Berlinale 70mm Retrospective
Mission Report from Oliver Klohs
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|Written by: Oliver Klohs, Leipzig, Germany. All images by Thomas Hauerslev||Date: 16.04.2009|
|First off, this was certainly a very big endeavour to integrate the retrospective with the Berlinale but the idea to show two overlapping shows in two different cinemas each evening was certainly unfortunate and I would have very much preferred to have had all the 70mm screenings in one place without overlaps but then I guess this is the difference between a specialized festival and a bigger one where 70mm is not the single focus.|
|More in 70mm reading:|
Berlin 2009 - Programme of Events Complete
Berlinale 2009 - 70mm Retrospective Report
70mm Retrospective Berlin 2009
On to the screenings
|In the first days of the Berlinale festival I attended two screening in the Cinestar 8 theater that is a modern multiplex cinema with an almost completely flat screen that I would estimate to have been about 15 to 17m wide for the two screenings that I attended. While certainly not in the style of the old roadshow cinema this is a very nice looking venue as far as the often unjustly maligned multiplexes go. Obviously I could not measure it but the picture width in this cinema seemed to be reduced so that the aspect ratio of the movies shown was closer to 2:1 which for some reason seemed to be more noticable to me with Lord Jim than with Patton, (in the Kino International it was the other way round by the way, with part of the top and bottom of the picture cut off). The reduced width could have been a result of the higher up booth leading to substantial keystoning that had to be hid by some overscan on the sides, maybe somebody who reads this can shed some light on this? The sharpness of the projection seemed to be pretty good at the Cinestar and I will leave it to others to critique other things that could have been improved upon but ths was no dedicated large format festival so I did not expect to be treated to the same amount of care and preparation that I have seen at specialized festivals.|
I watched two movies at the Cinestar:
|"Lord Jim" is one of those 70mm movies that were neither very good nor excruciatingly bad and that are all but forgotten today. I had never watched the movie myself before, not even on TV or DVD and was very happy to be able to experience it for the first time in glorious 70mm. And overall "Lord Jim" did not disappoint as we were treated to a very nice print of this Richard Brooks film with nice shadow delineation and good colors, one of the best prints of the festival in my opinion.|
|Another new print by Fox with a first reel that never achieved the focus that lovers of the format have come to expect from the format, fortunately with the second reel things improved a lot and I now was able to concentrate more on the movie itself than the presentation. Detail was at times exceptional and the soundtrack was improved, too after at first it was adjusted several times after the movie started - I wonder if it is not possible to properly adjust the sound level BEFORE the movie starts?|
|The International was home to the majority of screenings I attended and while it is a vintage 70mm cinema of the German Democratic Republic I could not help to have mixed emotions during the screenings. For one it is nice to attend screenings in a cinema that has only one auditorium and that has been custom built for 70mm and there was still a kind of nostalgic charme associated with the cinema and it also has a modestly curved big screen of approximately 17m.|
On the other hand both the picture and the sound where not up to par with what one should expect from screenings of this stature and importance. Especially the focus that is so crucial to show the trademark detail and clarity of the 70mm format was often lacking to a degree that left me puzzled especially with the vintage prints but also with the newer efforts. For the 2 anamorphic 70mm movies the focus issues where so big that large areas of the screen were never properly focussed during the whole screening.
|With that being said 70mm is such a great format that most viewers were still mesmerized by what they saw on screen and most screenings were sold out after the 70mm buzz had made its way around the Berlinale. By the end of the Berlinale and with the newer prints the projectionists seemed to have found the best compromise settings to make prints like "Hello Dolly!" and "Lawrence of Arabia" look as good as could be expected given the apparent limitations of the installation. It is hoped that for future screenings these shortcomings in the Kino International will be addressed as it is one of the few cinemas in Berlin that still has the equipment AND the proper size suited to the screening of 70mm movies on a regular basis.|
Between the screenings and commuting between different cinemas it was nice to see so many familiar faces and meet members from the worldwide 70mm community - the conversations before and after the movies are always a big part of the fun and a nice German beer brought many different people to the same table who despite their vastly different views and backgrounds share the love for the big screen and the large format movies.
