James Woods: the tragedy of current film preservation efforts

News James Woods 28 Mar 2013 - 06:33

Why are films of the 80s and 90s not being preserved properly, asks James Woods? And why isn't there a complete print of Salvador available?

Well, this never happens. Earlier in the week, we posted a piece that looked at the many underappreciated movies in the career of one of our favourite actors, James Woods. You can read that piece here.

While we were sat bleary eyed, rapidly injecting coffee the following morning, an e-mail landed in our inbox. We read who it was from. Drank more coffee. Looked around to see if someone was playing a prank. And then realised it was the real deal. It was indeed from Mr James Woods, who, in further mails, has given us permission to post what he said.

So, ladies and gentlemen, we're going to hand you over to the man himself...

I just wanted to thank you for your truly lovely article celebrating some films that I cherish and which indeed have 'slipped under the rug'. Best Seller was my late dear Mom's favorite, for example, and Nixon is one of mine because it was a challenge to my longtime friend and collaborator, Oliver Stone. When I asked to do the part, he said I was emotionally incapable of being as 'compressed' as Haldeman was in real life. On the basis or our working history, he let me take the shot, and we both ended up happy with the result.

One of the reasons I liked your article, however, goes beyond me (every actor's favorite word, smile), and points out a tragedy regarding current efforts in film preservation.

My career peak chronologically occurred in the 80s and 90s, naturally enough because those were my 30s through 50s, the 'right' age for leading roles. It has come to my attention that many of the films made during that era were independently produced films. Because of an anomaly in current world copyright laws, 'authorship' of a film is held by any person or company owning the negative. Sadly many great films of that era have been butchered to fit television broadcast schedules and negatives lost forever. Independent films remain particularly vulnerable as those negatives and rights are not protected by powerful studios. Often times the original production entities no longer even exist and the principals may be dead.

When Oliver and I presented the 25th anniversary projection of Salvador at the New York Film Festival just two years ago, four small scenes were missing from the film! I have asked Marty Scorsese to have his magnificent Film Foundation preservation organization start to focus on films of the 80s and 90s.

Hopefully articles like this very kind one you wrote about my films will alert my industry to unite and save these 'lost' movies before it's too late.

Again thanks so much for thinking of me. I love what I do and so appreciate film 'geeks' like yourselves and my terrific fans who posted such nice comments on your blog.

We'll be following up on Mr Woods' comments on film preservation in a future piece.

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That is so cool, bet that makes you feel appreciated. He makes a good point tough, just look at the difficulties Coppola had with getting a good print of something as big as the Godfather for his restoration and that is a huge film.
The big question will digital stop this or will it exacerbate it,(studios not wanting to pay for proper storage/choosing to delete old films for space) looking forward to your article

That's awesome that he took the time to respond personally. What a champ.

James Woods made some great films (I remember Salvador, and its now largely forgotten internal war) and is clearly a great guy too.

That's amazing. A king among men.

I'll admit, although I've heard of him as an actor, I've only really seen Mr Woods in the Simpsons and Family Guy, but after taking the time to actually get in touch with DoG about this, I'll head onto LoveFilm and get some stuff ordered.

A great list and a great actor. It was a shame that most of his films, where he had the starring role went straight to video in the UK. He makes a good point about film restoration and the work Scorcese does in the US. The BFI (Most of the time!!) and ITV do a brilliant job in this country. It would be great to see more films protected in this way. Luckily for Mr Woods quite a few of the films that he's appeared in have been deemed important enough for restoration. Once Upon a Time in America being a personal favourite. Its a shame that more actors don't respect their body of work to speak out on this matter. It would be good to see some of the big stars making donations to restoration projects instead of the likes of Scorcese, Spielberg etc.

A great article on this very subject at Some Came Running blog on the technical side of restoration with the James White the guy who restored Black Narcissus and Zombie Flesh eaters.

Yeah I agree Best Seller was one of my favorites of Woods. And I had no idea that prints from the 80/90's were in that bad of a shape, I assumed the studios owned them outright and would at least want to milk them for all they could get with bluray/dvd/streaming. Hell, 50% of my family's viewing is the 70/80/90's era of movies and TV shows.

