Film: The Living Record of Our Memory (DVD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stuart Galbraith IV
  • Review Date: Sep 07, 2023
  • Format: DVD
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Film: The Living Record of Our Memory (DVD Review)


Inés Toharia Terán

Release Date(s)

2021 (June 6, 2023)


El Grifilm/Filmoption International (Kino Lorber)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B

Film: The Living Record of Our Memory (DVD)

Buy it Here!


Watching Kino’s new DVD of Film: The Living Record of Our Memory (2021) is a lot like going to a huge party of film preservationists where, in the course of mulling about, one overhears one great anecdote after another and conversations raising fascinating technical challenges and moral quandaries and yet, in the course of all this mingling, one never hears more than a couple minutes of any topic from each of the hundred or so guests.

In other words, the 124-minute film touches on myriad challenges related to film preservation, whetting one’s appetite over and over again with a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar issues without ever really sticking to anything at length. It has a certain sweep and undeniable enthusiasm—the energy of its hundred or so interview subjects is contagious—but it’s a something of a “Best Of” documentary about film preservation in the same way the Cinerama epic How the West Was Won is a “Best Of” feature of every conceivable Western genre trope.

Having worked at the USC-Warner Bros. Archives, the Warner Bros. Corporate Archives, and later still at MGM as a “film detective” searching for lost film and sound elements, many of the topics the film presents are, for me, as familiar as some of the people being interviewed. Yet I think even casual film fans, certainly those interested enough to watch a film on this topic in the first place, are probably already aware of things like 80% of all silent films are lost, that nitrate film stock is highly flammable, etc.

Nevertheless, no stone is left unturned: the problems of film preservation in tropical climates, in nations with unstable governments or where there’s simply no money; efforts to preserve short films, home movies, industrial films, avant-garde films; films made in strange early film gauges or experimental sound systems or tinted or hand-painted. Which films to save when resources are limited? Should the original filmmakers be allowed to change the work during a restoration? Should we preserve elements unsalvageable now but which might become salvageable later? Should preservation be prioritized over restoration? And on and on.

Many of these topics are worthy of an entire documentary feature all by themselves. One sequence follows regular screenings of unidentified films (mostly odd reels from the silent era) attended by experts of all things imaginable: license plates, early 20th century fashions, bit players, location spotters, hairstyle historians. Watching the film anyone is free to shout out their expert observations, and many do. It’s like an elaborate, invaluable parlor game. (And isn’t that Mike Schlesinger as one of the experts in the audience?)

Another facet of the picture that might have been a documentary all its own concerns the problems of digital preservation. Way back around 1998, I was given a tour of Warner Bros.’s efforts in that nascent field and, even then, though I knew nothing about computers, I wondered whether all this technology would be obsolete within five years. Then what? Something new to me was a brief couple minutes about the development of film preservation using artificial DNA, and the seeming permanence of that. Incredible.

The film is impressively global and all-inclusive, with interviewees from far-flung corners of Africa, southeast Asia, South America, and India, for instance. The completest approach doesn’t leave out pioneers like Henri Langlois, David Shepard, and Kevin Brownlow (who is briefly interviewed). A few directors turn up as well, such as Costa-Gavras and (of course) Martin Scorsese.

The picture works best when focused, however briefly, on a personal story or the fate of a particular film. An amusing one concerns the jaw-dropping Lon Chaney (Sr.) and Joan Crawford silent masterpiece The Unknown. The film was lost for decades because, at some point, cans of film labeled “Unknown” were presumed to literally contain “unknown” film, so for years and years the primary elements were delegated to a vault with hundreds of other “unknown” film cans.

I was never bored as the film is so fast-paced, but long before it was over I did kind of wish its scope had been narrowed down some, instead of trying to cover absolutely everything at a superficial if impassioned level.

Kino’s DVD presents Film: The Living Record of Our Memory in 1.85:1 widescreen with 16:9 enhancement. By DVD standards the image looks great, and some of the restored film clips—ranging from the 1890s to things like Lawrence of Arabia—tend to look great. The Dolby Surround is impressive and the disc is Region 1 encoded.

Extras include more than a dozen deleted scenes, most running a minute or so, and a trailer.

Very enjoyable but almost more a starting point for future documentaries digging deeper into the dozens upon dozens of areas this film merely touches upon, Film: The Living Record of Our Memory is nonetheless recommended.

- Stuart Galbraith IV



2021, Aboubakar Sanogo, Abraham Lifshitz, Adrian Wood, Ahmad Kiarostami, Amy A Heller, Andrea Kalas, Ann Adachi-Tasch, Anne Hubbell, Anthony L’Abbate, Awad Eldaw, Bede Cheng, Ben Mankiewicz, Benjamin Chowkwan, Benjamin Tucker, Bill Morrison, Bob Mastronardi, Bono Olgado, Brian Meacham, Bryony Dixon, Caroline Yeager, Cecilia Cenciarelli, Celine Ruivo, Chalida Uabumrungjit, Chema Prado, Costa-Gavras, Dan Streible, Daniel Pérez, Daniel Vilar, David Francis, Deborah Stoiber, Dennis Doros, Dino Everett, documentary, DVD, DVD Disc, Ed Stratmann, El Grifilm, Emily Leproust, Emmanuel Lefrant, Ernst van Velzen, Esteve Riambau, Fernando Trueba, film history, film restoration, Film The Living Record of Our Memory, Filmoption International, Frédéric Bonnaud, Frédéric Maire, Geo Willeman, Giovanna Fossati, Grover Crisp, Hisashi Okajima, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Inés Toharia Terán, Isaac Garcia Llombart, Ishumael Zinyengere, Iván Trujillo, Jan Müller, Jan-Christopher Horak, Janice Allen, Jared Case, Javier Rellán, Jeffrey Stoiber, John Polito, Jonas Mekas, Josef Lindner, Joseph Bohbot, Juan Mariné, Julia Gouin, Katie Trainor, Ken Loach, Kevin Brownlow, Kino Lorber, Lars Gaustad, Laure Adler, Laurent Mannoni, Linda Tadic, Lotte Eisner, Lourdes Odriozola, Luciano Castillo, Margaret Bodde, Mariano Gómez, Mark Toscano, Martin Scorsese, Maryse Rouillard, Maung Okkar, Mercedes de la Fuente, Michael Pogorzelski, Mike Mashon, Nicolas Rey, Paolo Cherchi Usai, Patricia Ubeda, Patricio Guzmán, Patrick Loughney, Paul Cadieux, Paula Felix Didier, Peter Bagrov, Rachel del Gaudio, Ramón Rubio, Ray Edmondson, review, Rick Prelinger, Ridley Scott, Rob Hummel, Rob Stone, Robert Marcel Lepage, Sam Gustman, Serge Bromberg, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Simon Fisher-Turner, Steve Bloom, Stuart Galbraith IV, Te-Ling Chen, Tessa Idlewine, The Digital Bits, Tina Anckarman, Todd Gustavson, Vittorio Storaro, Wim Wenders