I attended 6 screenings at the Kino International
Powest Plamennych Let (The Story of the Flaming Years)
|My first movie at the International was this Russian production that was presented in a vintage print with the look that I have grown accustomed to from the Russian 70mm productions I have seen so far: Low contrast, a greenish tint to the picture that I am told is the way the movie has always looked, and not much detail to speak of considered that I was watching a 70mm production.|
The movie itself has that special kind of storytelling where for the bigger part of the movie I was not really sure what I was watching and the whole movie seemed, as Thomas Hauerslev put it so nicely, like one big stream of consciousness to me. Different strokes for different folks I guess, and I am happy that there were others who really enjoyed this movie. An interesting titbit is that this first Soviet 70mm feature film was directed by a woman, Yulia Solntseva - I am not aware of a single western large format feature film that was directed by a woman, a bold move for such a prestigious production !
|This movie, same as "Ryan's Daughter", was presented in a vintage print with Swedish subtitles and came to Berlin courtesy of the Swedish film institute.|
That was a gorgeous looking print in mostly excellent shape, especially given its age. This is the best I have seen so far from an early to mid Sixties movie - a great find and highly recommended for a screening the next time it gets shown. As for the movie this in my opinion is not one of John Fords prouder moments but oh it looks so good that it was hard to take my eyes off the screen!
Mutiny on the Bounty
|The first movie at this festival presented in anamorphic 70mm after "Ben Hur" was unfortunately only shown in a cropped version that showed less than 80% of the original frame.|
This was a rather beat up print with a lot of cuts and missing parts, I presume due to both censorship and damages to the print over the years. It was one of several prints from the Norwegian Film Institute and it is probably the most colourful print of this movie still in existence. Given Warner's refusal to follow in the steps of other studios and do justice to their library it is probably the best version of the movie currently available and I am glad I could catch it.
|Much of what has been said about "Cheyenne Autumn" can be repeated here for this vintage print that looked even better.|
The quality of this print was so good that it would take an excellent job to surpass this vintage print that for large stretches could have passed for new with very little fading and excellent condition.
This was - unbelievable but true - the first time I watched "Ryan's Daughter" and I was very impressed by Robert Mitchum as the school teacher, who did not seem quite as wimpy to me as I would have thought. Overall probably a movie I will not watch very often so I was especially happy to have caught it on the big screen in 70mm.
|Probably the best of all the newly struck prints that I have seen so far. A nicely balanced print courtesy of Fox of a musical that got a well deserved publicity boost with last years Pixar movie "Wall-E". Detail, shadow delineation, and colors were all nicely balanced and the print that was shown did not disappoint in any of these areas - highly recommended.|
I am not really that big fan of musicals per se but "Hello Dolly!" is a very fine and underrated movie of this genre that is much more enjoyable for me than some other big hitters like "The Sound of Music". There, I said it - blasphemy!
|To my knowledge the only newly struck anamorphic 70mm print that is readily available for exhibition and a respectable effort by Fotokem. The shadow delineation that has been wanting in other prints was very much intact and the ultrawide Ultra Panavision 70 aspect ratio was duly noted by the audience that probably for the most part had never watched a movie that wide. One thing that really stuck out was the intermission that was not where it belonged but I hear that this has been duly noted and it is planned to restore the correct placement of the intermission.|
I have a soft spot for anamorphic 70mm and I think every festival should have at least one of these movies in their program and therefore for me it was a nice wrap-up of the festival as I had to leave that day and did not get any tickets for "2001" that was screened after "Khartoum".
|This is a good treatment of another desert loving Englishman and the only thing that really stuck out negatively to me was that Sir Lawrence Olivier seemed rather ridiculous as the Mahdi - he might have been appropriate looking like this on a theater stage in London but for the movie both the way he looked and the way he acted took me right out of it and made me doubt the filmmakers judgment.|
Overall I spent a very interesting week at the Berlinale with many rare prints that otherwise cannot be screened that often and definitely not all in one place and I hope that from now on 70mm will be back on the map in Berlin - it is hard to imagine the German capital without it!
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