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Motor City Cinema Society: Boogie Nights in 70mm at the Redford Theater

The 70mm Newsletter
Written and photographed by: Andrew Kotwicki, Darian Berro & Nicholas PobutskyDate: 16.06.2024
The Redford Theater for over a century has been one of the longest running prestigious single-screen movie palaces in Michigan. Originally opening in January 1928, the gargantuan movie house still in the process of ongoing restoration is at once a beacon for the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema as well as a lighthouse to the future of the Michigan Film Scene which has undergone some post-COVID setbacks. Having lost both the Main Art Theater and the Maple Theater within the last couple of years amid dwindling attendances amid newborn streaming wars, the Redford represents one of the last real Old School movie palaces still capable of doing both 35mm and 70mm film using arc carbon rods (highly sought after and rare now) for their exceptionally bright lighting at a time when most other theaters use xenon lamps and when doing such an expenditure seemed increasingly difficult.

• Go to Chicago's Music Box Theater's 70mm Film Festival
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Within the last year and a half, however, a new group of projectionists and curators loosely connected to the Redford Theater who call themselves the Motor City Cinema Society have sought to completely turn the ship around and have sponsored some of the movie palace’s most well attended shows comprised of dedicated cinephiles waiting for their moment to come. Though the Redford tends towards older pictures, usually of the classical era aimed at stalwart viewership of elders or families intent on group gatherings of kids movies, the movie palace where films like Sam Raimi’s "The Evil Dead" and David Robert Mitchell’s "It Follows" had their world premieres took a real risk with perhaps their most ambitious endeavor yet: Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 decades-spanning saga of the 1977 San Fernando Valley set porn industry “Boogie Nights” on 70mm film.
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Though it was an uphill battle for all involved, the efforts and hard work of the curators and projectionists paid off in what is easily among the greatest if not the greatest shows the Redford Theater has ever done. Ordinarily having to travel out of state to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s work on 70mm film, the last three "The Master", “Inherent Vice,” and "Phantom Thread" playing at Chicago’s Music Box Theater, this was the first time a 70mm film print of his appeared locally in the state of Michigan. The significance of being able to have something of this magnitude happen in Michigan let alone with the Motor City Cinema Society is hard to properly put into words. Not to mention the Redford Theater went all out in terms of promotion, creating a life-sized mockup of Rollergirl, T-shirts, posters, memorabilia including but not limited to the original 35mm trailer, tapes and laserdiscs and even a Dirk Diggler hotdog line.

• Go to DP70s in Michigan (MI)

To say the presentation is immaculate on 2.20:1 70mm film in a brand-new print financed by Warner Brothers with much urging from Paul Thomas Anderson is putting it mildly. Though originally shot on 35mm, in this newly struck 70mm print made from a photochemical copy of the original camera negative in its way with greater light hitting the frame and higher clarity and grain levels apparent on the image completely enhances the experience of the film with lots of little minutiae and easter eggs sprinkled throughout becoming fully visible for the very first time. Color retention, particularly heavy deep reds, have never looked prettier or more luminous than they do on this print. Given the larger gate fitted for the 2.20:1 frame, it allows for a significantly brighter and bigger image and more noticeable grain levels also.

A standout sequence involves Dirk figuring out his screen name for the first time with neon-lit blue signs with firecrackers and fire, sizzling but somehow forecasting the darker weather ahead. Another striking image includes the camera surveying Dirk Diggler’s bedroom with the camera panning across his wall of posters consisting of nubile women, Bruce Lee and a Serpico movie advert with all the carefully perfected details on full naked display. Then there’s the sweeping long tracking shot introducing Jack Horner’s home with an outdoor party featuring bright colors with intentionally blown out whites that almost glitter in 70mm. With crisp DTS digital sound accompanying the presentation, the film looks and sounds really powerful. The switching of aspect ratios in particular when it jumps between 16mm and videotape also takes on a greater jarring urgency when blown up to 70mm.
Special attention should be given to the sound which has made the film on every digital format from laserdisc to DVD, blu-ray (hopefully an eventual 4K is on the way) a surefire piece of demo material. The use of music across the soundstage is such that you feel yourself being whisked into the air but "Boogie Nights" is as much an animal of sound engineering as it is an arena for frequent needle drops that almost converse with one another. Take for instance the scene inside Rahad Jackson’s home where firecrackers are thrown throughout the room constantly, hinting at the very real prospect of even louder gunfire lurking around the corner.

In the Redford Theater’s auditorium with the full 6-track DTS audio properly rendered with the spaciousness and reverberation, the sequence easily took on a new level of sonic terror and anxiety, particularly as songs like Sister Christian or Jesse’s Girl blast over everyone yelling but not loud enough to silence those tiny explosives. When Dirk nervously tries to up and leave, the volume levels are such that you’re not sure if he should merely join in on Rahad Jackson’s drugged up dancing.

But then the film also manages to get pin-drop quiet if not completely silent such as an unforgettable transition between the 1970s and the 80s with a loud gunshot cutting to silence, lingering for half a second on a title card before segueing into Amber Waves’ mini-doc dedicated to Dirk Diggler. Later still when Colonel James played by Robert Ridgely is talking through a phone between plate glass to Jack Horner and the phone call ends and all you can hear is the faint nasal breathing of Jack while the Colonel claws and bangs away at the window begging to know if they’re still friends after a terrible revelation comes to light. Even scenes this tightly compacted and intimate take on a vastness in 70mm in a large auditorium with ample room for the silently heavy emotional anvils to drop.
Albeit atypical of the Redford Theater’s programming, "Boogie Nights" is most assuredly one of the greatest contemporary films for thinking mature adult cinephiles the Redford has ever played. Going out on a limb, the results paid off swimmingly with very strong attendance to both shows as well as a very well-attended talk back session with audience members over the movie in the 16mm screening room next door managed by the Motor City Cinema Society. Ordinarily a room designed to seat around 50 patrons or so, there were around 70 people in the screening room eagerly discussing Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic. What could’ve been simply a theatrical viewing of the film turned into an almost interactive experience for the attendees for those familiar and uninitiated.

For the first time in years, the Redford feels cutting edge and on the precipice of reclaiming the greatness it so brilliantly established when the movie house was first erected. Like the character of Dirk himself, the Redford with this special and exceptionally rare single 70mm print of Paul Thomas Anderson’s first true grand masterpiece are a bright shining star to be seen and heard in all of its tragicomic brilliance. Whether those running the theater are aware of it or not, they’ve truly blessed the Metro Detroit area with a most wondrous gift of pure cinema with this eclectic one-of-a-kind print screening. We should all be most grateful to have been able to bare witness to it.

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Motor City Cinema Society: Boogie Nights in 70mm at the Redford Theater
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Updated 16-06-24