'Beat the Devil' a Bogart oddity, digitally restored to its oddball fullest

Michael Phillips

6/16/2017 12:00:00 AM

In film circles, the phrase turns up constantly in the marketing of revivals: "new 4k restoration." New's good, right? Naturally. All new things must be good. Or, at any rate, new.

Before we get into the weirdest movie Humphrey Bogart ever made, let's talk about that "4k restoration" phrase. Then we'll get into how it applies to the newly restored, eternally brazen 1953 oddity "Beat the Devil," opening June 30 at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

"New 4k restoration" means a studio or an archive or a foundation has financed the cleanup and digital transfer of an existing movie. The restoration draws upon the best surviving elements of the film's original print negative, a duplicate negative and other materials.

The goal is to assemble "the fullest and best version of what's available," says Sony Pictures Executive Vice President Grover Crisp, who oversees the company's asset management, film restoration and digital mastering.

A 4k restoration refers to a horizontal screen resolution of approximately 4,000 pixels. The more pixels, the more complex the visual detail. The more complex the detail, the more you can appreciate the creases, contours and general fabulousness of Bogart's face, or the fabric of the suits his co-stars are wearing.

A typical 4k restoration offers no new footage. It's simply the sharpest digital iteration of a movie available. Whether or not it represents the optimal viewing experience is a debate for another article; the warmth of celluloid versus the harder, arguably more clinical edge of high-def digital constitutes an ongoing aesthetic battle. Recent 4k restorations of "The Third Man" or "Taxi Driver" or "Blood Simple" bring out additional shadow detail and a heightened contrast in tones and hues. But in terms of the film itself, there's nothing NEW-new about them.

Then there's "Beat the Devil," restored last year and currently making the rounds at the nation's art and specialty houses. It is a uniquely punch-drunk champion in the annals of rogue cinema. And thanks to the timely discovery of the film's uncensored international version in a London vault, contemporary curiosity-seekers are treated to four additional minutes of footage; a reordered narrative chronology; the removal of some really lazy voice-over narration spoken by Bogart; and a clearer, better, brighter visual palette than "Beat the Devil" has had in decades.

"Only phonies like it," Bogart said. (His production company put up much of the money, and lost it.) The source was a 1949 book by Anglo-Scots journalist-turned-novelist Claud Cockburn, writing under the pseudonym James Helvick because of his Communist past. His story concerned a ragtag group of international swindlers colluding and colliding along the French Riviera. The ringleader is an American, Billy Dannreuther, whom Bogart played in the screen version.

Director John Huston hated the screenplay he was stuck with. One week prior to filming on location, with all his actors lined up and ready, he nearly bailed. But David O. Selznick, the mogul husband of "Beat the Devil" co-star Jennifer Jones, suggested that a young writer named Truman Capote come to Ravello, near Naples, and take a whack at a rewrite. Along with Jones, the cast included Gina Lollobrigida as Billy's Anglophile wife; Robert Morley as one of the comical ruffians; Peter Lorre, his hair dyed to look like Capote's, as an ex-Nazi going by the name of O'Hara; and assorted other eccentrics.

Much has been written about the way "Beat the Devil" came together, barely. Capote rewrote as fast as he could, every day. Huston devised elaborate camera setups to kill time while waiting for the script pages. The cast, other than Bogart, didn't realize the ruse.

"John and I," Capote later said, referring to Huston, "decided to kid the story, to treat it as a parody." Co-star Jones, whose fabulist character speaks like an Oscar Wilde creation out of "The Importance of Being Earnest," never understood what her character was supposed to be thinking, or saying, or feeling. The plot, as recooked by Capote and Huston, moved the story's action (dominated by talk) from France to Italy. It focused on Bogart and company conspiring to sail to Africa to buy a uranium mine. In large part, "Beat the Devil" is a movie about a group of castoffs waiting for their boat to sail.

The plot wasn't a plot; Capote himself called it "a so-called plot." The tone was peculiar, amusing to some, baffling to others. A censored, reordered and even less comprehensible version played U.S. theaters. "Strange indeed" is how the Chicago Daily Tribune reviewed it.