And Woods, keep up the good work, saw you in the Too Big to Fail, great job and I hope we see more of you :)

Wow. And suddenly anyone that insulted Jason Statham in comments gets a little more worried, heh.

He's quite right, of course. There's a real minefield out there for those films outside the big studio system (and even a few of those have their own problems). I'm also reminded of the very recent discovery of those two missing scenes to Hammer's Dracula, and that film came out over fifty years ago.

Damn decent of him to say what he has, and I totally agree with all of it. ALL movies deserve proper preservation, regardless of date, genre, cast, director etc., ( the opinions of the critics and other self appointed, so called experts is, and always should be irrelevent to whether it is "worth" saving), Somebody took the time, and the effort to make itat alone it should be preserved.
We have "conventional" libraries stuffed full of books that hardly anyone ever reads, but we all feel that they need to be kept, and films, like books are a record of us as a species, and, as such can be used to illustrate our history, just look at for instance, the costume or hair styles from any given era, to see what I mean.

Here in the U.K., a very bad series of decisions were taken, right up until the 1970's to wipe tapes of oh so many shows, and only recently has this been seen to have been a bad move, one that, at least some efforts have been made to rectify.

So well done Mr.Woods for speaking out. It really needed to be said.

Could this be the start of a DoG cmpaign ????, we at least would (Wood) have a figurehead.

The guy's got class coming out of every pore. Good to know he knows how much we appreciate him.

It was great of him to get in touch, and I agree with the preservation case. Every film made is a product of its time and as such is eligible for sociological study further down the line. I think the industry will regret not properly preserving such films. I think it's not because of the quality of the films made in that era, just that it is presumably deemed to be too near the present to appreciate the fact that they could soon be lost for good. When we think about films getting lost through time and neglect, we mainly think of those made in the 1930s-50s, wrongly assuming that those from the 1980s-90s are safe, even when they too can all too easily be the victims of neglect.

I love the idea of James Woods googling his name and the word 'underappreciated' and finding your article.
But seriously James Woods is a fine actor and it's a disgrace so few of his films (and films of others in his generation) are not getting the type of preservation they deserve.

Top bloke!

Very cool. Mr. Woods: you are a great actor and love the roles you have played. If you have slept thru a role, you had me fooled!

This is all well and good Mr Woods, but the most important question is - did Max die in the rubbish truck or not?

Pretty cool, though I must add casino to the list. All everyone remembers I goodfellas with Sharon stone as ray liotta, but James woods' pimp stole the spotlight in every scene he appeared. Honorable mention, John Carpenter's Vampires, because, well, it's John Caroenter's Vampires. And the priest at the beginning of scary movie 2. Aw man that killed me

Top notch. Cheers all around to both Mr. Woods and the Den of Geek folks.

Mr Woods has just sent me a reply to your question!:

"Just a quick response regarding the ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA garbage truck
question. I'm often asked if Max jumps or is possibly dumped into the garbage
truck at the film's end.

Two things: Sergio used a photo double for Max, even
though I was there and available, because in his words (paraphrased), he wanted
Noodles (Bob DeNiro) and the audience to be unsure of what was transpiring.
Having an extra who looked like me from a distance was an intentionally
confusing choice. Remember Noodles says in "Secretary Bailey's" office that his
"eyes aren't so good any more."

Secondly, when I asked Sergio if I was pushed
into the garbage truck or shot and thrown into it, his exact answer was, "It is
like Jimmy Hoffa. You don't know, but you know." For any of my friends in the UK
who don't know the American reference, Jimmy Hoffa was a Teamsters Union
organized crime figure who was presumably murdered and disappeared. There has
always been speculation to the whereabouts of his body. It is a kind of national
guessing game: where was Jimmy Hoffa dumped. Some of the studio versions of ONCE
UPON A TIME IN AMERICA even superimposed a gunshot on the soundtrack just before
the garbage truck, but that "clarification" was NOT Sergio's intention.

So the answer to the question is that we don't know if Max was thrown
into the garbage truck (dead or alive), but WE KNOW.

And don't forget
that most of that part of the story may be an opium dream..."

This is stellar. Awesome that he read your article, and he's got a good issue to press!

I got my Criterion DVD of Videodrome What's not to preserve?

Dear Mr Woods: please visit the UK and appear in one of our movies, we'd love to have you. And when I say "our", I mean "my".

