These Amazing Shadows is a tantalizing title. Just the provocation of thought it initiates is worthy of praise. I readily grasped the concept that films are sort of shadows of the past, but it never had occurred to me that movies literally are shadows. The documentary is an introduction to the Library of Congress’s initiative to salvage and preserve films that a board of directors deems worthy of induction into the National Film Registry.
It’s easy to dismiss this film as just another list production, like the stuff you find and watch on TV when nothing else is on. At times it feels like that sort of show just by its nature, but even though it looks like a bunch of people rattling off anecdotes to clips of popular and nostalgic films, it does run deeper than that. First of all, the clips (like it or not) are evocative. There is some powerful stuff that plays on our connections to the film’s portrayed, the films we grew up on. Secondly there is the bigger story of the National Film Registry and why it exists.
It all started with the debate over the preservation of film as artwork when black and whites became colorized, which met with controversy. Film came to be identified as an art form, but also a crucial medium, a uniting force and a neglected diminishing archive of American history. So, the National Film Registry was Born and dedicated to the preservation of film, specifically those that have historical, cultural or aesthetic significance. The mission is interesting, but what happens when the highlight reel element meets the testimonies of board members and film makers is an examination of history led by the presence and awareness of all kinds of films that really shaped human thought and created history, as much as reflected it.
t’s not a flashy movie, or the in-your-face science and logic defying “documentary” that has become so prevalent. It doesn’t dare you to watch or entice you with anything really, besides a slight manipulation near the end where it goes into the destructive power of film and if “bad” films should be protected. This documentary is made for those who are interested in the place of film in American history. If you are, then These Amazing Shadows is worth watching. If you aren’t, you really should be.