The Moving Image Archives at the UNCSA School of Filmmaking is any film lover’s dream come true. The Archives houses some 10,000 feature film prints, 700 trailers and more than 1,000 shorts. It’s an awesome collection that completely fills several large rooms on the UNCSA campus.
Without question, it is one of the largest collections of films anywhere in the country. “UCLA has us beat,” said David Spencer, senior curator of the archives, referring the the UCLA Film and Television Archives. So do the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art and George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. Spencer believes that the Moving Image Archives is the fifth largest in the nation, and from all visible evidence he’s probably right.
But whether it’s the fifth largest, sixth largest or eighth, the Moving Image Archives is both impressive and overwhelming — and it’s right in the heart of Winston-Salem.
The countless shelves of the archives are filled with Hollywood history. The titles almost jump out in rapid succession: Apocalypse Now (in 70mm, no less), Taxi Driver, Halloween, The Train, Blue Velvet, The Godfather, Superman, The Wild Bunch, Annie Hall, Network, Blade Runner….
In 1989, Columbia Pictures re-released David Lean’s Oscarwinning 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia in a fully restored, digitally enhanced 70mm version. That’s here, too. A couple of them, in fact.
Next to those containers rests the containers bearing the label “Pink Floyd — The Wall 70mm.” Spencer believes that the sound and picture quality of the print are far superior to any of the remastered homevideo releases of the film. “It blasts you right out of your seat,” he boasted.
Much of the collection in the archives was amassed by Ray Regis, the first curator, who had procured films over the years while seeking a permanent home for his sizable collection. When the School of Filmmaking was established in 1992 and Sam Grogg appointed as the first dean, Regis’ collection had found its home — and UNCSA had an expansive, enviable film collection.
Even those closest to Regis, who died in 2007, freely admit that he was eccentric and temperamental. He was not always an easy man to know, or an easy man to like. Spencer knew Regis better than most, having toiled under him as assistant curator since the mid 1990s.
“Ray loved film,
there’s no question about that,” Spencer said, “and it was he who
brought his collection to the school. He had a passion for what he did,
and I think he recognized that in me.”
Jones, the archives’ assistant curator, remembered the first time he
met Regis. Thinking that he was going to interview for a position as an
intern, Jones was instead drafted by Regis — on the spot — to haul heavy
containers of film to the warehouses where the collection was initially
and temporarily being stored. “I didn’t even know him,” Jones recalled.
“I don’t even think I’d told him more than my name!” Other films in the
archives have been willed or donated to the School of Filmmaking
through the years, and some were simply found. Spencer recalled
one time when someone cleaning out an abandoned warehouse had
unexpectedly come across a long-forgotten selection of films. Where they
originally came from or how they came to be there, no one knows for
sure — but they’re now a part of the collection. Otherwise they’d likely
have been junked.
The films in the archives are also a financial asset to UNCSA.
schools, film festivals and revival theaters can rent them. A
blackboard in the ACE Exhibition Complex on campus lists the films
currently out and who rented them: Harvard University, the Alamo
Drafthouse, the National Sound and Film Archives in Australia….
a film is shipped out, it is carefully inspected. When a film is
returned, it is inspected again. If a print is returned in haphazard or
shabby condition, Spencer will make the appropriate inquiries and, if
necessary, issue the necessary warnings. When it comes to “repeat
offenders,” Spencer doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t need to.
addition to his ongoing duties as senior curator, Spencer also teaches
American Cinema History and oversees the operations of the ACE
Exhibition Complex, where films are screened on campus. On average, 6 to
12 prints are screened a week when school’s in session, and they can
also accommodate any number of specific formats: 16mm, 35mm, 70mm, DVD,
VHS… adaptability is key.
throughout the storage rooms are old projectors and VCRs, from which
parts can be cannibalized if necessary. One of the projectors in the
archives building was, in fact, fashioned in just this way — using parts
from other projectors.
it took 180 semi-trucks to transport about 4 million pounds of film to
the school. Many of the films were obtained by Regis from defunct
distribution exchanges, which were scattered throughout the country and
provided films for their respective regions — at least until the 1980s,
when the studios decided to cut out the proverbial middle men and handle
distribution themselves. Now, many studios need only send a key code to
theaters. No traditional delivery. No film heavy film containers. In
fact, no film whatsoever; it’s all digital.
