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Marcel Ophuls’s ‘Memory of Justice, ’ No Longer Just a Memory

Mike Hale

4/21/2017 12:00:00 AM

Marcel Ophuls says that “The Memory of Justice” is his best movie. This catches your attention, given that another movie he directed, “The Sorrow and the Pity,” might be the best documentary ever made.

“I think it’s the most personal and sincere work I’ve ever done,” he said recently about “The Memory of Justice,” a four­and­a­half­hour examination of war crimes and guilt from 1976 that focused on the Nuremberg trials and the Vietnam War. “And it disappeared.”

The film’s history is a drama in itself, part thriller, part tragedy. It involves an American Army base, the late­night pilfering of film canisters, a screening that left Mike Nichols in tears and a fatal review. The long final act ends in redemption at the hands of Martin Scorsese (among others) and includes the film’s long­delayed television premiere, on HBO2 on Monday, April 24.

This is the story according to the 89-­year- old Mr. Ophuls, anyway, and he tells it — by phone recently from his home in Southern France — very convincingly, with frequent bouts of wheezing laughter.

The son of Max Ophuls, the great German director of romantic melodramas (“La Ronde”), Mr. Ophuls tried fiction filmmaking with mixed results and moved into nonfiction to find work. “It all has to do with groceries,” he said. “Not so much with cinema.”

The need to put groceries on the table eventually resulted in “The Sorrow and the Pity,” the hugely influential 1971 film about collaboration in Vichy France. A few years later Mr. Ophuls learned that 50 hours of raw footage of the Nuremberg trials, shot by the United States Army Signal Corps, were stored at a Maryland base. He gained access and started viewing the reels, which had to be hand-­rolled. Every so often he broke the film, irritating his Army minders.

The documentary he made using that footage was wide­-ranging and open-ended, not just a history of the trials, though it incorporated that. Tackling the questions of national and individual culpability and guilt, Mr. Ophuls interviewed American conscientious objectors and whistle­blowers (like Daniel Ellsberg), French veterans of Algeria and many Germans, from surviving Nuremberg defendants like Albert Speer to college students born after the war. He also put himself in the movie. With his family, and again with his film students at Princeton, he discussed the documentary’s themes and posed questions to his wife, the daughter of a German veteran.

Not all of the producers, a mix of British and German backers, were happy with the results. There were complaints about the film’s length and some brief nudity, Mr. Ophuls said, and requests that more focus be put on Russian actions during World War II and American actions in Vietnam. With the editing nearly complete, an acrimonious meeting at the Ritz bar in London resulted — depending on whose account you believe — in Mr. Ophuls either being fired (his version) or walking away.

Barred from his own project, he retreated to Princeton. But then the plot turned. Two women who had worked on the film with him hid in the restroom of the London editing suite and sneaked away with a black­and­white work print of his original edit.

It made its way to New York, where supporters — including Hamilton Fish, the future publisher and social activist, then a recent Harvard graduate — screened it for other filmmakers and critics, including Frank Rich and David Denby. Mr. Denby wrote an article about the situation in 1975 for The New York Times. Mr. Nichols sat motionless for eight hours (with reel changes) and then said to Mr. Fish, ‘So what can I do?’”

With endorsements like that, and the financial backing of Paramount, Mr. Fish was able to negotiate Mr. Ophuls’s return and to see that the film was completed the way its director wished. “An injury had been done to something of great cultural and historical significance,” Mr. Fish said in a recent interview. But it had been healed.

“The Memory of Justice” played at the 1976 Cannes and New York film festivals and received good reviews, including raves from Mr. Rich in The New York Post and Vincent Canby in The Times. But Pauline Kael, a champion of “The Sorrow and the Pity” and the most influential film critic of the time, panned the documentary in The New Yorker. “Striving for complexity,” she wrote, “Ophuls extended his inquiry in so many directions he lost his subject.”

“Who else could get the people to see a five-­hour documentary?” Mr. Ophuls said. “It folded after six or seven weeks and hasn’t been heard since.”

Mr. Fish, as a producer, saw things differently — he said that for a film of its type, in the days before specialty distributors had taken off, the commercial release was successful, and he discounted the influence of Kael’s review. But he agreed that “The Memory of Justice” faded out of sight after 1976. “It just was too difficult to keep in play,” he said.

