Some movie superheroes save movies. They lug dollies of film reels up and down elevators. They crack open canisters adhered through decades of chemical synthesis. They have the uncanny nose for the smell of vinegar – that olfactory sign of expiration lurking beneath the celluloid corner.
They are film archivists, protectors of cultural legacies. But as depicted in ARCHIVING TIME, which follows preservationists and restorationists at the Taiwan Film Institute, they are also workers of physical agility, laser-quick thinking, and historical conscience, poring through decades-old 16mm and 35mm reels. Lu Yuan-chi’s documentary follows select reels, rescued from humid Hong Kong storage, as they go through the archive’s labyrinth of celluloid makeover magic. From inspection and cleaning, to projection and scanning, to the painstaking process of removing every speck and pop, these films sparkle anew with 21st century light. Very few of the films are classics by auteurs like King Hu or Lee Hsing. Most are faintly-remembered features screened occasionally at a village fair, or newsreels produced by a nationalist government, or curios bearing titles like “The Infertility Girl” or “Monkeys Will Be Monkeys.” Some will be restored for future events and future scholarship. Some, unfortunately, arrive D.O.A.
Through it all, our heroes – like archive veteran Allen Chung or digital ace Chang Yi-chen – press on with a dispassionate determination and a modest feeling of accomplishment. This is, to put it plainly, thankless work. But in capturing the mundane churn of mouse clicks, celluloid surgery, and box lunches, ARCHIVING TIME offers the deepest gratitude.