Where Classic Films Go for a Cleanup

Ilaria Maria Sala

7/23/2015 12:00:00 AM

L’Immagine Ritrovata, the pioneering Italian film-restoration laboratory, opens a Hong Kong branch

If the Bruce Lee classic “The Way of the Dragon” or director Lino Brocka’s Philippine landmark “Maynila in the Claws of Light” look better than they once did, it’s thanks to the work of L’Immagine Ritrovata, the pioneering film-restoration laboratory attached to Italy’s Cineteca di Bologna. Last year the lab restored Chinese director Xie Jin’s “Stage Sisters,” 50 years after its 1964 release, at the request of the Shanghai International Film Festival.

“Some Asian countries are realizing now that film heritage cannot be taken for granted,” said lab director Davide Pozzi. “Old movies are highly perishable, especially if they are not kept at optimal temperature and humidity conditions. Once you lose it, it is gone forever.”

So it’s fitting that the laboratory, whose name means “the recovered image,” has chosen Hong Kong as the site of its first international branch. It also makes business sense. About 30% of the lab’s customers come from Asia, Mr. Pozzi said, and for those not just in Hong Kong or China, but also in the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Taiwan, sending old movie films to Hong Kong rather than Italy will mean substantially lower shipping and insurance costs.

Cineteca means “film library,” and the Cineteca di Bologna, which was founded in 1962 and which established L’Immagine Ritrovata in 1992, defines its mission broadly, encompassing promotion, training and research, as well as the specialties of the lab, conservation and restoration. L’Immagine Ritrovata’s experience and expertise set it apart; according to Mr. Pozzi, it is the only laboratory in the world that exclusively does film restoration. But the animating spirit that truly differentiates this enterprise from a purely commercial laboratory is a passion for movies, old and new.

“Every other year we host a three-week intensive film-restoration course in Bologna, which attracts students from all over the world,” Mr. Pozzi said. In years when there is no course in Bologna, the lab offers a one-week intensive workshop at different locations around the world, in conjunction with The Film Foundation, founded by Martin Scorsese.

“We had one in Mumbai this year and in Singapore in 2013, and we would like to hold one in Hong Kong, too, in the future,” said Mr. Pozzi.

The restoration process has three main segments. In the first, which will now be done by the Hong Kong laboratory, located in Kwun Tong, the film is put through a “washing machine” that gives it its first cleanse, after which both the audio and the visual components are digitized.

“Then, once everything has been stored into files, we can start the digital restoration, which can take a long time,” Mr. Pozzi said. “We finished work on Luchino Visconti’s ‘Rocco and His Brothers’ this year, for example, after 24,000 hours of restoration work.”

Finally comes the third stage—color correction, finalizing and support preparation. In the end, a once-fragile film emerges as a resilient, and easily reproduced, digital file.

“It is a good time to be doing something like this,” Mr. Pozzi said about expanding the lab’s digital-restoration capabilities. “On one hand, the technology has stabilized somewhat, which means you can invest in good machinery without the need to upgrade every year. And the momentum for preserving one’s country’s cinematic heritage has really been building up in Asia, too.”


57 Films To Be Saved Through the NFPF’s 2015 Preservation Grants

National Film Preservation Foundation

6/4/2015 12:00:00 AM

From an animated plea for peace by director Frank Tashlin to early color home movies of President Herbert Hoover and his family, the NFPF is excited to announce the most recent crop of films slated for preservation through its federally funded grant program. All together 57 films will be preserved by 32 institutions across 21 states.

Among the award winners is Jessie Maple’s 1989 independent feature Twice as Nice, which will be preserved by the Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University. Maple took up filmmaking in the early 1970s, honing her craft at training schools and as an apprentice editor on two films by Gordon Parks. In 1975 she became the first African American woman member of the IATSE. With her husband LeRoy Patton, she founded LJ Film Productions where they produced socially engaged documentaries. Her first narrative film Will, made in 1981, was preserved by the Black Film Center/Archive in 2008.

“Jessie Maple’s second fiction feature film, Twice as Nice, was the creation of many strong, talented women. It tells the tale of basketball playing twin sisters in the days before the WNBA and uses real-life locations and nonprofessional actors to realize the screenplay by Saundra Pearl Sharp, the poet and actress who co-founded the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition,” said Brian Graney, Archivist and Head of Public Technology Services who will supervise the project. “We can’t wait to share it with new audiences.”

Named to the National Film Registry in 2014, The Way of Peace (1947) is also set to be preserved by UCLA Film & Television Archive. Directing the film was long-time Warner Brothers animator Frank Tashlin, before he made the leap to live action feature filmmaking and his notable work with Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis and many others. Reverend H.K. Rasbach served as the technical supervisor—he went on to advise Cecil B. DeMille on The Ten Commandments (1956) and George Stevens on The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Special effects pioneer Wah Ming Chang, who later influenced generations of science fiction films and television through his designs on Star Trek, created the puppets for the film.

