A screenwriter and film buff plunges into the bizarre world of film collectors, finding people willing to sacrifice anything to preserve a dying art.
Even as former programmer for the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, Bartok’s love of film pales in comparison to that of his interviewees, including writing partner Joseph, a motion picture archivist later revealed to have “gone to jail for the movies.” Bartok often narrates in the first person, showcasing impeccable comedic timing, as he enters memorabilia-stuffed projection rooms, views prized reels, and listens to incredible stories from a time when access to film was severely restricted. The collectors see benefits of new technologies, but as Gremlins director Joe Dante points out, “it’s the B-pictures, the grindhouse and exploitation films…that are most in need of preservation.” Many of these collectors have dedicated their lives to those ephemeral pieces of film, sacrificing marriages and enduring legal battles to discover a lost Fred Astaire dance or save a nonsensical 1940s short. Each offers something to astonish hard-core film buffs, and many unearth the larger issues at stake: the changing consumption of film; the powerful forces regulating that consumption; and, most intriguingly, how film’s escapism can consume the viewer. Bartok and Joseph dutifully document anti-social behaviors and run-ins with studios, the FBI, or even the mob, but it isn’t until later chapters, structured more around theme than individuals, that they arrive at some truly fascinating reflections on the dynamic between collector and reel. Too many early chapters come off as short, disjointed biographies of individuals obsessed with film rather than one cohesive study of the community and its larger concerns. However, with each eccentric collector interviewed, Bartok and Joseph have certainly done their part to preserve some strange and often overlooked imagery.
A collection of singular encounters with a film subculture, some failing to develop the larger concerns but many offering unique insight into the darker fringes of a bygone Hollywood.