Porter: The Great Train Robbery
Edwin S. Porter's
The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Lubitsch: One Hour with You
Ernst Lubitsch's
One Hour With You (1932)

Renoir: The Grand Illusion
Jean Renoir's
Grand Illusion (1937)
The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center is home to one of the world's most important collections of film art. This collection —which totals more than 14,000 films, including masterworks from every decade of cinema, from Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope subjects of 1884 to the films made in the 1990s by Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese—enables the Museum to sustain an unparalleled film exhibition and study program. In an institution that is a treasure house for the study of the twentieth century, the film collection is an invaluable asset.

In 1932 Alfred Barr, the Museum's founding director, stressed the importance of introducing "the only great art form peculiar to the twentieth century" to "the American public which should appreciate good films and support them." Museum Trustee John Hay Whitney—who, in addition to collecting modern painting, produced films in partnership with Hollywood's David Selznick—was chosen as the first chairman of the Museum's Film Library, a distinguished position he held from 1935 to 1951.

Whitney knew the collection could be assembled only by those who made the movies. He sent film curator Iris Barry to Hollywood to persuade industry leaders to donate prints, a radical concept that startled stars and producers alike. At a reception and screening in the Pickfair mansion, Barry illustrated film's brief but important history, demonstrated the fragility of the medium— and argued its need to be safeguarded. Soon responding with donations were Warner Bros., Paramount, Twentieth Century–Fox, Samuel Goldwyn, Harold Lloyd, Walt Disney, William S. Hart, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and David O. Selznick, among others.

In 1936 Barry traveled to Europe and the Soviet Union to acquire international films and meet filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein. So successful was this initial assembling of the collection that in 1937 the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences commended the Museum with an award "for its significant work in collecting films . . . and for the first time making available to the public the means of studying the historical and aesthetic development of the motion picture as one of the major arts."

In 1939, the same year Whitney and Selznick's Gone With the Wind took America by storm, The Museum of Modern Art opened its permanent home on 53rd Street in Manhattan and launched the first film exhibition program in America. With crucial assistance from Lillian Gish, D. W. Griffith had been persuaded to deposit his films and papers at the Museum, enabling the first major retrospective of a film artist to be assembled, an exhibition that set the standards for the presentation and analysis of the masters of this new art form.

The collection today has more than 14,000 titles and ranks as one of the world's finest museum archives of international film art. Works by the inventors of film language—the creators of its form, genres, and technology—are the cornerstones of the collection, and every major artist of the silent era is represented: the pioneers of American film, such as Griffith, Porter, and Ince, and the Edison, Biograph, and Vitagraph studio filmmakers; Lumière and Méliès from France; Chaplin and Keaton, DeMille and Fairbanks, Dreyer and Stroheim.

The innovators and masters of the sound era are represented, too: the Warner Bros., Fox, and Selznick studios; Walt Disney and Lubitsch; Ford, Walsh, Wyler, and Capra; Sternberg, Lang, Welles, Hitchcock, and Renoir; Rossellini and Ophuls; Kurosawa and Ozu; Truffaut and Bergman—as well as chroniclers of political and social upheavals and the great documentarians such as Eisenstein and Flaherty. Films by artists Fernand Léger, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, László Moholy-Nagy, and Paul Strand enrich the collection, as do the works of animators and contemporary experimental filmmakers such as Jane Aaron, Stan Brakhage, Bruce Connor, Ken Jacobs, and Yvonne Rainer.

In recent years, directors such as Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, John Cassavetes, Francis Ford Coppola, Joel and Ethan Coen, Oliver Stone, John Sayles, and Stanley Kubrick and producers such as Ray Stark, Albert Broccoli, Irwin Winkler, Edward Pressman, and Joel Silver have donated films to the collection. The Turner Entertainment Company has donated original materials of RKO and Warner Bros. films of the 1920s through the 1940s, more than 629 features including Citizen Kane and Casablanca.

American classics such as It Happened One Night, Dodsworth, Nothing Sacred, Love Affair, Meet Me in St. Louis, Notorious, My Darling Clementine, On the Waterfront, Bonjour Tristesse, and Taxi Driver have been preserved in collaboration with studios and distributors to safeguard surviving materials and restore damaged films, enabling new and worldwide circulation of major examples of American film.

The collection enables the Museum to sustain an unparalleled study and exhibition program for the public, scholars, and filmmakers. This program in its varied forms has provided an education for modern artists of all mediums, and individual films have been studied by filmmakers at every level, from writers, directors, and producers to costume designers, production assistants, and grips.

A Short History of The Collection

Sergei Eisenstein: Potemkin
Sergei Eisenstein's
Potemkin (1925)

Man Ray: Emak Bakia
Man Ray's
Emak Bakia (1927)

Frank Capra's
It Happened One Night (1934)

Akira Kurosawa's
Rashomon (1950)