"Stills," such as are reproduced here, cannot represent the artistic quality or character of a motion picture. Reproductions of paintings, however inadequate, can at least attempt to present the whole object, but a film exists in time, and a still shot from it can no more suggest the whole than a single bar from a piece of music can render the structure of the entire composition. Even the purely narrative elements of a film are hard to elicit from a single still; what spectator who has not very recently seen the film would deduce unaided that the scene from La Grande Illusion, reproduced on page 210, intends to suggest Pierre Fresnay's aristocratic disgust at being searched by a German guard? An assemblage of stills can give some hint of the style of one filmmaker -- the quality of his light, the character of his camerawork. But films themselves exist on the screen, and nowhere else.
Yet, if stills do less than justice to individual films, they can indicate something of the scope of a film collection, in this case the greatest film collection in the world, that of the Museum of Modern Art Film Library, assembled by Iris Barry during fifteen years from a dozen countries. Reviewing these stills can help us judge to what extent the Film Library has fulfilled its mandate to collect, preserve and show the artistically and historically significant films produced throughout the world over the past sixty years -- with due regard to the fact that the United States remains the major source, as it was the principal pioneer, of film production.
The gaps are obvious. An important Japanese film is represented in its French version, Les Volontaires de la Mort, but no Hindu, Moslem, Chinese, or South African films are in the collection, and the Latin American and Australian films so far secured are negligible. Moreover, though many hundred European films are in the Film Library's possession, the scale is heavily weighted on the side of the major filmproducing countries, France, Germany, the U.S.S.R., Sweden, Great Britain, and Denmark. The Museum possesses no Spanish, Balkan, or Finnish films, and Italy, Holland, Belgium, and Central Europe are most inadequately represented. To remedy this lack will be the work of the next five years, beginning in 1954 when the Museum will acquire and present a retrospect of the Italian film.
Yet, if the Film Library's collection is not so complete geographically as would be desirable, such diverse films as Song of Ceylon, October,Moana,Triumph of the Will, Prelude to War, demonstrate how far the motion picture has traveled in its brief fifty