concerning the workings of film archives, and friendly answers to same.
Yesterday's NY Times article and Bert Williams’s film clip
(first noted here in the "Never released Bert Williams film" thread)
illustrate one of the big downsides of the “archivization” of rare, public domain, films.
Privately-funded MOMA has had the negative 75 years, suspected what it has had for 38 years,"The reels were part of a collection of 900 unprinted negatives that came from the defunct Biograph company in New York. Iris Barry, MoMA’s founding film curator, acquired the cache, including the untitled Williams material, in 1939.
Its journey to the public began in 1976, when a curator copying the footage noted Bert Williams’s appearance.
In 2004, Mr. Magliozzi’s curatorial team began restoring the film and researching its origins."
and then, eventually, spent a decade restoring it. For young and/or healthy fans of Bert Williams and silent film,
it's good news; for the elderly and ill, it may be another case of good news decades too late.
(If they'd've made the film available in 1976, they might even have been able to interview its participants).
So, what took MOMA so very long ? Under-funding ? Priorities askew ?
And, more generally, what is the reason for film archives- what duties should they perform?
Is it merely, but most importantly, “simply” to “do no harm”- that is to preserve, without sharing, their holdings for future generations- and for formats not yet invented ?
Or should they also be busy duplicating, and/or digitalizing, every restored and unrestored unique element in their possession, whether identified or not? Or are they ?
Are government-funded archives required, or should they be required, to publish information, semi-annually, on the extent and condition of their film collections, and any losses due to theft, deterioration, or deacquisition?
Should government-funded archives be allowed to profit from already-digitalized copies, or should they be allowed to charge just for the digitalization process, or should they be required to accept payment only for the price of DVDs and shipping?
And, even more wildly off-topic, if the studios are unwilling to market or televise films whose copyrights should have expired 56+ years ago (under the old laws that that the studios had replaced), might they at the very least be required to provide inferior/watermarked copies to libraries for on-site viewing?