News

A New Restoration Brings Detour Back to the Big Screen

The Current

11/29/2018 12:00:00 AM

Made on a shoestring budget, Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 Detour is a landmark of film noir, a hardboiled thriller that represents the genre at its seediest and most fatalistic. But despite amassing critical acclaim and a significant cult following over the decades, the film has long been available only in substandard public-domain prints that fall short of conveying the pulp poetry of its images. This week, New York audiences will finally get a chance to see Detour in pristine condition when it opens for a theatrical run at Film Forum,  which will be followed by engagements across the country. The first major restoration of the movie is the result of the hard work of the Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation, who collaborated with the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Cinémathèque Française, with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation, to bring Detour to stunning new life.

The journey to this newly restored version began sixteen years ago, when Ulmer’s daughter, Arianne Ulmer Cipes, brought her collection of film elements and video masters to the Academy Film Archive and asked if the team there could help with giving her father’s masterpiece the treatment it deserved. The director of the Academy Film Archive, Michael Pogorzelski, and film preservationist Heather Linville ended up supervising the complicated process of tracking down existing prints and ultimately piecing together the best elements. There was a 16 mm print that had gone through much wear-and-tear from being in circulation, and was used for reference in the restoration. There was also a 35 mm duplicate negative in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, but it too was a problematic source: it contained a number of jump cuts, the result of many missing frames that were lost from the 35 mm release print from which it was made. “Heather spent ten years (on and off) searching the world for 35 mm elements that were comparable to or of higher quality than the MoMA element,” Pogorzelski says. 

Finally, last year, the Archive had a breakthrough when it contacted the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique in Brussels, which holds a 35 mm nitrate print of Detour in its collection. “This element had never been considered as a possible preservation source because it contained both Flemish and French subtitles burned into the frame,” Pogorzelski explains. “We asked to have a scan made thinking that perhaps we might get lucky and find some shots that didn’t contain subtitles that could fill in the frames that were missing from the MoMA element. Instead of a few frames here and there, we got one of the best surprises of our careers: the print had been struck from the original camera negative of Detour, and the image quality was better than anything we had seen in ten years of searching.”

But even with this exciting discovery, there were still challenges ahead, including the question of how to remove the subtitles from the Cinémathèque’s 4K scans without affecting the quality of the image. Roundabout Entertainment in Burbank, California, developed and tested two methods to accomplish this. First, frames from the subtitled Brussels print were composited with frames from the MoMA negative. But because the MoMA print was missing frames, and because significant camera movement resulted in unsatisfactory composites, the second approach was to meticulously paint out the subtitles by hand. And after this work was done, a single shot that didn’t exist in either element was sourced from a safety 35 mm print housed at the Cinémathèque Française.

As you can see from the below gallery, which features three stills from various print sources provided by the Archive, the team had their work cut out for them. But the final results, reflected in the last framegrab in the gallery, are “the best that Detour has looked or sounded for generations,” says Pogorzelski. “The restoration reveals that, despite the severe restrictions of time and budget, Edgar G. Ulmer and his collaborators were able to craft one of the best and purest film noirs of all time.”

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A more detailed account of the restoration will be available on our Detour Blu-ray and DVD edition, coming out next year. In the meantime, if you’re in New York, head to Film Forum’s website to check out showtimes for the theatrical run!

 
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Restored Film Classics Surprise at the 24th Kolkata Intl Film Festival

Shoma A. Chatterji

11/10/2018 12:00:00 AM

The cinebuffs of Kolkata who always join the serpentine queues outside the Nandan Cultural Complex and other theatres where festival films are screened are in for a wonderful surprise this year.

The Film Heritage Foundation founded by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur has organised a well-designed workshop on film preservation and restoration alongside the festival, and has also curated a number of restored film classics from across the world which were almost out of circulation because they are almost beyond repair.

