Attending the 2019 UCLA Festival of Preservation

Lately, it’s been raining like cats and dogs in Southern California. I’m certainly not complaining. The weather’s been wonderfully chilly, the mountains are covered in snow and everything else is green, green, green. But, it is a pain to get around in so I’ve been keeping close to home for the most part. Although last weekend I found the perfect activity to get me out of the house and headed to Westwood for the 2019 UCLA Festival of Preservation.

The UCLA Film & Television Archive began in 1965 and is the largest university-based media archive in the world. Since 1977, it has also been a leader in film preservation and restoration and has been instrumental in the conservation of several important film and television images. Those of us in Southern California are lucky because the archive regularly holds screenings at the Billy Wilder Theater and I’ve caught some wonderful films there.

In addition to the regular screenings once a year the UCLA Festival of Preservation is held to celebrate the latest restored works over a three day marathon. For a film lover like myself this is just about the best way to spend a weekend yet, until this year, I’d never made it to the fest. But rainy weather makes for optimal movie watching conditions and I finally went to check it out.

I started the day with Selling L.A. Television: Local Kinescopes and Film Fragments, 1953-1965 a selection of segments from local television stations. As one who loves local history I was especially excited to catch a rare glimpse of vintage SoCal tv shows. During this period most local shows aired live and were not saved to tape so any chance to view them is a rare treat. And what a treat it was! I saw a young Jerry Dunphy explain why the new concept of an hour long news program would be a hit with the public, I watched Vampira slink across the screen, give her signature scream and introduce a creature feature and I laughed at a local children’s show that was regularly interrupted by a very vocal rooster. It was a real delight to catch these glimpses into the past.

Then it was on to a little afternoon noir with a screening of The Crooked Way. Starring John Payne, Sonny Tufts and Ellen Drew it tells the tale of veteran with amnesia who returns to Los Angeles only to discover he was once a big time mobster who isn’t quite welcome in the town he used to rule. The movie has some of the most beautiful film noir imagery I’ve ever seen and the cinematography by John Alton is superb. It’s ALL light and shadows and moody, brooding atmosphere. Much of it was filmed on location and I relished seeing old LA brought to life. Let me tell you, Union Station hasn’t changed a bit and I love it! The only thing I found lacking was the acting. John Payne was a bit stiff, Ellen Drew a bit boring and I just couldn’t buy Sonny Tufts as a big time gangster. I guess Here Comes the Waves ruined him for me.

I finished up my day with El fantasma del convento (The Phantom of the Monastery) a 1934 Mexican horror film. This film is a true showcase for the archive’s restoration work as it hardly showed its 85 year age. Often, films this old are quite grainy but the imagery on screen was crystal clear and I was astounded at how beautiful it looked. And the story itself is wonderfully creepy. Shot on location at an actual monastery it tells of three friends who seek shelter with an order of monks who aren’t quite what they seem. The three leads Enrique del Campo, Marte Roel and Carlos Villatoro were utterly convincing as a trio in way over their heads and I found the whole film a delightful example of early horror.

I’m so glad I finally made it to the UCLA Festival of Preservation and only wish I could have stayed longer. Now that I’ve gone I know just how fun it is and next year I’ll be sure to clear my schedule so I can enjoy the entire weekend’s festivities.

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