Screen Gems


By Anne Burke

Published Jan 1, 2006 12:00 AM

Welcome to movie going UCLA style. No popcorn, no sodas, but nobody’s complaining. It’s all about the film. Thanks to the miraculous work of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

A treasure trove to many, under-the-radar to most

Curtis Hanson, the archive’s honorary chairman and Oscar-winning screenwriter (1997’s L.A. Confidential) finds it remarkable and very frustrating that even alums who’ve lived within walking distance of the campus for 20 years “didn’t know that movies were shown there that were open to the public.”

This quasi-obscurity is undeserved and not for lack of effort, enthusiasm or accomplishment on the part of the archive’s staff of 63. Working with a modest budget, less than half of which comes from the state, “we do a lot with very little,” notes Timothy Kittleson, the archive director.

Screening 400 films a year

The archive exposes public audiences to a stunningly rich array of work in venues like the James Bridges Theater on campus and elsewhere: naughty pre-Code films; inventive work from Iranian filmmakers; and obscure gems from Belgium to Bangladesh. Long before Hollywood took notice, the archive screened works of Jane Campion, Pedro Almodovar and Wong Kar-Wai.

The archive’s preservationists rescue classics as well as little known films that might otherwise succumb to the ravages of time. Legong: Dance of the Virgins (1935), one of the feature films made in two-color Technicolor, was an orphan. UCLA’s efforts resulted in a surprise mini-hit when the film made the New York Times and Amazon.com lists of 2004 top DVD releases.

The Festival of Preservation: A cast of thousands

Every other summer, thousands of filmophiles flock to see the university’s best preservation work. Among the festival’s biggest fans is L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan, who says none of the hundreds of film events he attends a year excites him like this one. He agrees with former archive director (1975-1999) Robert Rosen, now dean of the School of Theater, Film and Television, that the archive has done much to make preserved and restored films “sexy and desirable” to ordinary moviegoers.

When Rosen first talked about staging a festival of preservation, people thought the name would be a real turn-off. But Rosen persisted, “No. The notion of seeing the best-preserved image of a film will be one of the reasons that people come to see the film.” He was right. Today “studios are releasing films in the restored version because they know the film will have a new life.”

The hardest working man in Show Business

Of all its fans and friends in Hollywood, Curtis Hanson is surely one of the most active. As honorary chairman for seven years now, the 60-year-old writer-director first rolled up his sleeves here to create the titles for his Oscar-winning film noir, L.A. Confidential, and continues the heavy lifting on its behalf even it means stealing time from his own projects.