An image from a Georges Melies film presented by Serge Bromberg at the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s Restoration Summit.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., best known for hosting the Golden Globes, presented its second annual Restoration Summit February 15 and 16 at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre, screening a diverse selection of films it helped preserve. President Lorenzo Soria began the first presentation by announcing that one of the association’s main goals is preserving our film culture, one of the main art forms of the 20th century. Introduced to film preservation by Martin Scorsese several years ago, the association donates funds to restore and preserve motion pictures from around the world.
Film preservationist and historian Serge Bromberg hosted “Retour de Flamme” or “Treasures from the Silent Era,” an informative and entertaining stroll through the world of silent-film preservation. The passionate and expressive Bromberg revealed the process of film restoration, from finding original camera negatives to fine-grain master positives to release prints, and then combining the best elements of what survives to restore a film as closely as possible to the original filmmakers’ intentions.
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Olga Zubarry in an image from “El Vampiro Negro” (“The Black Vampire”) presented by Eddie Muller.
Accompanying the films on the piano, the charismatic Bromberg highlighted magician-turned-filmmaker Georges Melies with a series of clips, revealing how the great visual effects specialist burned his own camera negatives in 1913, leading many to search for his films ever since. Bromberg showed a variety of Melies films, from one-minute shorts from around 1900 to later tinted ones, handpainted frame by frame by women artists.
Bromberg revealed the painstaking work of restoring a film, using Charlie Chaplin’s “The Bank” (1915) as an example. Employing the original camera negative, a fine-grain master, the Library of Congress’ tinted print, and a new discovery from Russia, his company, Lobster Films, chose the best surviving frames or scenes from the four elements and employed a little sleight of hand to finish the restored version.
Throwing in something different for good measure, Bromberg presented the recently discovered Laurel and Hardy short in which, in their inimitable style, they send best wishes to a 1930 international distributors meeting in France.
The preservationist then highlighted the color process, talking about the early two-strip Technicolor process of the early 1920s, where two strips of black and white film passed through a camera, with one frame exposed by a red filter and the next by a green, which when married, created color. Bromberg presented the world premiere of some restored scenes from the 1927 Cecil B. DeMille feature “King of Kings,” which featured two scenes in color. Amazing work removed frame lines and murky color to present the flamboyant images first seen at the premiere of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Bromberg also announced that various groups are now working on a restoration of Douglas Fairbanks’ 1926 two-strip Technicolor feature “The Black Pirate.”
Bromberg returned to Melies, noting that while the great special effects’ master burned his own negatives, American versions survived thanks to his brother Gaston. Melies found his great 1903 film “A Trip to the Moon” pirated by an American film company upon release, so to defeat the process he created an instrument that allowed two films to be shot at the same time. One negative remained with Melies in Paris, and the other was sent to America, with the films released day and date all over the world, just as many blockbusters are now.
After Gaston’s death in 1915, the films passed through several hands before ending up with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It attempted to restore some films, destroying some negatives in the process, before sending the films to the Library of Congress. When it attempted to restore the films, a few were destroyed as well, then set aside for better mechanical processes to preserve the elements.
Bromberg screened a few prints, including a black and white one recently preserved and featuring an Egyptian theme with vizier, maidens, and wizard. He showed several short funny reels before providing his own colorful and hilarious narration to a tinted short in which Melies plays the devil and wreaks havoc on an inventor and his assistant.
To finish the program, Bromberg presented the world premiere of five short Lumiere Brothers’ actualities, shot in 75 millimeter for the 1900 International Exposition in Paris which projection problems prevented from being shown at the time. Locked away in archives until now, the pristine, gorgeous films revealed a train coming into a station and passengers departing, two prints of guests walking beneath the Eiffel Tower and expo grounds, and two showing a people mover sidewalk in Paris, one static shot of people riding it, and the other the view while riding it.
Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda in the documentary “F.T.A.,” about their opposition to the war in Vietnam.
Later that afternoon, the Summit offered the world premiere of “F.T.A.,” a 1972 documentary about opposition to the Vietnam War featuring Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda, which she introduced and helped fund.
Saturday evening, Czar of Noir Eddie Muller introduced the recently restored 1953 Argentinian noir “El Vampiro Negro,” or “Black Vampire,” which reimagines Fritz Lang’s classic film “M,” a stunning and beautiful film. A cross between “Spellbound” (1945), “The Third Man” (1949), and “M,” both 1931 and 1951, the psychological thriller features superb photography by Anibal Gonzalez Paz and an almost claustrophobic feel. Olga Zubarry, Argentina’s version of Marilyn Monroe, plays a nightclub songbird and single mother who witnesses a Buenos Aires child killer stalking the city streets. Will her daughter end up a victim?
The film features remarkable dreams/hallucinations from the killer’s mind, reminiscent of those remembered by Gregory Peck in his sessions with Ingrid Bergman’s psychiatrist in “Spellbound.” Scenes shot in the dark shadows of the city’s sewers resemble those of Carol Reed’s “The Third Man.” The movie also includes a probably unintentional tie-in to the 1942 classic “Casablanca” with the line, “Round up the usual suspects.”
Muller revealed the impressive job rescuing the film from disaster, which included stabilizing the image from warbling caused by nitrate decomposition and by re-creating footage destroyed when the emulsion pulled away from the base because it was too tightly bound. Digital preservation requiring work frame by frame restored the print’s gorgeous look and composition.
While I was unable to attend, Sunday included screenings of the restored films “Nationtime-Gary” (1972) by William Greaves, a documentary on the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, and Melvin Van Peebles’ 1968 movie “The Story of a Three-Day Pass,” an interracial love story set in France. The weekend concluded with a screening of Federico Fellini’s 1972 film “Roma.”
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is to be commended for its strong commitment to preservation, from funding restoration projects to providing lectures and discussions of the work involved in saving films. Most important, they aim to make all the films they preserve available for public exhibition, a notable virtue in a day when actual screenings in a theater are threatened by new technology.