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NOTES ON FILM & RESTORATION

1/6/2022 3:00:00 PM

As anyone reading this knows, movie theatres of all types, from multiplexes to single screen arthouses or repertory screens, are in a tough spot. And that means that we all need to put on a mask and go see a movie. Now. Or make a contribution. Or buy a gift card. Or something… Anything…

In New York, you can see a selection of King Hu films, a Kurt Russell tribute and a six-title package of newly restored films by the great Miklós Jancsó at the Metrograph. The American Cinemathèque in Santa Monica is showing Out of the Blue by Dennis Hopper and 2001. The Brattle in Cambridge is showing Mohammad Reza Aslani’s Chess of the Wind (restored by the Cineteca di Bologna with the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project), Chameleon Street by Wendell B. Harris and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure. Licorice Pizza and The Tragedy of Macbeth and Nightmare Alley are showing at independent houses all across the country, alongside The Fifth Element (at The Music Box in Chicago), PTA and Stephen Sondheim retrospectives (at the AFI Silver Theater in D.C.), and Drive My Car, The Souvenir Part II and Throne of Blood (at the Belcourt in Nashville). If you live in those cities, please go. Go safely, eat and drink before and after, but go.

Thank you. And Happy New Year.

- Kent Jones

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CHESS OF THE WIND (Iran, 1976, d. Mohammad Reza Aslani)
Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and Cineteca di Bologna at L’Image Retrouvée laboratory (Paris) in collaboration with Mohammad Reza Aslani and Gita Aslani Shahrestani. Restoration funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation.

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NOTES ON FILM & RESTORATION

12/20/2021 9:00:00 AM

In 1998, the Cineteca di Bologna and their laboratory L’Immagine Ritrovata restored Charles Chaplin’s The Kid, and that was the beginning of a great, essential undertaking called The Chaplin Project, undertaken in partnership with the Paris-based Association Chaplin. The goal is to restore and preserve all of Chaplin’s films and outtakes and to catalogue and digitize all of his papers. Thus far, the Cineteca has restored over 60 of Chaplin’s films. The Film Foundation has participated in four of those restorations—one title from Essanay (A Night in the Show) and three from the Mutual period (The Count, The Pawnshop and The Cure—TFF also collaborated on an earlier photochemical restoration of that film and The Floorwalker with MoMA). The Cineteca has also made vast portions of his archives available online (link below) and published Chaplin-related DVDs (including the great Kevin Brownlow’s amazing 1983 documentary Unknown Chaplin) and books, including his 1948 novella Footlights (precursor of Limelight) and Chaplin scholar and biographer David Robinson’s book about Chaplin’s unmade final film, The Freak.

About ten years ago, there was a screening of The Gold Rush at The New York Film Festival with a great live score (following Chaplin’s original) conducted by the estimable Timothy Brock. I decided to go, figuring I’d have a good time revisiting the film. I found myself absolutely entranced. After the film was over, the writer Larry Gross and I were talking and he put it very simply: “Chaplin is just great, isn’t he?” I just nodded in amazement. I realize now that I’ve had the same experience almost every time I’ve gone back to a Chaplin film. You think you know them, that nothing could be more familiar. You think you know the gags, the cuts, even the moves. And then, suddenly, something jolts you, the tiniest detail, and it’s like you’re seeing the film for the first time again. Stanley Kubrick said it perfectly: “If something is really happening on the screen, it isn’t crucial how it’s shot. Chaplin had such a simple cinematic style that it was almost like I Love Lucy, but you were always hypnotized by what was going on, unaware of the essentially non-cinematic style. He frequently used cheap sets, routine lighting and so forth, but he made great films. His films will probably last longer than anyone else’s.”

- Kent Jones

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http://www.charliechaplinarchive.org/en
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KI6qtN8Huv0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GS4wFVdPEo

 

THE COUNT (1916, d. Charlie Chaplin)
Restored by Cineteca di Bologna at L'Immagine Ritrovata, in collaboration with Lobster Films and Film Preservation Associates.  Restoration funding provided by The Film Foundation, the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation and the Material World Charitable Foundation.

THE CURE (1917, d. Charlie Chaplin)
Photochemical restoration:  Preserved by The Museum of Modern Art with funding provided by The Film Foundation. 
Digital restoration: Restored Cineteca di Bologna at L'Immagine Ritrovata, in collaboration with Lobster Films and Film Preservation Associates.  Restoration funding provided by The Film Foundation, the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation and the Material World Foundation.

THE FLOORWALKER (1916, d. Charlie Chaplin)
Preserved by The Museum of Modern Art with funding provided by The Film Foundation. 

A NIGHT IN THE SHOW (1915, d. Charlie Chaplin)
Restored by Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, in collaboration with Lobster Films and Film Preservation Associates. Restoration funded by The Film Foundation, the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation and the Material World Charitable Foundation.

THE PAWNSHOP (1916, d. Charlie Chaplin)
Restored Cineteca di Bologna at L'Immagine Ritrovata, in collaboration with Lobster Films and Film Preservation Associates.  Restoration funding provided by The Film Foundation, the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation and the Material World Charitable Foundation.

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NOTES ON FILM & RESTORATION

12/8/2021 2:35:00 PM

From time to time, it has been fashionable to downgrade, dismiss, attack and even outright condemn John Ford. His films are too slow and lace-curtain Irish. He trades in myth and glorifies the military. He’s a racist. He’s a fascist. And so on. You don’t really hear sweeping judgments of Ford anymore for the simple reason that fewer and fewer people know who he was or have seen his films. Many years ago, I remember indulging in such rhetoric myself for a brief moment, my love for several of Ford’s films aside. It was my old friend, the leftwing filmmaker John Gianvito, who gently re-oriented my thinking.

