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2017 Widescreen Weekend  Introductions

The 70mm Newsletter
Feature film text by: -. Date: 22.10.2017

"La La Land" by Wolfram Hannemann

The movie we are going to see did make Oscar history by not getting the award for „Best Picture of the Year“ – or should I say by holding the award for „Best Picture of the Year“ for just something like two minutes? That was due to presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway been handed out the wrong envelope at the 2017 Academy Awards, as you might remember. At least it got away with six Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Actress (Emma Stone), Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Original Song ("City of Stars"),

Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz came up with the idea of the film during their senior year at Harvard University in 2010 with Hurwitz writing the musical tracks and Chazelle on dialogue. Initially they found two financial backers and a producer for a budget of $1 million. However, the demand for a lot of script changes made them to drop the project off. After WHIPLASH found critical success, the project was resurrected with the studio increasing the budget to $30 million.

Both romantic comedy-drama and homage to the golden age of the Hollywood musical, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s "LA LA LAND" is rooted in the present, yet imbued with a timeless quality. So timeless in fact that one of my colleagues came up to me after the press screening and said that he liked the idea of the film being set in the 1950s and yet they are using mobiles!

Chazelle, 30 at the time of filming, proved to be one of the industry’s most exciting young talents with 2014’s Academy Award-winning WHIPLASH. For "LA LA LAND" he teamed with Swedish director of photography Linus Sandgren, appreciating the latter’s work with director David O. Russell on AMERICAN HUSTLE and JOY. And they hit it off in their initial meeting. Sandgren instantly felt for Chazelle’s sincere love for classic cinema filmmaking. And Chazelle was fond about Landgren being in love with analog filmmaking, celluloid, Technicolor and old lenses.

The director screened musicals for the crew to get them into the intended spirit. He cites influences from 1930s-1960s Hollywood, noting, “That tradition of musicals composed directly for the screen - where there’s interplay among music, image, story, character and dance - was magical. "LA LA LAND" started with this idea of taking that style of storytelling and applying it to a modern setting.” Especially inspiring were French director Jacques Demy’s 1960s-era THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT. “Even though they’re completely heightened, magical movies,” Chazelle says, “they are resolutely stories about ordinary people, shot where they are set, and have this quality of real life that seeps through the artificiality of the genre.”

Forty-two days of principal photography began in August of 2015 in and around L.A. While they both now call the city home, East Coast native Chazelle and Stockholm-born Sandgren bring an outsider’s point of view and found a shared aesthetic in terms of how they wanted to portray the iconic town. The filmmakers made a concerted effort to shoot just before or after sunset for many exterior shots, such as when Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling), high on new love, walks alone on a pier; when the couple strolls together across a bridge; and when, toward the beginning of the film, they dance in the hills overlooking the city.

Though the movie’s retro feeling certainly served as motivation for capturing on film stock, analog is Sandgren’s general preference for his projects. “Film has so many expressive forms,” he says. “When you choose from Super 8mm, 16mm, 35mm and 65mm, you have more variety of looks than by shooting digital and trying to tweak later in post. We all know how little time we have in post, and adding looks at that point is always scary to me. It’s great to capture in camera if you can, and more economical. When we watched the dailies we fell in love with the colors we got and that’s the general look we kept.”

Both filmmakers had determined that the film would be shot anamorphic. Chazelle, though, was expecting they would frame for 2:39:1, but Sandgren pushed for classic CinemaScope, achieved by shooting 4-perf Super 35mm at 2.66:1 and then cropping slightly for 2.55:1. They used the full height of a Super 35 frame, while Panavision equipped its Panaflex Millennium XL2 cameras with ground glass for CinemaScope composition, using Panavision C Series Anamorphic Prime lenses. Chazelle and Sandgen both love the wide 1950s format, which according to Sandgren, gives the audience more. The film was budgeted for 3-perf, but CinemaScope is 4-perf so they accommodated that by rehearsing more and shooting less. „Shooting on film and in CinemaScope“, Sandgren remarks, „captured the greens and blues of our lights and the skies in a way digital wouldn’t have. Film exaggerates those a lot.”
More in 70mm reading:

Widescreen Weekend 2017

70mm Blow Up List 1987 - by in70mm.com

70mm Presentations - Letters from Directors
The Untouchables
The Untouchables (TAP)

Presented in 70mm Dolby Stereo

Widescreen Weekend

Travel to Bradford

Past Widescreen Weekend programs

Creating the Widescreen Weekend

Projecting the Widescreen Weekend

Planning the Widescreen Weekend

Internet link:

The film was scanned by EFilm at 6K with an Arri machine and down-sampled to 4K, with film-out resolution at 2K, making it the first movie shot entirely on film to earn an Academy Award for Best Cinematography since INCEPTION in 2010. However, it was only released digitally.

The dance number „Another Day of Sun“ that opens the film, shot on a closed-off freeway ramp leading to downtown L.A., is a tour de force of staging. Filmed at an extremely hot temperature of 109 degrees F (43 degrees C) in two days, it is composed of three segments seamlessly edited together, the first two shot in the morning and the last one in the afternoon. “We would have shadowed the entire set a few times with our crane, and it would have been terrible work to clean up that type of shadow in the faces of the actors and dancers,” Sandgren explains - so they employed the old-school technique of panning where they needed to cut.

One of two locations that the production reopened for filming was the Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena. It has been closed since 2007 because it was unable to sustain itself as a single movie theatre. And yet we will be eyewitnesses for a real film presentation in there with the added attraction of burning celluloid! Look out for that scene!

Emma Watson turned down the role of Mia due to scheduling conflicts with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, while Ryan Gosling turned down the role of the Beast in that film to appear in LA LA LAND.

It was after having seen Emma Stone as Sally Bowles in the 2014/15 Broadway production of "Cabaret" that Damien Chazelle decided to cast her in his film.

According to composer Justin Hurwitz, all the piano performance featured in the film was first recorded by pianist Randy Kerber during pre-production. Ryan Gosling then spent two hours a day, six days a week in piano lessons learning the music by heart. By the time filming had begun, Gosling was able to play all the piano sequences seen in the film without the use of a hand double or CGI.

Regading the music itself, it is interesting to note that all of Justin Hurwitz’s music already existed BEFORE any lyrics were written.

When Kathryn and Rebecca approached me some months ago to ask whether I would be willing to do an introduction to LA LA LAND during Widescreen Weekend I instantly said YES. Obviousely those ladies knew that it is my favorite movie of 2017 – so far. Of course I asked for their biggest screen. And look what I have got!

It will be the 8th time for me to see LA LA LAND in a cinema, but it will be the first time I’ll see it in IMAX. After seeing it in a press screening with only a 5.1 audio mix I was a little bit disappointed, not with the film, but with its audio. When the film finally opened regularily in Germany I followed it from cinema to cinema to find out which theatre would have the best presentation. I thought that the Dolby Atmos version with an Eclaircolor enhanced picture presented in a THX optimized theatre was by far the best presentation I encountered. It will be very interesting to see what the film will look and sound like in this auditorium. It will be just a digital projection using a pair of 2K digital projectors running an IMAX optimized 4K DCP and will feature an IMAX optimized 5-track audio mix. Although I am now used to the 4K IMAX with Laser projection system which really gives you the color black and which can handle up to 12 channels of audio I must admit that the projection system in here is quite good, both in picture and sound.

As nowadays quite a lot of movies are reformatted for IMAX presentation, this did not happen to LA LA LAND. So we are getting the actual 2.55:1 aspect ratio of the general release version of the film leaving the top and bottom of our screen blank. Nevertheless we are getting a real big picture! And I am pretty sure that the film’s opening logo – an homage to the opening of THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT from 1956 – will be a special treat for widescreeners like us. Enjoy the show!

"The Untouchables" by Rebecca Nicole Williams
30th Anniversary 70mm Screening – Widescreen Weekend 14th September 2017

Thank you, Kathryn and thank you everyone for being here, whether it be for the weekend, the day or just this 30th anniversary 70mm celebration of "The Untouchables". And I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the great honour bestowed upon me to be standing here on this stage at the legendary Pictureville with its world class projection team.