Given the mass shrug greeting "Beat the Devil," how did it grow into a cult favorite, long before the latest restoration? Partly, it was due to a handful of critics (notably Pauline Kael) who responded to the movie's blithe artificiality and brazen indifference to playing by normal rules of screenwriting.

Last year, Sony Pictures' Crisp headed the restoration of "Beat the Devil," partnering with the Film Foundation and other funding sources.

"There are two kinds of restorations," he says. "One makes the film look as good as possible. The other is when the film, sadly, is in disarray, and is either deteriorating or pretty badly damaged, as this film was. There were parts missing. Our U.K. distributor came up with some missing footage, and the version they found in a vault in London was a revelation. It had all this other material in it, four minutes' worth. And that version told us, effectively, how we should put it all back together."

Result: The new introductory scenes focus on Jones' character in an intriguing way. The Bogart narration vanishes. The flashback structure is no more. Certain sexual aspects of the so-called storyline come through more clearly now, including dialogue about Jones waiting for Bogart to make a pass at her, and a rhyming scene (the movie tiptoes up to a double infidelity) featuring an outrageous shot of Lollobrigida's cleavage, unseen by U.S. audiences in 1953.

Fans and detractors of "Beat the Devil" can probably agree: Huston's movie was more fun to make than it was to watch. The shoot never stopped stumbling. One night, Huston fell off a cliff, a 40-foot cliff, and somehow didn't hurt himself. Bogart messed up his teeth in a car accident.

The movie in progress became a party. Famous people dropped by for a few days, drank, made merry and left again. The young, unpaid clapper boy on the shoot was always playing piano when he could; his name was Stephen Sondheim. "He liked to tinkle away on the out-of-tune piano in the hotel," recalled script supervisor Angela Allen, years later. "I said, 'I think that young man is going to go a long way.' And everyone told me how stupid I was."

Like Orson Welles' "The Lady From Shanghai" a few years earlier, "Beat the Devil" bent and stretched audience expectations to the snapping point. This is why it works so weirdly well for some people today, especially in this 4k restoration.

"When I saw it this time," says the Film Center's associate programming director Martin Rubin, "I saw it very much as a postwar atomic age film. The world's a mess, it's all going to blow up, so anything goes. There's a playful nihilism in it. And it's so self-referential. The way these characters are trying to put together their uranium scheme is like Huston and Capote trying to put together 'Beat the Devil,' right there on the spot."

"Beat the Devil," June 30-July 5, Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.;


Le réalisateur Martin Scorsese veut restaurer et préserver les film africains

Arzouma Kompaore

6/12/2017 12:00:00 AM

L’icône du cinéma américain Martin Scorsese, la fédération panafricaine des cinéastes (FEPACI) et l’UNESCO ont signé un accord de partenariat le 7 juin dernier à l'occasion du lancement du projet Héritage du film africain. Un moment historique pour le cinéma africain auquel VOA Afrique a assisté. Exclusivité.

Précédemment annoncé lors du dernier FESPACO par Martin Scorsese lui-même, le projet Héritage du Film Africain a officiellement vu le jour lors de la signature d’un partenariat entre l’UNESCO, la Film Foundation de Martin Scorsese et la Fédération panafricaine des cinéastes, FEPACI. Une cérémonie au cours de laquelle chaque partenaire a pu réitérer son attachement au dit projet.

Aboubakar Sanogo, secrétaire regional de la FEPACI serrant la main de Martin Scorsese

Aboubakar Sanogo, secrétaire regional de la FEPACI serrant la main de Martin Scorsese

"Au départ, l’idée de la “World Cinema Foundation” était de restaurer et de rendre disponible de la meilleur façon possible, des films tournés dans des lieux qui n’ont pas les infrastructures nécessaires pour prendre soin de ces films et donc protéger leur héritage culturel." a déclaré Martin Scorsese dans son mot d'introduction. Il s'est ensuite estimé satisfait du travail déjà abattu. "Je suis très heureux que le travail ait déjà commencé au niveau du projet Héritage du Film Africain. Notre premier film restauré est “ Soleil O ” de Med Hondo, il a même été présenté au festival de Cannes cette année il y a quelques semaines de cela."

