maslin, and on his right by legendary film restoration specialist Robert A. Harris. One truly couldn't have experienced a more reverent setting than The Bedford Playhouse to view the film and participate in a post-film discussion and Q&A. The Bedford Playhouse was co-founded and designed by Harris himself, and the theater's giant screen, equipped with a top of the line projector and draped by a gorgeous velvet curtain, is about as perfect as movie theater experiences get.


LONG LIVE FILM! is a ferociously entertaining, endearingly humorous and ultimately poignant look at the underground world of film collectors. Going in, I expected to see interview subjects who appeared more flush and polished, assuming that the acquiring of film prints of any kind, is a luxury hobby for only the extremely wealthy. Instead, we pay witness to quite the opposite; a handful of homely men, many of whom are physically degrading and dredge through filthy sheds and old abandoned theaters in a quest to find lost gems from yesteryear. It's astounding how much sweat, grime and filth surrounds the film collectors life, all in an effort to find something truly rare and otherwise completely lost from the face of the earth.


Film, as a physical specimen, degrades quite easily and rapidly, with the exception of Nitrate film, which production of such was abandoned when it was realized how highly flammable it was. There is a wealth of education presented throughout the film, not only about the modern day film collector, but about the history of the medium and the film studios blatant disregard for its wellbeing and longevity. Stu Fink, one of the film collectors featured, transforms into the films narrator early on. Fink, who is ensconced in billows of cigar smoke as he chomps away on his corona gorda, has a great presence and vocal quality that makes it easier to retain a lot of the information presented.


For all the fetishization on the material of film itself, the doc finds a way to make a revelatory point; it's the image and sound themselves that matter the most, not the material object of the film reel itself. In this digital age, we are blessed to have the ability to transfer over the content from film to digital and so should take stock in that ideal. That of course should not deduct from the pleasure and fascination of being able to discover or own something historic. For myself, I think it would be fun to own a 35mm projector and a handful of 35mm prints of some of my favorite films, but that would be the extent of it, no foraging through old storage lockers, stuffed with film canisters caked with mummified insects.


In the post discussion Q&A, Janet Maslin herself revealed she doesn't partake in the collecting of physical media when she knows she can pretty much find whatever she wants on the internet or streaming platforms these days. Although that's not entirely true - there are many titles still not available anywhere except on physical media - it's an ideology that is pervasive throughout our modern day culture.


Janet Maslin (left), Director Peter Flynn (c), Robert A. Harris (right) wax philosophical about film collection and the digital age.

For all of LONG LIVE FILM!'s zeal, there is also a sadness that permeates the film. We learn that Louis DiCrescenzo, the interview subject who ends up becoming the culminating focus, clearly shirked his family responsibilities and prioritized his film collection over the wellbeing of his wife and son throughout his life. He is not without any sort of redemption though, as with many of these collectors, they take efforts to make sure their collections ends up in the right hands before their time on this earth ends, most notably with the Library of Congress.


The film ends on a beautifully unexpected note; the hope that the education on film preservation and projection continues to be passed, and that the legacy of these massive collections were not in vain. I'm rooting for LONG LIVE FILM and BayView Entertainment to find suitable distribution and a home on streaming that will allow for as many viewers young and old, to discover it's wonderful charm.





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