And when a woman rises to pre-eminence she is expected to have enthusiasms . . . .enthusiasms . . . enthusiasms. And what are mine? What draws my admiration? What is that which gives me joy?

Gangster movies.

Gangster movies are as essential to American mythology as the Western. G-Men and Public Enemies were the natural successors to the sheriffs and gunslingers of the frontier. In 1929, President Herbert Hoover ordered a two-pronged attack against the criminal empire of Al Capone, the world’s most famous mobster. The Prohibition team, designed to attract headlines and interrupt cashflow, was led by Eliot Ness, an honest man recommended for the job by his Treasury Agent brother in law. The IRS investigation was led by Frank J Wilson, represented in the film we’re going to see by the character of Oscar Wallace.

Ness’ evidence was never used but Wilson’s investigation led him to become the head of the Secret Service. After Prohibition Ness had a successful career in Cleveland before falling from grace by fleeing from a drunk driving accident. He died aged just 54, broke and leaving a third wife and adopted son. Just months beforehand Ness had sold a 21-page memoir for $200 to a disreputable journalist he met in a bar. That journalist, Oscar Fraley, turned Ness into Chicago’s Wyatt Earp,

With the enforcement of the Hays code in effect screen violence moved to television. Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball’s production company Desilu bought the rights to Fraley’s book and "The Untouchables" ran from 1959 to 1963. Unprecedented complaints were received about the noir sensibility mixed with stock footage and newsreel style narration by Walter Winchell. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s 3-year Sub Committee on Juvenile Delinquency focussed heavily on the show while Italian American unions boycotted sponsors’ cargo. The FCC reprimanded the network over a fictional episode where Capone breaks out of prison and J. Edgar Hoover was outraged by episodes that credit Ness with busts carried out by rival fed Melvin Purvis. Even Desi Arnaz got death threats. We’re not sure about Lucille Ball, though.

David Mamet stated in 2010 that he got the job by default and the Writers Guild of America wanted to give fellow playwright Wendy Wasserstein a credit. How much Wasserstein wrote is unclear, but Art Linson recalls Mamet agreeing to do it for the money and submitting his first draft in four weeks. Mamet was reluctantly contracted to two sets of rewrites and difficult about it. When plot problems remained after the last set of revisions Mamet was asked if he would do a quick rewrite if Linson were to fly to Seattle where Mamet was shooting House of Games? “Come to Seattle, I’d love to see you” said Mamet. When Linson arrived Mamet said, “All I said was that I’d love to see you” and sent him home empty handed.

Charles Martin Smith has claimed “The Untouchables wasn’t a happy set”. Brian De Palma never saw "The Untouchables" as a gangster movie but as The Magnificent Seven and changes to written action sequences added horses and gunfire but also days of shooting and millions of dollars. 30 states were scouted before the Hardy Bridge in Montana was selected for the border scene. Stephen H Burum used the North South shooting axis to emulate classic westerns.

Burum had wanted to shoot the film in black and white. “Don’t break your heart, Steve, they won’t allow that”, De Palma told him. “In Chicago,” Burum ended up saying “it’s almost impossible to shoot a period picture”. Shooting at night to retain period flavour, the crew made arrangements for modern buildings in the background to have their lights turned off so as to blend into the darkness. Burum shot at ASA 100 using Eastman 5247 stock for exteriors, and ASA 400 using Eastman 5294 for interiors.

6 weeks before shooting started the budget had risen from $18 to $20 million. Paramount’s Head of Motion Pictures, Ned Tanen, kept threatening to shut the production down right up to the last minute. Dawn Steel, then the highest female executive in Hollywood, made an outraged call to De Palma over a $40,000 bill for curtains. De Palma hung up on her, not speaking to her again for two years.

“If you want Sean Connery, he’s going to have to do it for what we have in the budget” stipulated Tanen. Connery liked the part and Mamet’s dialogue. It fit his strategy of taking father figure roles now he was older and Malone could, and did, lead to an Oscar. Connery agreed to take a percentage of the gross. Linson acknowledged in hindsight it would have been cheaper to pay Connery’s $2m fee. The $200,000 Bob Hoskins received to NOT play Al Capone is a story widely known.