La directrice générale de l'UNESCO, Mme Irina Bokova s'est à son tour félicitée de ce nouveau partenariat qui s'inscrit selon elle en droite ligne des préoccupations de l'organisation onusienne.

"Je crois fermement au pouvoir de la culture, le pouvoir de la créativité, la liberté de créer. Et je pense qu'il n'y a rien de mieux aujourd'hui pour libérer ce potentiel de l'Afrique, que la culture et la créativité. Nous espérons qu'après leur restauration, nous pourrons les inscrire au registre de la mémoire du monde car ces films représentent l'autre pan de notre patrimoine commun. Je pense que nous ne ferons pas seulement justice à l'histoire et à la créativité africaine, mais nous encouragerons aussi les jeunes à continuer à se lancer dans de nouvelles aventures à travers des partenariats et à continuer de créer." Irina Bokova, Directrice Générale de l'UNESCO.

Mais le plus heureux de la soirée c'était incontestablement le sécrétaire régional pour l'Amérique du nord de la FEPACI, Mr. Aboubakar Sanogo, lui même professeur de cinéma à l'université de Carlson à Ottawa au canada. Il representait M. Cheick Oumar Sissoko, sécrétaire général de la FEPACI.

Pour Mr. Sanogo, cet accord est l'aboutissement du travail commencé par les pères du cinema africain. "Nous espérons que ce partenariat permettra d’explorer les voies et moyens à travers lesquels, et l’Unesco jouera probablement un rôle important de par son action de définition du cadre et son discours sur l’héritage mondial, on pourra redonner une dimension éthique au business de la préservation cinématographique." a-t-il precisé avant que les trois ne passent à la signature proprement dite.

Ce sont au total cinquante films qui ont été initialement identifiés par un comité consultatif mis sur pied par la FEPACI. Cette dernière a en charge de mener une enquête exhaustive pour localiser les meilleurs éléments cinématographiques existants pour chaque titre, dans les cinémathèques africaines et les archives cinématographiques à travers le monde.

De la gauche ver la droite: Yemani Demessie, cinéaste, professeur de cinema a NYU, Fatou Zongo, actrice burkinabé vivant à New York, Aboubakar Sanogo (FEPACI)

De la gauche ver la droite: Yemani Demessie, cinéaste, professeur de cinema a NYU, Fatou Zongo, actrice burkinabé vivant à New York, Aboubakar Sanogo (FEPACI)

Quelques acteurs du cinéma africain de New York City étaient présent. Ils s'agit de Mme. Mahen Bonetti, du festival du film africain de New York, Mr. Yemani Demessie, cinéaste éthiopien et professeur de cinema à l'université de New York (NYU), et Fatoumata Zongo, actrice burkinabè vivant à New York City.

"Plusieurs films africains produits au siècle dernier n’ont pas l’opportunité d’être vu par les cinéastes du monde, qu’ils soient africains australiens ou boliviens. C’est à travers de telles initiatives que ces films pourront faire partie du langage courant international." a soutenu Mr. Yemani Demessie.

Selon les mots du secrétaire régional de la FEPACI, "On peut retracer l’implication des africains dans le cinéma depuis au moins 1897. Nous espérons donc pouvoir avoir accès a cette partie occultée de notre histoire."

De la gauche ver la droite; Aboubakar Sanogo (FEPACI), Martin Scorsese (le Film Foundation), Irina Bokova (UNESCO)

De la gauche ver la droite; Aboubakar Sanogo (FEPACI), Martin Scorsese (le Film Foundation), Irina Bokova (UNESCO)

Dans son interview exclusive avec VOA Afrique, Martin Scorsese est revenu sur les raisons qui le poussent à faire connaitre les films africains restaurés aux américains.

"Ces films ont été fait par les Africains, sur les africains, pour les africains, pour le monde. Et il est temps de considérer cela comme un autre aspect de la culture. La pensée créative, l’action créatrice du continent entier. Le but [maintenant] est d’en éliminer l’idée de l’altérité chez les cinéastes en Amérique, les jeunes. Oui, leur montrer le caractère unique de la culture, et de qui ils sont, mais de les accepter comme étant des sources d’apprentissage, et avant tout qu’ils soient capables d’apprécier ces films africains, de ne pas les rejeter. Je pense que cela pourrait être très fructueux pour les jeunes cinéastes."