the exchanges became obsolete, they closed — literally overnight. Some
studios, however, did not bother to retrieve the prints, which sat
languishing in old warehouses or storage facilities, gathering dust (or
worse). In some cases, these films were literally rescued. In one of the
storage rooms, stacked high with full shelves, Spencer spread his arms
out and said: “All of this, believe it or not, was going to be dumped
into the Pacific Ocean.”
triumph, thus, for both film fans and environmentalists. The metal
containers, although sturdy — to say nothing of heavy, especially when
full — are not indestructible. Some have rusted, some have been
punctured or battered in transport. The risk of rot and water damage is
high. Film stock is hardly indestructible. The storage rooms in the
archives must be carefully monitored and kept at a certain temperature.
even for those films that are damaged, if a single reel can be salvaged
it will be. As for the containers, many have gone to recycling centers.
As with the film-rental fees, whatever money comes from that goes right
back to the school. “We’re one of the few departments that makes the
school money,” Jones observed. In an economy as tight as the current
one, every dollar counts.
one time, representatives from the Motion Picture Association of
America arrived unannounced on campus to demand royalties for the films
being screened, claiming ownership of them.
the MPAA was when these films were sitting in storage, forgotten for
years, is a question that doesn’t bear close scrutiny.)
didn’t panic. He knew all along that sooner or later they’d come
knocking. Working closely with the legal advisers in the UNC System, an
eventual compromise was reached that allowed a narrow exemption for
educational purposes. These films, after all, represent a valuable,
integral component of the School of Filmmaking’s curriculum. The MPAA
For many faculty members, the importance of showing an actual film print cannot be understated.
a real difference to my students when we’re watching a print,” said
Dale Pollock, the School of Filmmaking dean from 1999-2006 and currently
a faculty member. “They’re more excited. They’re more engaged. And it
has a greater impact on them than watching a DVD. I’d rather show an
aged print than a newly-restored DVD in my class.”
Clabaugh, who taught cinematography at the School of Filmmaking from
1999-2007 (and has occasionally been engaged as a substitute since), is a
great aficionado of the latest, up-to-date filmmaking technology but
does not downplay the importance of traditional film. The archives, he
said, “is really one of the gems of the School of the Arts and an
absolute asset of teaching there. They have an amazingly good collection
recalled the the first time he was shown the the archives by Regis and
fellow faculty member teacher, the late Robert Collins. Like many, he
was overwhelmed. “That was one of the things that lured me,” he
admitted. “To know that you could pull out a print and show it to the
students — God, what a luxury.”
In addition to being an acclaimed filmmaker (and a two-time Oscar nominee for 1971’s The Last Picture Show), faculty
member Peter Bogdanovich is also a respected Hollywood historian,
having written a number of wellregarded books about films, including The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang in America and Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week). He’s also a staunch advocate of film preservation.
think the archives is amazing and very useful,” he said, “I knew
nothing about it before getting here. With film stock on the way out, it
has become even more valuable, of course. Preserving films in their
original form is a must for future generations.”
When he visited the school last month to show his latest film, The Sitter, filmmaker
and alumnus David Gordon Green urged the students in attendance to
realize the importance of the archives. “You have an amazing
opportunity,” he told them. While a student himself, “you could
literally roll out of bed and go see a movie,” he said, “one that could
open your eyes to something you may not realize.”
RiverRun International Film Festival has a long, storied relationship
with the UNCSA School of Filmmaking, and the archives collection has
provided a number of special screenings for the festival over the years.
When actor Cliff Robertson received the very first Master of Cinema
award at the 2004 festival, there was a special screening of Charly (1968),
the film for which he won the Best Actor Oscar, at the Stevens Center.
The festival didn’t have to look far to obtain a print.
