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In the Splendour of 70mm...In Copenhagen!

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Brian Guckian, Dublin, Ireland Date: 29.04.2008
70mm film posters from Nordisk Film's superb Decoration dept. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

From ancient Rome to the depths of space...from the Austrian Tyrol to the North African desert...it was all happening this weekend in Copenhagen, and in the splendour of Cinema's premier format - 70mm 6-track prints from (mostly) 65mm negative!

Presented in the magnificent setting of Nordisk Film's flagship Imperial Biografen venue, this was an event certainly not to be missed, and marks another milestone in the continuing revival of 70mm theatrical screenings in selected cities around the world.

Utroligt! (Incredible), Ekstraordinært! (Extraordinary), Fantastisk! (Unbelievable) are just some of the words that attempt to describe the stunning picture and sound experience that was on offer over the duration of the festival in this beautifully-designed cinema with its magnificent 51,5ft / 15,7m (approx.) curved screen and spectacular full-range sound system.
More in 70mm reading:

70mm Festival


Imperial Bio
Kubrick's masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey" entranced on Friday evening, and one of the things this writer noted was how well the superb special effects work and production design stand up today, easily surpassing anything produced by contemporary cinema. The 65mm photography (by renowed cinematographers Geoffrey Unsworth BSC and John Alcott BSC) was displayed to perfection on the Bio's twin DP70s, and after 40 years the film has lost none of its relevance or power, as Kubrick confronts us with the unknown - and the unknowable.
The magnificent Imperial Bio during 70mm projection, Tuesday 29. April 2008. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

Perhaps no less philosophical (or demanding!), Kenneth Branagh's unabridged, lavish and highly detailed version of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" on Saturday (of course - this was Denmark!) really showed off what the 65mm format can achieve given modern film stocks, cameras and lenses, and in the masterful hands of the late lamented Alex Thompson BSC. At times during this film one felt as though one could literally walk into the picture, and as at other times during the weekend, the writer was left totally perplexed as to why 65mm is not the format of choice for today's big-budget "event" films (especially given that perceptions of high cost have been refuted).

Some light relief followed with a screening of Robert Wise's evergreen classic treatment of Rodger's and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music" with more standout 65mm photography by Ted McCord, ASC and the rousing musical numbers (greatly enjoyed by the audience) well served by the DTS-70 soundtrack. Like the majority of the other titles, the print was recent, and in excellent condition.
"Lawrence of Arabia" new 70mm DTS print #4. Image by Thomas Hauerslev.

"Lawrence of Arabia"
continued the procession of 65mm titles over the weekend (the only blow-ups in the festival were "Doctor. Zhivago" and "Titanic") and showcased the work of another legendary cinematographer, Freddie Young BSC. This was a Sony reprint from the original Robert A Harris / James C Katz restored negative, but with a colour grade and contrast considered to be closer to how the original release prints looked in the 1960s. An epic undertaking in every aspect, this was a film that could only have been made, and screened, in 70mm, and was all the more impressive and visceral given that all the action and set-pieces had to be staged without recourse to the visual effects tools filmmakers take for granted today.

Sunday saw screenings of Ron Fricke's extraordinary "Baraka", with stunning 65mm photography that took one's breath away, and my visit to the festival was rounded off with a viewing of the grand-daddy of all blockbusters, the epic "Cleopatra" which is well known to have almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox (but was well worth it!). Again the cinematography was extraordinary, showcasing the work of the legendary Leon Shamroy, ASC, and also the incredible production and costume design.
DTS player XD10 playing "Titanic". Image by Thomas Hauerslev

An almost overwhelming weekend of visual and aural experience was rounded off by an excellent lecture by our Editor on "Fantastiske Film Formater" [The Wonderful World of Film Formats, ed] on Saturday morning. This very clear, accurate and educational presentation went through the various widescreen processes and sound formats, and provided a valuable learning opportunity for audiences, helping them to appreciate the 70mm format much more and setting it in the context of the overall development of Cinema.

Audience numbers exceeded expectations, no doubt due to the excellent publicity work by Thomas and Lars Møller (including TV and radio appearances!) and further credit is due to Imperial Bio projectionists Peter Jensen, Jan Niebuhr and flemming Andersen who handled the demanding work extremely well, particularly given the fact that 70mm had not been run in the venue for 10 years - a situation that no doubt will change after the success of the festival ("Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" perhaps? It was being heavily promoted with poster and lobby displays over the weekend!).
Once again, the 70mm reels are empty. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

An additional note must also be made of the excellent staging at the Bio, with patterned illumination of the curtain tabs and auditorium ceiling, 70mm Festival dedicated screen logo, house breaks and of course the correct playing and cueing of the overtures and entre' act scores.

The festival also provided valuable technical feedback - such as the need for improved soundtrack layout information with prints - that will inform the continuing work of the 65/70mm Workshop.

Finally, the only single criticism one could have of the entire event was the screening of a very poor-quality print of "Doctor Zhivago". This print should be withdrawn from exhibition, and it raises the age-old dilemma of whether to show a print no matter how bad it is, if it is the only one available. This writer would argue that it is in fact better to withdraw such prints, as their consequent non-availability provides an incentive to strike new copies.

In conclusion, Nordisk Film and in70mm.com deserve great credit for organising this memorable event - here's to next year!
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Updated 21-01-24