Scorsese a ensuite expliquer l'importance de donner du temps à un public donne de s'habituer au film. "Certains films peuvent ne pas plaire à certaines parties de la population. Je n'oublierai jamais mon film « Mean Streets » en 1973. Mes amis et moi, nous nous sommes dit : le film a eu du succès au festival du film de New York, alors partagez le avec le reste du pays mais Le studio s’y est opposé en disant que le film devait être projeté dans un seul endroit, afin de permettre à un public de le connaître un peu plus. Mes amis m'ont convaincu et ont convaincu le studio de lancer une sortie nationale et nous l'avons fait, et le film est mort. Ils ne l'ont pas aimé au Texas. Le Texas est différent. Voyez-vous ce que je veux dire ? Il faut préparer le public pour accepter un film. Vous devez commencer quelque part et inviter d’autres personnes à le voir. Ne le rendez pas étranger, faites en quelque chose dont nous pouvons tous apprendre et dont nous pouvons faire partie. Donc il ne s’agit pas de se jeter à l’eau. Vous devez analyser ce qu'il faut faire." Martin Scorsese, président fondateur de la Film Foundation.

L'avenir du patrimoine cinématographique africain est donc prometteur sous le regard de la légende hollywoodienne de soixante quatorze ans qui s'est récemment associé au géant de la video à la demande Netflix pour produire son tout prochain film, " The Irishman". Un film gangster dont le budget s’élève à plus de cent vingt-cinq millions de dollars.


Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation World Cinema Project, UNESCO and FEPACI Explain Their Efforts to Restore African Film

Eric Kohn

6/9/2017 7:50:00 PM

The new initiative will support the restoration of 50 major African films.

Aboubakar Sanogo is a scholar of African cinema based out of Ottawa and works for the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI), but it took him years to see one of the major films from the continent: Med Hondo’s “Soleil O,” a 1969 portrait of a black immigrant in Paris, was long revered but widely unavailable; Sanogo didn’t see it until a print surfaced in Paris in 2006. “Even in Burkina, the capital city of African cinema, it wasn’t available,” Sanogo said in New York this week. “It’s a huge problem.”

Sanogo was addressing a broader challenge facing the preservation of African film history — and one that might be facing a brighter future. On June 7, FEPACI, UNESCO and Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation World Cinema Project signed a letter of agreement formalizing their partnership on the African Film Heritage Project, a joint initiative to preserve African cinema. But their work has already shown major results, with “Soleil O” screening in the Cannes Classics section last month.

The project  “will restore disseminate…in Africa and around the world, a collection of the films from Africa that are historically, artistically and culturally significant,” Scorsese said at the event. Later, he explained how his interest in African cinema grew out of his passion for Souleymane Cissé’s 1987 sorcerer drama “Yeelen,” which he saw on television. Eventually, he formed a relationship with Cissé and visited him in Mali. He was struck by a comment that Cissé made when they were both in Cannes for a different partnership in 2007. “He said, ‘If we don’t try and restore African cinema — made by Africans about Africans — then future generations will never know who they are,” Scorsese said. “Cinema is a perfect way to open up the mind, curiosity for other cultures.” (For more on Scorsese’s efforts to support the international film community, go here.)

For Sanogo, the new initiative opens up an opportunity to broaden awareness for African film history that has been marginalized for decades. With historical context, the older films can enjoy a new life in the classroom and repertory cinemas around the world. “In many ways, the auteurist tradition in Africa is an experimental cinema,” he said. “That is part of its problem — experimental cinema and audience appreciation don’t always go hand in hand. So we are trying to bring these images back, not only to filmmakers but Africans in general.”

He underscored a developing concern for educating film students in Africa about their heritage at a time in which film production has increased. “Filmmakers are making films in Africa every day,” Sanogo said. “The advent of digital has made the medium more accessible. I took my students to Burkina in 2012 to study Burkina cinema. They dreamed to one day hold a piece of celluloid film and shoot on it. In film school, they simply didn’t have celluloid to shoot on. But the energy and desire to make films has never been as high in Africa as it is today.”

