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With: Jeff Adachi, Charles Burnett, Jay Carr, Peter Coyote, Julie Dash, Caleb Deschanel, Zooey Deschanel, Robert A. Harris, Amy Heckerling, Gale Anne Hurd, Steve James, Barry Jenkins, Barbara Kopple, John Lasseter, Leonard Maltin, Christopher Nolan, Nina Paley, Rick Prelinger, Rob Reiner, Debbie Reynolds, Tim Roth, James Schamus, Paul Schrader, John Singleton, Anthony Slide, George Takei, Wayne Wang, John Waters
Written by: Paul Mariano, Kurt Norton
Directed by: Paul Mariano, Kurt Norton
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 88
Date: 01/22/2011
IMDB

These Amazing Shadows (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

American Cinema

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It seems like the slightest, slimmest idea for a documentary: a look at the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. But anyone who loves movies will find a great deal to adore and admire about this new movie. It looks at the history behind the registry -- which began with Ted Turner's attempt to colorize movies in the 1980s -- as well as other factors, such as the selection committee, and the various reasons behind choosing big hits, obscure films, cult films, animated films, documentaries, and experimental films.

Directors Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton come up with a huge selection of clips as well as an impressive roster of interviewees. One section discusses the accidental discovery, in 2005, of a complete print of Baby Face (1933), as well as the censorship behind it. Another section discusses the history of racism in movies like The Birth of a Nation (1915) and The Searchers (1956) as well as alternate views like Boyz N the Hood (1991) and The Exiles (1961). (The documentary's view of The Searchers is a bit on the narrow side; that film does not show a sympathetic view of American Indians, but it is not a truly racist film.)

Other topics include women filmmakers, the effect of war movies, and perhaps most importantly, the general way that movies can tap into the public consciousness. It's really a wide variety of topics, each worth discussing, and since the Registry insists on waiting ten years before considering a film, These Amazing Shadows has a refreshing lack of hype. The films are discussed on their own merits.

Interviewees include my colleague Mick LaSalle, film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, whose comments on Baby Face and censorship are eloquent and profound. Director Christopher Nolan is here, commenting on science fiction, and actress/singer Zooey Deschanel is here just as a film fan. And of course, what documentary would be complete without John Waters' hilariously snarky comments; here he wonders why Dorothy would ever want to leave Oz for dreary old Kansas?

Though These Amazing Shadows has a low-key PBS-like quality, it has enough passion for the big screen. Perhaps in ten years, even it could be considered for inclusion in the Registry.

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