Dude James woods responded to your question. One time Alex borstein responded to me in the MySpace days. I liked her on family guy and particularly on mad tv, and I imagine she's friends with James woods, which reminds me, dude, James Wiids responded to your question. And simonbrew.


What a class act James Woods is.
If his role on Family Guy didn't show just how down to earth he is, which is rarer in Hollywood these days, this nails it.

Mr Woods, Best Seller was one of my late Dad's favourite films and he'd be thrilled for you to know that Sir. As for me, It's Ned Trent or Lester Diamond. You never short changed an audience.

I'd love you to do a Q&A on Den of Geek.

Thanks for sharing this with us DOG. Did you get my David Worth interview? I sent it over to your e-mail.

I agree, This man has class to respond to the question. I hope this man can see by the posts how much we respect him in the UK. Mr.Woods has a very raw intensity to him, Check out the bomb disposal scene in The Police Station in THE SPECIALIST. I just dig that scene every time I see it.

As a kid all I really cared about was some key Sharon stone scenes, but when I watched it years later I remembered James woods getting blown up, like twice in a row or somethin, n it just seemed fun to be a badguy. I think my child self put this movie next to assassins, and at the time thanks to desperado and mambo kings (I am Cuban after all, B), but even back then I did not put Eric Roberts next to James woods. If expendables would have had woods or Michael rooker or Ironsides, I would have liked it more. Badguys are important. Stone cold? I'd honestly prefer someone older, more seasoned, like bolo yeung. Or if it has to be a wrestler, deebo. Tiny lister. Men of war, no holds barred, 5th element, dark knight, he has geek cred. I loved men of war, Dolph Lundgren, Kano (Trevor Goddard), it was fun. Yeah bad guys are important. It's not an essay, I get sidetracked, man

Eric Roberts was good on tdk. So many bad guys I forgot he was on that

As any of my older friends could relate, James Woods has continually been one of my all time favourite actors. And I still have my VIDEO tape of Best Seller. Which I've always enjoyed, and been annoyed that more folks hadn't seen it. But everyone I've recommended it to has loved it. (And for those that have seen it and enjoyed the on screen chemistry between Mr Woods and Brian Dennehy, you might be interested to know that there is another criminally underrated and little seen film that the two had some great scenes in, called Split Image.)

Mr Woods if you ever read some more of these comments, then thank you so much for so many wonderful movies and incredible work on television. I also remember a very frank interview you gave to Empire film magazine that was so refreshingly full of candour and honesty, that it was one of the best things I ever read in that magazine. So it's good to see you speaking out on the issue of film preservation now, as this has long been a concern here in the UK too, where even classic episodes of British television shows have been deleted and are now lost forever. Hopefully if more people become aware of this issue, then changes will be made for the better..

I'd happily watch James Woods read the phone book in a movie, he's that good. I watched Best Seller recently on tv in the UK and I agree wholeheartedly with the praise for it, the pairing of Brian Dennehy with Mr Woods was inspired.

Bluray my friend, bluray :)

Yes great actor and seems like a very intelligent person. He got Heather Graham when she was in her prime too so got to give a guy props for that one.

James woods is hypnotic is videodrome, stole every scene in casino, and he played the perfect asshole doc in any given Sunday! Wot was that film he done with Michael j fox?? Can't remember but I remember enjoying it.

If they ever make a film about PAT RILEY...it's gotta be played by woods!

That'd be this one: http://www.denofgeek.com/movie...

I recommend Promise, and The Onion Field as two Woods movies to watch. Both are from the early or mid 80s I think.

Cool, thanks both

You could hardly find a man, a brilliant Hollywood actor such as James Woods who is a down to earth person. My life has changed forever because of him. He became my mentor in the Poker World & broke a record. He inspires me to become a film actor & I ended up having my film debut on "Lucifer & the Magus". A new film project Razed Life is now in production. If James Woods can change somebody's life to achieve its highest potential & be able to inspire you & fulfill your dreams & he is not expecting anything from you just simply a loyalty token of friendship, then you will cherish that friendship throughout your life existence. Happy Happy birthday James (April 18)... Thanks a million. See you @ the red carpet one of these days. All the best.. Nader Isahac

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