Film restorationists don’t feel like rockstars. But with this crowd…”
Mike Pogorzelski, director of the Academy Film Archive, chuckles as another round of cheers breaks out from the audience. Pogorzelski is introducing a 35mm print of The Lion in Winter that he restored from camera negative, and so far the audience has cheered for the words “35mm,” “restoration,” “Academy,” and “Peter O’Toole.” Typically, only one of those gets applause, but then TCM Film Festival isn’t your typical Hollywood film festival.
Every single film that plays at the TCM Film Festival is old. The newest film is Mr Holland's Opus, which celebrates is nineteen years old. This means that every single film, from the 35mm print of Stagecoach to the world premiere DCP of OKLAHOMA! (previously discussed), has arrived through the efforts of archivists and restorationists who preserve and revive these classics. Film restoration is usually an unsung part of the film industry, but the TCM Film Festival, with its concentration on celebrating old classics and announcing new restorations, might be the best publicity film restoration gets.
Saturday, a world premiere digital restoration of A Hard Day’s Night screened at the TCL Chinese Theater. Richard Lester’s 1964 classic was originally shot in 35mm with a mono soundtrack, which isn’t well suited to a gigantic IMAX theater like the Chinese. However, the film has been remastered to crystal-clear 4K definition and--important for a rock n’ roll film--upmixed to 5.1 surround sound, bringing the Beatles 50 years through history. Those purists who would balk at the idea of changing a classic need not fear though, this digital restoration is (great) publicity for the Criterion’s Blu-Ray release of the film later this year, which will also have the original mono option available. A Hard Day's Night isn't the only world premiere with an accompanying DVD release: Blazing Saddles, OKLAHOMA!, and others will also soon be available. In fact, with so many DVD release advertisements being made at the festival, it can feel like the commercials TCM doesn't play on its station are happening here instead.
DVD release announcements are not the only purpose of the TCM Film Festival, however. Thelma Schoonmaker was there to discuss not only her multi-Oscar-winning career, but also the career of her late husband, Michael Powell at a screening of his Technicolor masterpiece A Matter Of Life And Death. I got the brief opportunity to meet her, and I promise to write about it as soon as I stop shaking.
In addition, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rolled out some of the hidden gems in its archive. One of its many growing collections is Hollywood Home Movies. Randy Haverkamp (Academy Programming Director) & Lynne Kirste (Special Collections Curator at the Academy Film Archive) talked a rapt audience through several scenes, including backstage footage from OKLAHOMA! and Gone With the Wind, and some scenes of Alfred Hitchcock goofing off with his daughter in 16mm. These are the glamorous home movies, but Haverkamp and Kirste were quick to encourage any possible collectors in the audience to see the value of even the bits of 16mm and 8mm that don’t have famous directors in them.Their presentation underlined the unspoken theme of the festival: film is our visual and cultural history, and before it disappears we need to save and spread as much as possible, or risk forgetting ourselves. Thanks to the TCM Film Festival for making that job seem a little more glamorous.