But Mr. Fish never stopped trying. He got grants, including several from Steven Spielberg, to finance efforts over the years to reintroduce the film. Finally he connected with The Film Foundation, the preservation organization whose founders include Mr. Scorsese. It spearheaded a 10-­year restoration process that has brought “The Memory of Justice” back from the dead once more.

“Tragically enough, both of the epic 20th-­century subjects tackled definitively by Ophuls, Vichy and Nuremberg, remain as pertinent, if not more pertinent, than ever,” said Mr. Rich, a former New York Times columnist who is now a creative consultant at HBO. “The restoration could not be more aptly timed, and I imagine it will come as a revelation to viewers not yet born during its first meager release.”

If enough people see “The Memory of Justice” this time, it might mean that Mr. Ophuls will no longer be known in America largely through Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall,” in which Alvy and Annie stand in line to see “The Sorrow and the Pity.” But if not, Mr. Ophuls won’t be too concerned.

“Oh, I love it,” he said of his indirect contribution to “Annie Hall.” “I think it’s terrifically funny. I know it more or less by heart.” And then he recited several lines of dialogue involving “The Sorrow and the Pity,” correct down to the reference to a Bloomingdale’s charge card.

“I got a letter from Woody Allen thanking me and saying that he would treat the film with great respect etc. etc., which I really didn’t ask for,” Mr. Ophuls recalled. “Who cares if the film is treated with respect? Why should it be?”

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Martin Scorsese Unspools Rare Nitrate Prints at TCM Festival

Carolyn Giardina

4/7/2017 10:00:00 AM
The Oscar-winning director also remembered Robert Osborne in his remarks.

Martin Scorsese received a standing ovation as he introduced a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much — one of four extremely rare nitrate prints that will be shown at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre during the TCM Classical Film Festival, which opened on Thursday and runs through Sunday.

“Retrofitting a theater to make it capable and safe to project nitrate is an enormous undertaking,” said the Oscar-winning director, who is also founder and chair of The Film Foundation, of the recently completed retrofit at the Egyptian. “This stock was used in the earliest days of cinema. It’s known for its deep, richer blacker and grey tones. They glow."

“But nitrate film also had a problem in that it decomposes and the bigger problem was that it blew up. It was flammable,” he said. “We are lucky to still have a few nitrate prints that have not decomposed; some are nearly 100 years old because they were stored in temperature-controlled vaults. Only a few theaters can project nitrate, so these films are rarely seen.”

During his remarks, Scorsese also remembered Robert Osborne, who passed away last month. “I don’t think there’s any better way to celebrate him [than with the festival]," Scorsese said. "He was a real lover of film, and seeing the films in the original way they were meant to be seen.”

The print of The Man Who Knew Too Much was struck in 1946 and donated to the George Eastman Museum in 1999.

The festival will additionally screen nitrate prints of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus (the late Powell was married to Scorsese's longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, who has been working with Scorsese to preserve his films); Otto Preminger's Laura; and Ginger Rogers musical Lady in the Dark.

"The nitrate retro-fit of the booth at the Egyptian Theatre is a natural extension of The Film Foundation's mission," said Jennifer Ahn, managing director of the Foundation. "Providing access to these treasures through the exhibition of nitrate prints is a powerful way to engage audiences and underscore the importance of protecting our cinematic heritage."

Partners in the effort also included the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, TCM, the American Cinematheque, Academy Film Archive and George Eastman Museum.

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HBO DOCUMENTARY FILMS TO PRESENT RESTORED VERSION OF MARCEL OPHÜLS’ THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE

3/15/2017 12:00:00 AM

HBO DOCUMENTARY FILMS TO PRESENT RESTORED VERSION OF
MARCEL OPHÜLS’ THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE
APRIL 24, HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY, ON HBO2

In a landmark cinematic and television event, the newly restored version of Oscar®-winner Marcel Ophüls’ 1976 documentary THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE will be presented MONDAY, APRIL 24 (5:00-9:45 p.m. ET/PT), Holocaust Remembrance Day, on HBO2. Following the film’s restoration by the Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation, the rarely seen epic was presented at the Berlin, Toronto and New York film festivals in 2015. This HBO2 presentation marks the world television premiere of the restored version.

The documentary will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.

THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE explores the relationship between individual and collective responsibility, as Ophüls investigates then-recent alleged war crimes committed by France in Algeria and by the U.S. in Vietnam in light of atrocities committed by the Nazis. The director was inspired by the 1970 book “Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy,” by Telford Taylor, a counsel for the prosecution at the Nuremberg trials, who became a harsh critic of America’s escalating involvement in Vietnam.

Filmed 30 years after the end of World War II and the Nuremberg trials, the film draws on the unique perspectives of those who lived through the conflict and those who came of age afterward. THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE features rare archival footage and interviews with both victims and architects of atrocities, raising essential questions about the moral choices made by individuals and governments in the latter half of the 20th century that are equally relevant today.

“It seems to me that THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE, which flopped pretty badly when it first came out, is the best work I ever did in my life, or at any rate the most personal and the most sincere of my films,” says Marcel Ophüls. “Now, thanks to Martin Scorsese and The Film Foundation, and with the help of my favorite studio, my favorite child has been put back into circulation as an adult. Needless to say, I’m immensely grateful!”

“THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE is a monumental documentary achievement; an essential work of historic and intellectual importance,” notes Martin Scorsese, founder and chair of The Film Foundation. “The film was unavailable for decades and, strongly encouraged by my friend Jay Cocks, the Academy and The Film Foundation undertook the nearly ten-year process of restoration. We were incredibly fortunate to have support for this project from Olivia Harrison’s Material World Charitable Foundation and Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation.”

After years of research, The Film Foundation and the Academy Film Archive discovered an original, unlabeled, 16mm camera negative of THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE in a studio vault, and worked closely with Ophüls and producer Hamilton Fish on its restoration. Newly discovered original recordings of Ophüls’ interviews with French and German speaking interview subjects were restored and substituted for the existing English-language voiceover tracks. New subtitles in English, French and German were created for the restoration so that the participants’ own voices can now be heard, along with Ophüls’ questions.

The original film screened at the 1976 Cannes and New York Film Festivals, and was hailed by Vincent Canby as “a standard against which all other non-fiction cinema must be measured.”

THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE was written and directed by Marcel Ophüls; produced by Hamilton Fish, Ana Carrigan and Max Palevsky. Michael J. Davis served as director of photography, with editing by Inge Behrens and Marion Kraft, and sound by Paul Carr and Anthony Jackson. The film was restored by the Academy Film Archive in association with The Film Foundation and Paramount Pictures, with restoration funding provided by The Material World Charitable Foundation, Righteous Persons Foundation and The Film Foundation.

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Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation Unveils African Film Heritage Project

Dave McNary

3/2/2017 12:25:00 PM

Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation has unveiled the African Film Heritage Project to locate, restore, and preserve African films in a partnership with the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers and UNESCO.

Scorsese announced the initiative Thursday, noting that it follows the foundation’s World Cinema project.

“There are so many films in need of restoration from all over the world,” he said. “We created the World Cinema Project to ensure that the most vulnerable titles don’t disappear forever. Over the past 10 years the WCP has helped to restore films from Egypt, India, Cuba, the Philippines, Brazil, Armenia, Turkey, Senegal, and many other countries.

“Along the way, we’ve come to understand the urgent need to locate and preserve African films title by title in order to ensure that new generations of filmgoers — African filmgoers in particular — can actually see these works and appreciate them. FEPACI is dedicated to the cause of African Cinema, UNESCO has led the way in the protection and preservation of culture, and I’m pleased to be working in partnership with both organizations on this important and very special initiative.”

Cheick Oumar Sissoko, FEPACI secretary general, said that the effort is necessary.

“Africa needs her own images, her own gaze testifying on her behalf, without the distorting prism of others, of the foreign gaze saddled by prejudice and schemes,” Sissoko said. “We must bear witness to this cradle of humanity which has developed a rich and immense human, historical, cultural and spiritual patrimony.”

Irina Bokova, UNESCO director-general, said the effort would promote cultural diversity, facilitate access to African classics, and foster African creativity.

The project will support the restoration of an initial selection of 50 films as identified by FEPACI’s advisory board, made up of archivists, scholars, and filmmakers who are active in Africa. It will also conduct a survey to locate the best existing film elements for each title in African cinémathèques and film archives.

Further details will be disclosed at a press conference during the 2017 Pan African Film Festival of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.

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