Nobody was willing to disclose the costume budget. De Niro had always wanted to play Capone, feeling previous interpretations didn’t properly reflect the gangster’s charm and public appeal. To get the part “right” De Niro went to Sulk and Sons on Park Avenue for authentic Capone underwear, rejecting his $20,000 Armani wardrobe and having it redesigned. He went to Italy to get the Naples accent and put on 30lb. He invested in nose plugs and “cranium relandscaping”. Bills for the “right” cigars and shoes infuriated Paramount but "The Untouchables" became De Niro’s most successful film to that point and, in a film full of homages, some have observed that it starts where Once Upon A Time in America leaves off with De Niro’s moonbeam face staring up at the camera.

The camaraderie on set was real enough. Andy Garcia regaled the American Film Institute at Sean Connery’s Lifetime Achievement ceremony with tales of his hero busting his chops with putdowns like “C’mon kid, this isn’t Hamlet”. Connery had impressed the younger actors by getting away with mid shots and close ups done while partially dressed for the golf course, his trousers and shoes hidden off camera. He refused to wear the Armani altogether, bringing his own outfit. Not realising that James Bond had never actually been shot, Brian De Palma was surprised when Connery had never worked with exploding blood packs before. Connery hated them. After being taken to hospital with grit in his eye from one of the squibs he had to be persuaded to do a second take.
De Palma had sought references from Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan who both encouraged him to cast Kevin Costner. Largely unknown at the time, Costner was nevertheless vocal with his contributions saying in interviews “It’s one thing to have a lack of experience, but if you do something incredibly stupid you’re not going to win people’s sympathy. I wanted to try and straighten that out but in certain instances I had to go along with the director”.

A scripted shoot out at a race track with an exploding petrol tanker followed by a chase sequence involving period trains was more than the budget could handle and Paramount finally said “no more”. De Palma demanded a railway station be found immediately and made up his famous homage to Battleship Potemkin over two weeks of night shoots at Chicago’s Union Station.

Spielberg was elated that his friend had injected so many of his trademarks into his first really mainstream picture. "The Untouchables" has a “creeper sequence”, a “hold out sequence”, an arc shot, Steadicam, and homages to Foreign Correspondent and Vertigo. With the final budget coming in at $22.5 million the director famously completed the last shot, in the cold outside Roosevelt University - which doubles in the film for the entrance to the Lexington Hotel - got on a plane and went home without speaking to anyone. When Paramount got nervous over the violence he simply told Linson: “Final Cut”.

Confidence in the finished film was high. The trailer for "The Untouchables" was attached to all 2,326 prints of Beverly Hills Cop II. With no competition except Harry and the Hendersons, "The Untouchables" opened on Wednesday 3rd June 1987 to a $10 million weekend. The film was rush released in the UK, opening in 70mm at the Empire Leicester Square on September 18th. The 70mm presentation transferred to the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue in 1988.

Stephen Burum told American Cinematographer that “Shooting anamorphic you can hold the compositional integrity better, integrity maintained in 70mm OAR blow ups”. It’s been rumoured that Paramount used to test all 70mm prints on the lot before they were shipped. "The Untouchables" was released under the Theatre Alignment Programme created by LucasFilm in 1983. 70mm prints went out with a letter in De Palma’s name advising projectionists that 70mm prints were hard matted to the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, meaning bars could be visible at the top and bottom of the screen and offering guidance on the best presentation. You can find these to read on in70mm.com. The print we’re showing today is a print marked for preservation on very generous loan from the BFI Archive.

Linson went on to Executive Produce two seasons of a new TV Untouchables from 1993 to 1994 starring Tom Amandes as Ness, William Forsythe as Al Capone and John Rhys-Davis as Sean Connery. I suggest we skip that and revel in Ennio Morricone’s pulsating theme The Strength of the Righteous in 6 track mag Dolby stereo. Widescreeners, please enjoy Brian De Palma’s definitive big screen retelling of the legend that is . . . "The Untouchables"!
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Updated 21-01-24