Audrey Kupferberg: Gravity And American Treasures From The New Zealand Film Archive

Oct 18, 2013

During the past couple weeks, my film experiences have involved looking into the future-- and also looking back at the early 20th Century.

Gravity, an epic space adventure starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, has many movie-goers talking. It is unique. It is exciting. It takes its viewers to unexplored territory. For 90 minutes, this engrossing story suspends its viewers in outer space. I recently read a piece from the Huffington Post which states that cineastes are arguing the best way to view Gravity. Should we seek out a 3D screening, or an IMAX 3D showing? Should we only attend a screening venue offering the Dolby Atmos sound system? All this hoo-ha about the technical details of Gravity seems overblown to me.

If Gravity hung on its technical details, then we would not be leaving the theater thinking about its content. On its own, the story of a newbie astronaut who finds herself disconnected and unattended in the vastness of outer space is exciting. Add to it the development of this character, and then cast the talented Sandra Bullock in the role.  Then boost the plot with an experienced astronaut at her side for a time—one played by none other than the charming and funny George Clooney who seems to be playing a version of himself in this role.

Then set the scene: the vastness of space cluttered with all the modules, space stations and other cast-away paraphernalia of international space exploration. And, of course, planet Earth can be seen in the background.

All the elements of a fine film are evident in Gravity. Whether you see it in 2D, 3D, or IMAX, or whether you view it a year from now on your 42-inch flat-screen TV or on your tablet, Gravity is a moving and emotional film and a solid entertainment.

As mentioned earlier, I also have looked back at a few early 20th Century films. The National Film Preservation Foundation has just released another DVD in its series of archives film treasures. This DVD is called Lost And Found American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive. Alfred Hitchcock fans will want to see the surviving 42 minutes of The White Shadow, which dates from 1924. Directed by Graham Cutts, Hitchcock is credited as Assistant Director, Editor, Art Director, and Scenarist. While The White Shadow was not a box office hit when it was released, the footage indicates the abilities and developing style of Hitchcock, who was only 24 when he worked on this film.

There also is a very entertaining 60-minute feature from 1927, directed by the great John Ford, called Upstream. With a cast of second-wrung leads and character actors such as Earl Foxe and Raymond Hitchcock, the story and its clever, fast-paced execution, provide plenty of entertainment. The story is a very funny, often ridiculous send-up of John Barrymore and his early 1920s success playing Hamlet on the London stage.

The DVD includes a dozen other silent films, too, and there is a well-written booklet of historical notes. While we relish new, high-quality releases, we also can celebrate reclaiming our film heritage.