India produces the most films in the world. In terms of quality too, we have gifted the world many unforgettable films by talented filmmakers in every genre of cinema – period films, literary classics, love stories, road movies, adventure tales, and so on. However, many of these film prints have been completely damaged for want of proper infrastructure and maintenance of old prints over time.

Few people care to think about the long-term significance of films, of their contribution to the cultural matrix of every country’s history and development, or how they place the technical aspects of filmmaking in perspective.

It is the collective social responsibility of every country to see that all its films remain in the public domain for all time.

The Film Preservation and Restoration Workshop, India (FPRWI) is an initiative of the Film Heritage Foundation and the International Federation of Film Archives in collaboration with the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) and in association with the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, L’Immagine Retrovata, Foundazione Cinecita di Bologna, the British Film Insitute and many international cinema organisations.

FPRWI 2018’s aim is to create awareness about the urgent need to preserve our moving image heritage and to skill and train archivists to take on this monumental challenge. But most attractive to the audience is the bouquet of restored classics that have been made available for wide screening at the 24th KIFF.

These films are – Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy (Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar) and Uday Shankar’s Kalpana besides international classics like Amarcord, Blow-UpThe Magnificent Ambersons and Bicycle Thieves.

“The idea for the foundation was born when I realised the dire need to preserve India’s cinematic heritage that has been severely neglected for all these years. We have lost a significant part of our cinematic history and this will continue to happen if we do not take immediate steps to save this legacy,” says Dungarpur about his non-profit organisation FPRWI.

The foundation is dedicated to supporting the conservation, preservation and restoration of the moving image and to develop interdisciplinary educational programmes that will use films as an educational tool to create awareness about the language of cinema.

For the younger generation of film buffs, it will be a discovery of these classics in their original form on celluloid restored from original damaged prints. “I helped Martin Scorcese restore Uday Shankar’s Kalpana made in 1948.” Recounting the experience, he says, “When I was in Bologna, a Martin Scorsese aide asked whether I could help them procure Kalpana for restoration. I knew that if I could procure it in whatever way possible, it would shift the preservation focus to India. Uday Shankar had given a dupe negative (rough cut) of the film to Mr Nair in 1970 and it had a lot of cuts. Though we managed to bring it out of the archive, it was under litigation.

His family members Amala Shankar, Mamata Shankar and Tanushree Shankar wanted to help me, but they did not own the film. The final print was with someone who did not want to part with it. We struggled and after a year, we got it. We sent it to Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation in Bologna which restores Asian films,” says Dungapur.

Kalpana was shot at Gemini Studios over five years. It is said to have inspired S.S. Vasan’s Chandralekha which was shot at the same studio and featured the immortal song with dancers over a large drum sequence; it was a major success unlike Kalpana which did not do well at the box office. The restored Kalpana was screened in the classics section at Cannes in 2012 has sown the seeds of the value of restoration in India.

Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves was a pioneer in evolving what came to be known as the neo-realist school of filmmaking. Neo-realism is a movement that arose in Italy after World War II, dominated the Italian cinema in the late 1940s and influenced filmmakers all around the world. At a time when musicals and light comedies allowed moviegoers an escape from the grim facts of war, the neo-realists presented an authentic treatment of the wartime experience and grappled with the social problems of post-war Italy.

Mainly Marxists and liberal Catholics, neo-realists advocated Leftist ideas and were strongly influenced by Soviet cinema. Bicycle Thieves has a universal appeal for the way it handles poverty, the relationship between a small boy and his father struggling to barely eke out a living, with just the right doses of emotional punches at the right time.

Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up was the highest-grossing art film of its time, and was picked as the best film of 1967 by the National Society of Film Critics, also garnering Oscar nominations for screenplay and direction.

The film still offers a model lesson in cinematography, in self-referential filmmaking, in surrealistic imagination that also raises moral and ethical questions about the metamorphosis in the human psyche. To this day, Indian filmmakers and keen viewers will be carried away and amazed at this film about a London photographer who may or may not have witnessed a murder, who lives a life of cynicism and ennui, and who ends up in a park at dawn, watching college kids play tennis with an imaginary ball.

