This cautionary, eye-opening documentary presents an impassioned case for film preservation, as if any were necessary. An oft-quoted statistic is that half of all sound films have been lost forever and that nearly 90 percent of all silent films no longer exist.
Movies are more than just the world's most popular art form. Says actor Roddy McDowall, "[film] is a wildly important part of our heritage... a record of mores, styles, and fashion." This record, though, has been severely compromised due to shortsighted neglect (30 years ago, one archivist notes, there was no film preservation movement in this country) as well as the unstable nature of the highly flammable nitrate stock on which films before the 1950s were shot. For film buffs, Keepers of the Frame will be heartbreaking. There are harrowing images more unnerving than anything in The Blair Witch Project, from irretrievable, bleached-out silent film footage to photos of a poorly maintained archive strewn with rotting films. A preservationist recalls visiting one such archive and being told that one of the garbage prints was Citizen Kane.
Keepers of the Frame celebrates real movie heroes, not only the archivists and technicians dedicated to keeping "the American memory intact" but also ordinary enthusiasts such as John Harvey, who maintains his own private archive of films made in the widescreen Cinerama process. It is to these people, film historian Leonard Maltin notes, that so much of film history "owes its very life." --Donald Liebenson