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova also attended the signing and added a broader context to the discussion. “Cinema is about history and storytelling,” she said. “African films are a [form of] cultural expression. It’s also about trying to change the narrative of this history, so it’s not from the point of view of Europe or anywhere else but your own. It’s a discovery of your own identity. I think cinema is probably one of the best ways for this search to find your roots…technology has given us an incredible opportunity to preserve it. This project is a testimony to that.”

Watch the entire signing ceremony, with statements from Scorsese, Sanogo and Bokova, below: 


Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project 2

Clayton Dillard

5/31/2017 12:00:00 AM

As the figurehead and master of ceremonies for the World Cinema Project (WCP), Martin Scorsese has cemented his bid to become the premier ambassador for both global film preservation and the sharing of cinema that such an endeavor entails. Scorsese has become nothing short of a Henri Langlois figure, whose Cinémathèque Française during the 1940s likely saved hundreds, even thousands of films from being permanently lost or destroyed. The WCP, in short, picks up where Langlois left off when he died in 1977 by focusing on securing and restoring films that by and large were produced outside the confines of North America and Western Europe.

As packaged through the Criterion Collection, the first six of the WCP’s restorations were released in December 2013. The films were eclectic and seemingly boxed together precisely because of their affiliation with WCP, which isn’t so much a problem as it is a curiosity. Criterion had released no other boxed set of multiple films—even on their now-defunct Eclipse line—that weren’t connected by either a director, star, studio, or country. The studio repeats the identical approach in their second volume, packaging together six films, ranging from Mário Peixoto’s 1931 silent Limite to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s 2000 feature-length debut Mysterious Object at Noon, that have no immediate relationship to one another aside from their WCP restorations. Thus, Criterion operates here more as a server than a curator of films, offering titles in a single packaging that would otherwise never be affiliated or compared in any immediate way. This approach, then, offers less of an historical overview of world cinema than a glimpse into the hive mind of the WCP’s approach to rescuing films from history’s unsparing iron fist.

Limite constructs a rhythmic approach to time and space that stands alongside the finest efforts of Abel Gance, Jean Epstein, and Sergei Eisenstein. After an opening sequence introducing two women and a man lost at sea, Peixoto uses flashbacks to explain the genesis of their predicament. Close-ups and canted framings govern nearly every scene, as does an unforgettable arrangement of music, featuring Igor Stravinsky and Erik Satie, among others. The recurring image of a woman bound by handcuffs and staring into the camera belongs among the greatest emblems in all of silent cinema.

Scorsese calls Lütfi Ö. Akad’s Law of the Border “a Turkish Western” in a brief introduction, but that conceptualization seems counterproductive since Akad’s 1966 film has more in common with the formal and thematic interests of neorealism. While the story, set along the Turkish-Syrian border, involves a gang of smuggles led by the death-driven Hidir (Yilmaz Güney), the focus is less on thematizing civilization and violent struggle than coming to grips with a nation’s development following a period of sustained oppression and restriction. As the film winds to its tragic end, Akad grapples with Hidir’s infinitesimal relation to governance and, perhaps, his own.

While Akad’s neorealist texture ultimately animates Hidir’s decline, Lino Brocka’s 1976 film Insiang entrenches itself firmly within the register of melodrama through an abusive love triangle set in the Philippines between the titular character (Hilda Koronel), her mother (Mona Lisa), and her mother’s lover (Ruel Vernal), whose rape of Insiang prompts a quietly conceived system of revenge by the abused. Released the same year as Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, Brocka’s film maintains a similarly unsparing focus on sexual violence and the simultaneously physical and psychological prison it creates for its victims. If Insiang is dubiously feminist in any strict sense, its persistent focus on Insiang’s eye line suggests a passageway into her mind and experience that more common rape-revenge thrillers wholly omit.

The crown jewel of the collection is Taipei Story, arguably Edward Yang’s finest achievement. Co-written with Hou Hsiao-hsien, who also stars, the 1985 film performs an autopsy on a handful of relationships, all of them unfolding against a neo-lit Taipei, which seems by turns inviting and ruinous. After Lung (Hou) returns from a trip to Los Angeles, he explains its “just like Taipei,” and spends much of the remainder of the film contemplating a move to the States with Chin (Tsai Chin), a woman who’s lost the ability to articulate her feelings of discontent. As a character bleeds out in a Taipei gutter near the film’s conclusion, an American corporation is setting up shop just a few blocks away, thus completing the other half of the tautology: Taipei is just like L.A.