The Magnificent Ambersons is one of the earliest films in movie history in which nearly all the credits are spoken by an off-screen voice and not shown printed onscreen — a technique used before only by the French director and player Sacha Guitry. The only credits shown onscreen are the RKO logo, "A Mercury Production by Orson Welles", and the film's title, shown at the beginning of the picture.

At the end of the film, Welles's voice announces all the main credits. Each actor in the film is shown as Welles announces their name. As he speaks each technical credit, a machine is shown performing that function. Welles reads his own credit — "My name is Orson Welles" — over the top of an image of a microphone which then recedes into the distance.

Federico Fellini's Amarcord is a beautiful and warm nostalgic piece. It explores the everyday lives of people in an Italian village called Rimini during the reign of Mussolini. It won the 1974 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The film's greatest asset is its ability to be sweet without being cloying, mainly because of Danilo Donati's surrealistic art direction and to the frequently bawdy injections of sex and politics by screenwriters Fellini and Tonino Guerra. At the same time, it is a semi-autobiographical tale about Titta, an adolescent boy growing up among an eccentric cast of characters in the village of Borgo San Giuliano situated near the ancient walls of Rimini.

Imagine watching a restored scene from Pather Panchali where the dented, metal water pot of Indir Thakrun tumbles down the rocks when she dies; or, the London photographer in Blow-Up suddenly finding something he never imagined among his random experiments in photography. Or, the shots in the dark room where he is trying to enlarge the negatives to get at the right picture he is not sure of.

All this will be laid out at the 24th Kolkata International Film Festival, for cinebuffs interested in classics they have missed out on because the original prints were either damaged or almost destroyed.

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AFI FEST Announces Cinema’s Legacy and Midnight Lineups

10/18/2018 12:00:00 AM

In this year’s Cinema’s Legacy program, AFI FEST highlights films directed by women. This section is a celebration of motion picture history and a special opportunity to screen recent restorations of classic and lesser-known films. The festival spotlights six independent filmmakers across subjects and genres, including two world-premiere restorations, and newly struck 16mm presentations: THE CRUZ BROTHERS AND MISS MALLOY (DIR Kathleen Collins, 1980), DRYLONGSO (DIR Cauleen Smith, 1998), THE JUNIPER TREE (DIR Nietzchka Keene, 1990), MEETINGS OF ANNA (DIR Chantal Akerman, 1978), NITRATE KISSES (DIR Barbara Hammer, 1992) and QUEEN OF DIAMONDS (DIR Nina Menkes, 1991).

The Midnight section features an international selection of macabre and provocative genre films: CAM (DIR Daniel Goldhaber), IN FABRIC (DIR Peter Strickland), KNIFE+HEART (DIR Yann Gonzalez) and PIERCING (DIR Nicolas Pesce).

CINEMA’S LEGACY

THE CRUZ BROTHERS AND MISS MALLOY – This charming feature debut from recently rediscovered filmmaker Kathleen Collins (LOSING GROUND), THE CRUZ BROTHERS AND MISS MALLOY follows three Puerto Rican brothers who, under the watchful eye of their father’s ghost, are enlisted to help an eccentric elderly widow restore her home before her own anticipated death. DIR Kathleen Collins. SCR Kathleen Collins, Henry H. Roth, Jo Tavener. CAST Rae Ferguson, Sylvia Field, Cesar Gonzalez, Susan Hurst, Susan Lukas, Jose Machado. USA

DRYLONGSO – While photographing “America’s most endangered species” — the African-American male — Pica Sullivan encounters Tobi, disguised in men’s clothing to avoid her abusive boyfriend. Like its title, DRYLONGSO — an old term meaning “ordinary” — the issues addressed in Cauleen Smith’s powerful and little-seen 1998 film remain appallingly ordinary to young African-American men and women. New 16mm print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive. DIR Cauleen Smith. SCR Salim Akil, Cauleen Smith. CAST Toby Smith, April Barnett, Will Power. USA

