The discovery and restoration of Beyond the Rocks, long thought lost to time, is without a doubt the silent movie event of the past few years.
The 1922 romantic drama from Sam Wood
, based on a lightweight romance by Elinor Glyn
(most famous for It
, starring "it" girl Clara Bow
), is only marginally interesting as drama, but its one-of-a-kind star pairing of Gloria Swanson
and Rudolph Valentino
makes it a landmark of Hollywood glamour.
Yet it might have remained little more than a footnote to history if not for the efforts of Milestone, which placed the film in the New York Film Festival and gave it a big screen revival run before its cable showing in Turner Classic Movies and, finally, its DVD release.
Launched in 1990 by film lovers Dennis Doros and Amy Heller, partners in business and marriage, Milestone has made a reputation not merely for its restorations and revivals, but for nurturing films that might otherwise have been drowned in the noise of the busy movie landscape. I Am Cuba, Mikhail Kalatozov's spellbinding and all but orphaned 1964 film portrait of communist Cuba, became the film event of 1995. Milestone's 2005 release of Winter Soldier (1972) not only redeemed a film vilified by the "Swift Boaters" of the 2004 presidential campaign, it also resurrected a forgotten masterpiece of American documentary cinema and revealed the film's true story to the public.
Milestone's legacy encompasses silent cinema (the 1929 Piccadilly with Anna May Wong; the Mary Pickford collection), classic rarities (Michael Powell's breathtaking breakthrough 1937 film The Edge of the World), and some of the most beautiful international features to ever see the light of an American screen (Maborosi, Why Has Bodhi Dharma Left for the East? and Fireworks [Hana-Bi]). They've been honored by the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics for their work in restoring and reviving classic films, though Doros is quick to credit the archivists and the programmers and the organizations that they work with.
And while Doros and Heller have embraced DVD with a passion, they remain committed to bringing their films to the big screen as well as to the small. "Movies are still a shared experience," he insists. "They are meant to be seen with an audience, audiences are meant to see films and laugh together and cry together. It's corny, but it really is the best way to see a film."
I've been an email and phone acquaintance of Dennis for years, but this interview was the first time I had really talked to Dennis for any length of time, and we discussed Milestone's legacy, ambitions and future plans - as well as some of our favorite films - in an hour-long phone conversation.