Ermek Shinbarbaev’s 1989 film Revenge makes remarkable use of high-key lighting to stage a violent series of events that spans hundreds of years. Kazakhstani writer Anatoli Kim builds to an examination of post-WWII central Asia, where a Korean youth is hell-bent on avenging a murdered, unknown half sister, but the script begins in the 17th century in the kingdom of Joseon, where the seeds of violence are initially sewn. Shinbarbaev’s camera often remains still, using floods of light and splashes of color as a counterpoint to the ugliness of nearly every character’s actions and intent. The result is thoroughly unsettling in its contrasts and, like Akira Kurosawa’s similarly vibrant Ran made just a few years prior, requires a significant amount of historical context in order to fully grasp it implications.

Weerasethakul’s Mysterious Object at Noon dispenses with color entirely, but that shouldn’t suggest a downward step in visual detail; the director’s 16mm black-and-white long takes linger on screen for minutes at a time before cutting to the next shot, asking us to encounter them in all of their shape and depth. A documentary-fiction hybrid, the film collects stories—some real, some fabricated—from various Thai citizens, who recount in talking-head fashion their personal experiences. And the result, especially when the stories and images appear to merge, is transfixing. In one memorable shot, a washed-out exterior just outside a doctor’s office appears to have been lit to eliminate all but the faintest shadow. Whether or not the image is “real”—that is, captured naturally—seems precisely Weerasethakul’s point: The line between fact and fiction always dissolves when filtered through the lens of a camera.


The World Cinema Project makes unwavering strides to restore films to the best of their abilities. In the case of films like Limite and Law of the Border, where extant materials are either incomplete or irrevocably damaged, the restoration efforts don't overcompensate with digital manipulation; the films are simply presented in accordance with the technology that produced them. When negatives and existing prints are in immaculate condition, as is the case with Taipei Story and Revenge, the result is a revelation: These 2K and 4K transfers are flawlessly assembled and color timed, with 's image detail especially of note for its depth of field and sharpness. The 4K transfer of Insiang and the 3K transfer of Mysterious Object at Noon are largely free of defect, with the colors of the former popping from the frame like the quick bursts of violence that structure its climax. Sound is flawless across the transfers; the 5.1 DTS-HD mix of Mysterious Object at Noon is especially delightful and reveals Apichatpong Weerasethakul's intricate sound design in ways previously unheard on home disc.


It's difficult, given the importance of these restorations, not to be at least a little disappointed with the slim supplements. Each film is gifted an introduction from Martin Scorsese and an accompanying interview with either a historian, producer, or filmmaker enthusiasts. Scorsese's introductions each clock in at less than two minutes and provide the primary details about production origins and the restoration efforts. The interviews are much weightier. Walter Salles explains his affinity for Limite by comparing it to The Passion of Joan of Arc. Producer Mevlüt Akkaya explains how Law of the Borderhelped begin an era of realistic filmmaking in Turkey, which focused on directors and their visions. Film historian Pierre Rissient explains how he helped bring Insiang to Cannes and how he tried to help Lino Brocka make the film visible to audiences beyond the Philippines. Hou Hsioa-hsien and filmmaker Edmond Wong chat about Hou's role in Taipei Story and the film's statements about the transformation of Taipei. Ermek Shinarbaev explains how he and writer Anatoli Kim wanted Revenge to be a mixture of Korean history, poem, legend, and fairy tale. Finally, Apichatpong Weerasethakul discusses the origins of Mysterious Object at Noon, which was conceptualized after seeing several films by Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The box set also comes with a 60-page booklet featuring essays from critics Phillip Lopate, Dennis Lim, Kent Jones, Fábio Andrade, Bilge Ebiri, and Andrew Chan.


At once indispensible and flawed, Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project 2 is best viewed as another fine product from the hopefully ongoing collaboration between Criterion and the WCP, even if the grouping of films remains, as with the first set, little more than incidental.



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