THE JUNIPER TREE (EINITREO) – This beautiful restoration exhumes Nietzchka Keene’s unheralded debut, a feminist interpretation of the Brothers Grimm fairytale that underscores the uncertain safety of women in a patriarchal society. Filmed in Iceland, this atmospheric fantasy features a 20-year-old Björk as Margit, who escapes with her sister Katla when their mother is killed for practicing witchcraft. World Premiere of the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research 2018 restoration with funding provided from The Film Foundation and the George Lucas Family Foundation. DIR Nietzchka Keene. SCR Nietzchka Keene. CAST Björk Gudmundsdottir, Bryndis Petra Bragadottir, Valdimar Orn Flygenring, Gudrun S. Gisladottir, Geirlaug Sunna Pormar. Iceland

MEETINGS OF ANNA (LES RENDEZ-VOUS D’ANNA) – In Chantal Akerman’s 1978 masterwork, Anna (Aurore Clément) is a respected Belgian filmmaker on a no-frills European tour promoting her latest film. As Anna travels from city to city, she has a series of startling encounters with different men and women, all of which seem to underscore her uneasy place in an increasingly dreary and anonymous Western Europe. DIR Chantal Akerman. SCR Chantal Akerman. CAST Aurore Clément, Helmut Griem, Magali Noël. France, Belgium, West Germany

NITRATE KISSES – The debut feature from celebrated filmmaker Barbara Hammer, NITRATE KISSES is an experimental excavation of queer histories, a celebration of difference across communities and a lament for histories lost to cultural repression. New 16mm print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive. DIR Barbara Hammer. USA

QUEEN OF DIAMONDS – A seminal work by experimental narrative filmmaker Nina Menkes, this film stars her sister and longtime collaborator Tinka Menkes as a blackjack dealer at a desert casino. The resulting film is a hypnotic trance of white bones and blue sky, the occasional oasis, the dark nights punctuated by neon. Restored by the Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation. DIR Nina Menkes. SCR Nina Menkes. CAST Tinka Menkes, Emellda J. Beech. USA

MIDNIGHT

CAM – Lola (Madeline Brewer of THE HANDMAID’S TALE) is a modern-day camgirl who makes her living through online private chats, but her world is about to turn upside down. Written by former camgirl Isa Mazzei, this thriller is one of the most surprising and intelligent films of the year. DIR Daniel Goldhaber. SCR Isa Mazzei, Daniel Goldhaber. CAST Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters, David Druid, Imani Hakim, Michael Dempsey. USA

IN FABRIC – A demonic dress haunts the lives of all that come into contact with it in this sexually explicit, phantasmagoric fever dream. As the garment moves from person to person, it leaves death and destruction in its wake. DIR Peter Strickland. SCR Peter Strickland. CAST Gwendoline Christie, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill. UK

KNIFE+HEART (UN COUTEAU DANS LE COEUR) – A masked madman stalks across the world of a producer and her film company. What results is a psychosexual slasher set in the world of the 1970s gay porn scene in Paris, from visionary and boundary-pushing director Yann Gonzalez. DIR Yann Gonzalez. SCR Yann Gonzalez, Cristiano Mangione. CAST Vanessa Paradis, Nicolas Maury, Kate Moran, Jonathan Genet, Khaled Alouach, Félix Maritaud, Noé Hernandez, Thibault Servière, Bastien Waultier, Bertrand Mandico, Jules Ritmanic. FRANCE

PIERCING – In Nicolas Pesce’s wicked and kinky black comedy PIERCING, Reed (Christopher Abbott) is a seemingly normal guy struggling to channel some dark urges involving an ice pick. But when he orders a call girl (Mia Wasikowska) with the secret intention of taking his violence out on her, things go disturbingly off-script. DIR Nicolas Pesce. SCR Nicolas Pesce, Ryû Murakami (novel). CAST Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Bond, Laia Costa, Maria Dizzia, Marin Ireland, Dakota Lustick, Wendell Pierce. USA

