Film Noir Foundation president and founder Eddie Muller is fighting the good fight for film preservation. When he’s not overseeing the unmissable Noir City film festival in San Francisco each year, he’s chasing down long-lost prints and buried treasures that others can’t get their hands on.
In an engrossing new profile in Pacific Standard, Muller opens up about his struggle to secure Byron Haskin’s 1949 “Too Late for Tears” (which had been burned, recut, and in the public domain for years) in 35mm earlier this year, and 1951’s “Cry Danger,” which had been collecting dust in the Warner Archives.
“You have these deals on paper, but they don’t have the slightest idea where the movies actually are,” Muller tells writer Rick Paulas. But, while not a lone soldier in the preservation game — Scorsese’s Film Foundation holds down the fort in LA — Muller knows where to look.
So how does Muller do it?
The first move for Muller during any restoration is to ask the community for any and all elements they have. This means 35mm prints, 16mm, good digital transfers. Anything but circulation prints—prints that have been sent out to theaters—which have wear-and-tear that makes a restoration nearly impossible. The prize is an original negative or duplication that’s been created for the sake of protection, but those are nearly impossible to come by.
Muller points out that studio-heads are not always eager give up their prints: “This is basically a knucklehead telling a major entertainment conglomerate, give up the movie.” Or, worse, the films are gone: “If the wrong person gets in charge of a studio… they could easily junk their archive. That’s a very real possibility.”
Muller’s intrepid struggle, meanwhile, comes at a time when filmmakers, from Scorsese to Nolan and Tarantino, are increasingly coming out in favor of celluloid. More on that here.
Read TOH!’s picks for the Top 15 noir films of all time here.