Rodgers, RiverRun’s executive director, makes no secret of his
appreciation. Said Rodgers: “In the film world, there seem to be two
types of people: Those who seek (and usually get) lots of recognition
for their efforts... and those who plug away, secure with their place in
the world and confident that those who should take notice eventually
folks who work in the Moving Image Archives at UNCSA are most definitely
the latter,” he continued. “Since I first moved to town in 2005 to lead
RiverRun, I’ve been continually impressed with their efforts, output
and passion. At the same time, I’ve been surprised at how few people
really understand what a treasure the archives is and how lucky we are
to have it here in this community.”
not the only one surprised. Jones admitted he’s sometimes irked by how
the Archives is taken for granted, even within the walls of UNCSA.
all believe in film,” he said. “We’re an oasis in the school community.
It’s a great place and we have this great natural resource, but it’s
still an uphill battle.”
shown many of their films at River- Run over the years and have worked
closely with the staff of the Moving Image Archives over the years,”
Rodgers said. “They’ve been such an invaluable help to us over the years
that it’s safe to say RiverRun wouldn’t have become what it is today
without their help.”
are those, however, who hold to the opinion that traditional film is
dead. Even some people at the School of Filmmaking have said as much.
Spencer respectfully disagrees.
trying to preserve the experience of watching a film as it was meant to
be,” he said. “These are cultural artifacts, as valid a piece of art as
a beautiful vase or a great painting or a great sculpture.”
are, of course, countless classics in the archives, but there are also a
wide (and wild) selection of films that are anything but classics.
It being the holiday season, Spencer pointed to the containers for Santa With Muscles, a low-rent Christmas comedy starring Hulk Hogan. “We certainly have enough of these,” he laughed, “and we’ve got more Joysticks than
we could ever want,” referring to a 1983 teen comedy that capitalized
on the video-game craze. “Oh, and do you know anyone who needs The Trial of Billy Jack?” The first sequel to the box-office hit Billy Jack was
released in 1974 and ran almost three hours long. The archives boasts
enough prints to stretch from one end of the room to the other and back
There may not be any great demand or artistic reappraisal for the likes of Porky’s Revenge or Goin’ All the Way or the 1978 Hal Holbrook thriller The Creeper (AKA Rituals), but they’re here too.
through and cataloging the collection has been a lengthy and ongoing
endeavor, not unlike an archaeological dig. Even after 20 years,
Spencer, his staff and students will still come across a surprise. There
are containers that have been mislabeled, unlabeled or contain
different reels from different films. A selection of containers marked
“Jerry Maguire” contained the first reel — 30 of them. Just the
first reel. One that wasn’t labeled at all turned out to be something of
an (ahem) adult nature.
“Yeah, I don’t think we’ll be showing that anytime soon,” Spencer quipped.
Spencer came across a title he wasn’t familiar with. Examining the film
more closely, he discovered it was the original 1932 Scarface starring
Paul Muni (“a pretty good print, too”), only it had been retitled for
re-release. Such was not uncommon, as studios often re-released older
films under new titles, doubtless hoping to entice customers to what
they thought was a new release. When Universal reissued the 1934 Boris
Karloff/Bela Lugosi chiller The Black Cat, it was retitled The Vanishing Body — essentially ignoring one of the more potent selling points: the Edgar Allan Poe connection.
detective work has also paid off in other ways. Last year, the National
Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) bestowed a $6,410 grant to the
Moving Image Archives for preservation work on a 16mm print of The Golden Mirror, a
promotional film commissioned for the American Legion in 1968. The
print was produced by the Walter J. Klein Company, a publicity firm in
North Carolina that specialized in promotional films of that nature. The
company’s collection of promotional films had been donated to the
archives, and after three years of what might be called “cinematic
sleuthing,” Spencer was able to prove it’s the only known copy of the
film in existence.
“The physical condition [of the film] had so deteriorated that we couldn’t run it through the projector,” said Spencer.
grant will allow for the reconstruction and striking of a new 16mm
print of the film, a painstaking process that will take the better part
of a year to complete. Spencer is also confident that the archives may
contain the only known prints of some feature films as well, and hopes
to apply for additional NFPF grants if he can prove it. Spencer lauded
his staff of three for their effort in helping to obtain their very
first NFPF grant on the very first attempt. “It’s testament to their
hard work and dedication and love of film.”
saving and storing the films they do, and by working with cultural
institutions around the world, they are helping to ensure the continuity
of film and film culture for generations to come,” Rodgers concluded.
“Put even more simply, their efforts are crucial to the ongoing
protection, preservation, and presentation of cinema.”