Pictured at top: THE JUNIPER TREE

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Al Festival del muto «La Czarina»: rivive la regina erotica di Lubitsch

Paolo Mereghetti

10/11/2018 12:00:00 AM

Il film in gran parte distrutto dopo il 1924, ora è stato ricostruito quasi integralmente

Un Lubitsch mai visto è uno dei tanti regali di questa trentasettesima edizione delle Giornate del cinema muto di Pordenone. Forbidden Paradise(1924), che in Italia uscì col titolo La Czarina, era uno di quei film di cui si parlava per allusioni o interposta persona: si conosceva la trama — le avventure erotiche della regina di un immaginario stato europeo — ma ci si doveva accontentare di vedere solo quello che era rimasto, più o meno due terzi dell’originale. Fino a quando il Museum of Modern Art con il sostegno della fondazione di George Lucas e della Film Foundation ha recuperato due copie (incomplete) che, messe a confronto con alcuni negativi (lacunosi anche loro), hanno permesso di ritrovare la quasi integralità del film, che sarà presentato in prima mondiale venerdì 12 Pordenone alla presenza della figlia del regista, Nicola Lubitsch.

Mescolando abilmente passato e presente (l’ambientazione sembra quella tipica del Settecento più favolistico ma all’improvviso entra in campo un’automobile), kitsch e satira politica (i rivoluzionari non sai se sono più comici o minacciosi), il film ribalta lo schema del maschio conquistatore attribuendone tutte le caratteristiche a una donna che non si preoccupa nemmeno delle apparenze e per conquistare l’ufficiale su cui ha messo gli occhi «esilia» la fidanzata senza un attimo di compassione. Salvo naturalmente redimersi nel finale (anche perché ha messo gli occhi su un’altra preda).

È proprio vero: Lubitsch non delude mai, in questo caso anche per merito di una serie di scoppiettanti gag che ora si possono finalmente gustare nella loro forma originale, dal taglio di capelli «alla maschietta» della sovrana che fa piangere le tradizionalissime dame di corte al mal di schiena del ciambellano (Adolphe Menjou) costretto a spiare sempre dal buco della serratura e preoccupato per le finanze dello stato (mette mano al portafoglio per tacitare chi vuol fare la rivoluzione: «Alla prossima — si legge in una didascalia — il regno va in bancarotta») fino alle innumerevoli porte che si aprono e si chiudono per far entrare e uscire gli amanti della regina (lei è l’affascinante Pola Negri, già al centro dei gossip hollywoodiani per la sua tumultuosa e fulminea storia con «Sciarli» Chaplin — così lo chiamava — e poi con Rodolfo Valentino). Non manca nemmeno un pesciolino che «censura» il bacio riflesso nell’acqua del giovane capitano e della sua fidanzata (e che farà ricordare ai cinefili italiani il «pesce democristiano» che, trent’anni dopo, impedirà a Totò di ammirare le grazie nude di Isa Barzizza in Fifa e arena: una citazione?).

E a proposito di «anticipazioni», quest’anno Pordenone ha messo in programma anche una serie di mini-spot pubblicitari, rigorosamente muti, che venivano proiettati al cinema negli intervalli. La corsa al consumismo esisteva anche all’inizio del Novecento; non deve stupire che sfruttasse il neonato cinema per invitare all’acquisto: curioso invece che per lo stesso prodotto, un sapone per sgrassare, si sottolineasse l’uso «di genere», quello per gli uomini (alla fine del lavoro in fabbrica) e quello per le donne (per i lavori domestici), dividendo lo schermo in due. Dimostrando che già cent’anni fa la pubblicità anticipava il cinema nello sperimentare linguaggi nuovi se non avanguardistici.

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