The rhetoric about John Ford is several worlds away from the work itself. But it is best to put it simply: if you’re drawn to the art of cinema, then you will either come to or return to John Ford’s work. Ford is as fundamental as Hitchcock or Rossellini. His greatest films—there are many of them—have a concentrated energy that makes almost everything around them seem laborious in comparison. They certainly do reflect an earlier moment in American history, albeit with far greater complexity and circumspection than is often acknowledged.

The Film Foundation has participated in the restorations of 12 Ford films, in collaboration with MoMA, UCLA and the Academy Film Archive. The Long Voyage Home is one of the most recent. Like several of Ford’s films, it was made independently, with the producer Walter Wanger (Ford and Merian C. Cooper set up a new company for the project, Argosy). It is based on four of Eugene O’Neill’s pre-WWI sea plays—The Moon of the Caribees, Bound East for Cardiff, The Zone and The Long Voyage Home—updated by Ford and his screenwriter Dudley Nichols to reflect contemporary conditions for merchant seamen, right before WWII. Ford and his DP Gregg Toland took light, shadow and the play of visual textures to an almost hair-raising level. Joseph McBride beautifully describes Ford’s cinematic poem of deep, sustained longing in his essential biography: “An almost abstract exercise in the creation of a doom-laden mood with deep pools of light and shadow, filmed largely on cramped studio sets, this adaptation of four sea-plays by Eugene O’Neill is one of the most avant garde films ever made in Hollywood.” O’Neill himself loved the film, and he reportedly had a 16mm print made for himself, which he showed often to friends and guests.

If anyone reading this is just starting to get interested in the cinema, I will come out and say that no matter how odd they might seem at first glance, no matter how distant from contemporary image-making, you owe it to yourself to watch the work of John Ford, just as Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman and Jean-Marie Straub & Danielle Huillet and Martin Scorsese and so many others did before you. You might be tempted to dismiss him out of hand, but you’ll be doing it at your own peril. To paraphrase Peter Brook on Shakespeare, John Ford is always ahead of us.

- Kent Jones

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THE LONG VOYAGE HOME (1940, d. John Ford)
Restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Restoration funding provided by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and The Film Foundation.

 

https://www.thenedscottarchive.com/hollywood/films/the-long-voyage-home.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2P2fY75Qlxs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJAMf21uNH4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfUw4SN1Nig

 

 

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NOTES ON FILM & RESTORATION

11/29/2021 3:30:00 PM

He Walked by Night is commonly cited as a “noir” classic, but when it was released in 1948 it was one of the more highly regarded examples of the semi-documentary (or “docudrama”) subgenre that had its first glimmers at the end of the 30s (in Warner Brothers films like Confessions of a Nazi Spy) and flourished in the postwar years—Henry Hathaway’s House on 92nd Street was something of a starting point. He Walked by Night was based on the notorious case of Erwin Walker, who worked as a radio operator and a dispatcher for the Glendale police before he was drafted and placed in the Signal Corps. He was stationed in the Philippines, and a horrifying incident resulting in the slaughter of many men in his command by Japanese paratroopers left him shattered. When he returned to LA, he started with burglary, stealing tools, weapons, radio equipment, film projectors, recording equipment and cameras, as well as pistols, revolvers and a Thompson sub-machine gun. He fitted out a rented garage as a private studio where he planned to build a radar gun that would melt metal and give him leverage with the government to increase the pay rate for conscripted soldiers and thus render all wars too ruinously expensive to undertake. When he tried to sell some of his stolen equipment to a sound engineer, he got into a gunfight, which left everyone wounded. Walker escaped through a network of storm drains and treated his own wounds. After another attempted holdup, Walker shot and killed a cop, who lived long enough to identify him.

Walker was apprehended and arrested after a violent struggle, but in the movie Richard Basehart’s Roy Morgan is shot and killed in the storm drain tunnels. It’s interesting to consider what was retained from the true story and what was left out—namely, everything related to Walker’s war experience. Dramatically speaking, what was left was an enigma, made quite compelling by the ingeniousness and absolute commitment of Richard Basehart to the role and the film’s severely concentrated visual style. He Walked by Night is credited to Alfred L. Werker, but every cinema lover knows that Anthony Mann took over the film at some indeterminate point. It’s certainly not difficult to detect Mann’s presence, but the overall visual unity comes from the DP, John Alton, beloved by directors like Mann (they made six films together), Vincente Minnelli (who specifically wanted and got Alton for the American in Paris ballet) and Richard Brooks, and despised by old-line studio technicians who resented his speed and his sometimes outrageous lighting plans. The visual power of He Walked by Night is so great that it shone through years of substandard public domain prints and video transfers. It was beautifully restored by TFF and UCLA in 2016, and can now be appreciated in all its splendor.

Two postscripts. 1 - Walker was found mentally competent, tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and then he tried to hang himself. His execution was indefinitely postponed, he became a model prisoner, he escaped and was re-captured, and he was granted parole in 1974, after which he changed his name, worked as a chemist, and died quietly in 1982. 2 – Jack Webb, who played a forensics expert in the film, was inspired by the project (specifically, by his meeting with LAPD officer and technical advisor Marty Wynn) to create Dragnet.

- Kent Jones

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HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948, dirs. Alfred Werker and Anthony Mann)
Restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. 

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