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A Preview of the 2024 UCLA Festival of Preservation

March 28, 2024

Every two years, the UCLA Film and Television Archive presents their Festival of Preservation. The schedule always delivers a stunning grab bag of TV series, features, newsreels, silents, animations, and international offerings. Similar to previous years, the three-day event is packed between two big festivals, Noir City Hollywood and the TCM Classic Film Festival. So, while I want to see it all, I have to pace myself. That said, here’s what I’m hoping to catch at this year’s festival.

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FRIDAY 4/5

For many years, UCLA spread the Festival of Preservation throughout the month. For the past few festivals, they’ve consolidated the slate into three days. Once or twice, they scheduled a full program for Friday, but this year, they’re kicking off the festivities in the evening. (I assume they had a lower attendance Friday during the day, so this makes sense!)

 

The Richard Pryor Special? (1977)

I’d love to see this show… but it starts at 10:25pm, and I’m usually asleep by then. Sadly, I think I’ll have to skip this and start my festivities on Saturday. But if you're a night owl, I wouldn't miss The Richard Pryor Special?

 

 

SATURDAY 4/6

As to not get burned out—and that can happen quickly with me!—I originally planned to start my day after lunch. The first two programs, Restored Animation Classics and a Laurel & Hardy feature, didn’t initially catch my attention. But that changed when I saw the latter was a pre-Code AND a world premiere restoration.

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Pack Up Your Troubles (1932)

To be honest, I’m not the biggest Laurel & Hardy fan. Though I love comedy, and I love classic Hollywood, they’ve never been my cup of tea. But how often do I get the chance to watch a world premiere restoration on the big screen? Not often, and it’s 68 minutes to boot, so I’m going to give this feature, which UCLA terms a “comedic roller coaster that keeps its audience engaged with its dexterous gags and clever-yet-concise dialogue,” a try!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1925/1928)

The different years following this classic Shakespeare adaptation refer to the film’s original release in Germany and its premiere in the US. This screening marks the LA restoration premiere of the long thought lost film, which was uncovered in 2010 in Oregon. According to UCLA’s site, it was “buried under a cellar floor and coated in machine oil.” (I would like to hear how that discovery went down and if they found anything else with it!) UCLA’s staff collaborated with archivists in Germany and Austria to restore the picture and supplemented it with stills and the original German intertitles.

 

I’ve actually never seen an adaptation of this play—yes, even the 1935 version—so I’m excited to watch one that’s almost a century old. Not to mention, I’m looking forward to experiencing the double exposures, superimposed images, and other in-camera special effects the film contains, which all sound masterful for the time!

 

Atomic Television—Lights Out (1951) and Way Out (1961)

I'm always astonished by UCLA's vast television holdings. And when do you get the opportunity to watch TV on the big screen? Never!

 

As a medium, television really started to prosper during the atomic era, so I’m intrigued to see how two programs I’ve never heard of, Lights Out and Way Out, deal with the timely subject a decade apart. Also, Joe Dante will be on hand to introduce the program, and he’s always an entertaining, informative presenter. I look forward to hearing what he has to say on the topic.

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A still from Time of the Heathen (1961).

Time of the Heathen (1961)

One of the many things I love about the UCLA Film and Television Archive is their dedication to preserving and presenting rare indie films. The LA restoration premiere of Time of the Heathen is a prime example of this. A collaboration between Peter Kass, a discipline of Clifford Odets, and avant-garde video artist Ed Emshwiller, the film features mostly non-professional actors aside from star John Heffernan and boasts a “moody” finale set against an “experimental hallucination sequence in color.” Save for a few screenings internationally and a truncated UK release, Time of the Heathen has rarely been seen in 60 years. All of those reasons make me eager to discover this title at the Festival of Preservation. 

 

Never Open That Door (1952)

I saw this restored Argentine noir at Noir City Hollywood, so I’m just popping in to say that if you’re reading this and you live near LA, go to this screening. (I’d see it again, but it starts too late for me!) The film, which is basically presented as two separate 40 minute shorts, serves up dramatic twists, stunning cinematography, and plenty of thrilling moments. A few of the latter unfold in absolute silence, which adds to the heightening tension and had me on the edge of my seat!

 

 

SUNDAY 4/7

While I intend to catch about 60% of Saturday’s slate, my Sunday target is slightly higher. We’ll see how that goes—and how tired I am by Sunday morning!

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Topper Takes a Trip (1938)

The day begins with a Hearst newsreel, a jazz short, and the world restoration premiere of the classic comedy Topper Takes a Trip. I’ve never seen the Topper movies, and I’m honestly not sure why. I adore comedies and I’m a fan of the cast (Constance Bennett, Roland Young, and Billie Burke). Topper Returns (1941) played at the 2022 festival, and I missed that one. This time, perpetual ghost Bennett swaps out Cary Grant, star of the original Topper (1937), for a ghostly Asta. (Yes, the dog!) And with that, I really need to see this. 

 

Man and Wife (1923)

Somehow, I don’t believe I’ve seen a Norma Shearer silent film before, so to see one on the big screen is a treat. Man and Wife was Shearer’s last movie before moving to Hollywood. (It was produced in Fort Lee, New Jersey, an east coast movie hub in the early 20th century.) In a stereotypical manner, the picture explores the differences in city life and country living, with the former representing immorality and evil and the latter symbolizing a pleasant and revitalizing existence. Any time I get the chance to see a 100 year old movie with live accompaniment on the big screen, an LA restoration premiere no less, is an experience not to pass up. 

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A still from Requiem-29 (1970).

Chicana (1979) and Requiem-29 (1970)

UCLA preserves many titles about the Chicanisma movement as well as work by UCLA alumni, and both Chicana and Requiem-29 check those boxes. Directed by activist Sylvia Morales, Chicana explores stories past and present and breaks ground as the “first major feminist Chicana documentary.”

 

Requiem-29 started as a project by students from UCLA’s Ethno-Communications Program. The short intended to focus on the 1970 National Chicano Moratorium Movement March in East LA, which took a violent turn when police attacked participants and three people died. The film not only covers the march but also the wake of Los Angeles Times reporter Rubén Salazar and the tense courtroom testimony of journalist and activist Raul Ruiz. I know precious little about this part of history, and this double feature seems like a good way to start learning.

 

The Wages of Sin (1938)

Originally, I got this title confused with the 1951 Mexican noir Victims of Sin, which I saw at the American Cinematheque last year. Upon closer inspection, though, I realized my mistake—and added the film to my Festival of Preservation schedule.

 

This low-budget exploitation flick centers around a young woman whose life changes one fateful evening when she decides to visit a shady nightclub, and the alcohol, marijuana, and shifty men take it from there. I actually think I may have seen this one before, but again, you don’t often get the chance to see movies like this restored and screened in a theater.

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Smog (1962)

I saw Smog, the movie, several years ago at UCLA, and it mesmerized me. The film follows an Italian lawyer who kills time during a long layover at LAX by wandering the city. Featuring about 80 locations and historic landmarks, Smog is basically a love letter to LA from six decades ago, warts and all. I remember jotting my favorite moments down after the screening and telling myself to make it a point to catch Smog again if I ever got the chance. Since it never even received an official US release, I figured I wouldn’t get that—until, to my surprise, I saw it on this year’s Festival of Preservation schedule! Why was it being screened again? Well, apparently 12 new minutes of footage uncovered at Warner Brothers has been added to this new restoration. While I doubt I’ll recognize the additions, I’m very happy that I have a chance to see it again. And of course, it’s very cool that they found lost footage after all these years.  

 

For those of you attending the Festival of Preservation, what screenings are you looking forward to?

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I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.

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