Also heading to film laboratories where new negatives, film prints, and digital access copies will be created are Ambassadors in Levis (ca. 1970), about the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus; Czechoslovakia: Portrait of a Tragedy (1968), an American documentary shot during the Prague Spring and featuring an interview with Vaclav Havel; corporate films of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, for many years the only African-American owned corporation in California; the first student works by experimental animator Frank Mouris, whose Frank Film won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film in 1974; The Trisha Brown Dance Company’s performance of Roof Piece, filmed by Babette Mangolte in 1973; a group of films made by Jud Yalkut, the late pioneer of fusing film and video technology; and home movies of the 1944 Republican National Convention, Winston Churchill in Cuba, and the Santa Fe Fiesta. For a full list, click here.

These grants are made available thanks to the Library of Congress. Since its creation by Congress in 1996, the NFPF has provided preservation support to 276 institutions and saved more than 2,223 films through grants and collaborative projects.


Österreichpremiere von "The Memory of Justice"

Robert Newald, der Standard

6/2/2015 12:00:00 AM

Am Montag fand im Stadtkino, in Anwesenheit des Regisseurs Marcel Ophüls, die Österreichpremiere des Films "The Memory of Justice" aus dem Jahr 1976 statt. Der Film ist bis 4. Juni, bei freiem Eintritt, im Rahmen der Wiener Festwochen, zu sehen.

View images here


classics return to the screen at celluloid celebration

Steve Dollar, The Wall Street Journal

5/27/2015 12:00:00 AM

If digital technology has made old-fashioned 35mm movie exhibition obsolete, it is news to Jed Rapfogel. The film programmer at Anthology Film Archives in the East Village suggests that celluloid’s apparent sunset could also be a golden age—at least for New York audiences.

“Paradoxically, as digital is taking over and film is fading away, we’re getting these very beautiful prints from the studios and archives,” said Mr. Rapfogel. “You’re more aware of the beauty as you realize these prints have become rarer.”

Anthology shows why those films are worth saving, and savoring, in a continuing series it launches this weekend called “This Is Celluloid,” a showcase not only for 35mm—a format the venue screens regularly—but for some of the best-looking prints available. Those include classics, such as John Ford’s 1949 Technicolor Western “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” but also films that are rarely shown in any format, like Francis Ford Coppola’s monochrome reverie “Rumble Fish” and the forgotten English glam-rock musical “Never Too Young to Rock.”

“It’s just fun to have a context in which to show something like that,” said Mr. Rapfogel, who also booked such cinematic indulgences as John Boorman’s 1981 Arthurian epic “Excalibur.” “It flirts with ridiculousness,” he said. “but I find it sublime in the end.”

Several other New York film institutions regularly show 35mm prints, including the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Film Forum, BAMcinematek, Museum of the Moving Image and the Museum of Modern Art, which celebrates the centennial of Technicolor with a two-month series starting June 5. Even in suburban Yonkers, the Alamo Drafthouse multiplex offers 35mm shows of cult and classic films alongside summer blockbusters—a standard feature in many of the Texas-based chain’s theaters.

Preserving and showcasing physical film prints is a core mission for Anthology, which holds one of the world’s most extensive collections of avant-garde films on not just 35mm, but on 16mm, and Super-8mm film as well.

Their increasing rarity stems from the perishable nature of film stock and a lack of regard for preservation in the earlier decades of the form, Mr. Rapfogel said. Some half of all films made before 1950 have been lost, according to the Film Foundation, the nonprofit organization founded by Martin Scorcese to preserve and restore film. Enemies include extreme temperatures, humidity and improper storage; until 1952, film stock was nitrate-based, which made it a fire hazard, said Margaret Bodde, the foundation’s executive director.

“We’re losing that moment where everyone wanted everything to look perfect,” said Ms. Bodde. “Now there is a reappreciation. Even if a film print has flaws, it has this quality that’s hard to replicate in digital.”

Digital lacks the organic quality—the pulse—of film, Mr. Rapfogel said. “When you watch a film print, you are seeing a physical object with a certain amount of character and texture being transmuted into something on-screen.”

Some major contemporary filmmakers agree. Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino all shoot on film. Mr. Scorsese has returned to it for his new feature “Silence.” J.J. Abrams is using film for the next phase of the “Star Wars” franchise. “There’s a sense of ‘let’s try to keep that as a choice,’ ” Ms. Bodde said.

“You get lulled into this reverie when you’re watching film that you never do with anything on digital, no matter how good it looks,” said David Spencer, senior curator at the film school of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he oversees a print archive of 15,000 films.

The archive, which has ramped up its loan program in recent years, is lending Anthology its Technicolor prints of “Never Too Young to Rock” and the Fleischer brothers’ 1941 animated feature “Hoppity Goes to Town.” In the latter film, “there’s a jazz jitterbug sequence where the characters are dancing around after being electrocuted that is just phenomenal,” said Mr. Spencer. “The mid-1940s were ahead of their time.”

Gina Telaroli, a New York-based filmmaker, used to liken classic 35mm films to paintings. “Now I think the analogy of going to see a 35mm print is like going to see someone in concert,” she said. “If you love the Rolling Stones, they’re going to die soon, so you better go see them.”

That might seem dire, but Ms. Telaroli framed her thoughts as a cinephile mission statement: “We need to have a living culture of people that know what these films look like,” she said.

The Wall Street Journal

John Wayne, Joanne Dru and John Agar in ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,’ part of the ‘This Is Celluloid’ series at Anthology Film Archives in the East Village. Photo: EVERETT COLLECTION 



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