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Why Noir Czar Eddie Muller Is Fighting the Good Fight for American Cinema

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! August 11, 2014 at 2:02PM

Film Noir Foundation president and founder Eddie Muller is fighting the good fight for film preservation. When he's not overseeing the unmissable Noir City film festival in San Francisco each year, he's chasing down long-lost prints and buried treasures that others can't get their hands on.
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Eddie Muller
Eddie Muller

Film Noir Foundation president and founder Eddie Muller is fighting the good fight for film preservation. When he's not overseeing the unmissable Noir City film festival in San Francisco each year, he's chasing down long-lost prints and buried treasures that others can't get their hands on. 

In an engrossing new profile in Pacific Standard, Muller opens up about his struggle to secure Byron Haskin's 1949 "Too Late for Tears" (which had been burned, recut, and in the public domain for years) in 35mm earlier this year, and 1951's "Cry Danger," which had been collecting dust in the Warner Archives.

"You have these deals on paper, but they don’t have the slightest idea where the movies actually are," Muller tells writer Rick Paulas. But, while not a lone soldier in the preservation game -- Scorsese's Film Foundation holds down the fort in LA -- Muller knows where to look.

So how does Muller do it?

The first move for Muller during any restoration is to ask the community for any and all elements they have. This means 35mm prints, 16mm, good digital transfers. Anything but circulation prints—prints that have been sent out to theaters—which have wear-and-tear that makes a restoration nearly impossible. The prize is an original negative or duplication that’s been created for the sake of protection, but those are nearly impossible to come by.

Muller points out that studio-heads are not always eager give up their prints: “This is basically a knucklehead telling a major entertainment conglomerate, give up the movie.” Or, worse, the films are gone: “If the wrong person gets in charge of a studio... they could easily junk their archive. That’s a very real possibility.”

Muller's intrepid struggle, meanwhile, comes at a time when filmmakers, from Scorsese to Nolan and Tarantino, are increasingly coming out in favor of celluloid. More on that here.

Read TOH!'s picks for the Top 15 noir films of all time here.

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.