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NOT THE FIRST 'SCAR' CAUSED BY BAD 'SEARCHERS'


CineSage_jr
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This evening, John Ford's THE SEARCHERS was screened at the Motion Picture Academy in conjunction with the film's fiftieth anniversary, and the restoration undertaken by Warner Bros. for the new DVD.

 

I'm afraid I can't comment authoritatively on the results of that restoration, because Warner's apparently chose not to strike an actual film print for the occasion; as a consequence, the film was, in effect, sabotaged by the limitation of high-definition digital projection technology. Cinematgrapher Winton C. Hoch's extraordinary VistaVision photography was, therefore, robbed of its full imact, due to the digital process's inferior brightness, resolution and contrast and, in this case, misadjusted color.

 

The film is still a masterpiece; nothing will ever change that.

 

George Lucas likes to claim that digital projection is the equal of film. Don't you believe him. it may be one day, but not now.

 

The highlight of the evening was, in any case, the panel discussion that preceded the screening: Harry ("Dobe") Carey, Jr. ("Brad Jorgenson"); Pippa Scott ("Lucy Edwards"); Lana Wood ("Debbie Edwards" as a child); Peter Bogdanovich; and John Ford's grandson, Dan Ford.

 

Most of their stories I'd heard before, but the real treat was meeting Golden Boot Award-winner Carey (a longtime friend of one of my oldeest and closest friends, though I'd never met him before), an utterly charming and sweet man who loves to talk about his work, that of his father, Harry, Sr., and his mother, who plays "Mrs Jorgenson" in THE SEARCHERS.

 

Oh, and I ran into actor Earl Holliman in the garage under the Academy building. We had a very nice conversation. I thanked him for telling a very touching story about James Dean at the Academy's screening of GIANT lst summer. He agreed with me that it's something not widely known about Dean, and I told him that it probably humanizes him more than all the legends that have grown around Dean since his death.

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I've been attending many films in the Frameline Film Festival here in San Francisco for the past couple of weeks. I've noticed many technical difficulties from the projection room. Screens going dark, troubles with the sound; a few of the movies had to be stopped for unexpected repair. The common denominator of all these woes? They were all digital projections.

 

Can you give us the gist of the James Dean story that Mr. Holliman imparted last summer?

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Well, I haven't yet seen a digital projection of a feature so I can't comment on the quality, but I understand the push by filmmakers. It would be much cheaper for them than having to have three or four thousand 35mm film prints made.

 

The thing that worries me is digital could spell the death of small independant theatres. The big chains might be able absorb the costs of conversion, but the little guys won't. For example, we have a wonderful second-run theatre near here that still only charges $1.50 and does great business. If however, movies were no longer were available on film, the owner would never be able to afford the tens of thousands it would cost to switch over. He'd just lock the doors and call it quits.

 

Same thing happened in the late 1920s when sound came in and on a smaller scale in the fifties with CinemaScope.. A lot of smaller theatres just coudn't afford the new equipment and went dark. It would be a shame if that happened again

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Holliman said that he and Dean had gotten to be pretty good friends during the filming of GIANT in 1955.

 

One off-day, Dean was out driving near Marfa, Texas, where the film was being shot, and came upon a traffic accident. I believe it must've been a one-car crash, and the driver, an African-American man, was lying at the side of the road, badly injured.

 

This being (extremely) rural Texas, and 1955, there was no general sense of urgency on the part of the authorities to dispatch an ambulance to pick up a black man and take him to hospital. Dean (who apparently could do nothing for the man medically) stood over him for over ninety minutes, keeping himself between the victim and the Texas sun, so that he would not suffer from the heat in addition to his injuries.

 

Quite something, really. It transcends all the mystique that's grown up around Dean and makes him more human than anything else I've ever heard about him.

 

PS: Holliman looks great; he turns 68 in September, but appears about ten years younger.

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Entertainment is ever evolving........before films there was radio, before radio there was vaudeville.

>>

 

But digital projection does not have the same look as film.

 

Give me a film projected the correct way over digital projection any day.

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Re: Projecting "The Searchers" digitally -- I feel your pain, brother. However, I wonder if what you saw as true digital projection or they were merely projecting the new DVD. There's a pretty dramatic difference.

 

I'm no fan of digital projection of movies shot on film, even though it can be acceptable, depending on how it's done. (I've seen it look awful, and I've seen it look surprisingly good -- last year, I saw "Modern Times" projected digitally at UCLA and it looked surprisingly good.) However, today with more and more "films" being shot digitally, it gets more complicated because THOSE films actually look far crisper when projected digitally. Ideally, the theater of the future will have BOTH kinds of projectors. But, then things never happen ideally...

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Thanks for sharing that CineSage jr. A very kind and human thing for Dean to have done. I'm not so sure anyone and everyone would do the same today, even.

 

I guess I kind of understand why there's mystique around him but to be honest I've never "felt" that about him myself. It dawned on me the other night when listening to Elizabeth Taylor speak on her beloved friend Montgomery Clift that I tend to put Dean and Clift in the same category - serious, beautiful, misunderstood. I admire both of them, particularly for their seriousness regarding their craft.

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Friday's presentation was of a super hi-def record of the 6K-line scan of the film elements that went into the making of the DVD, not the commercial DVD, itself.

 

By contrast, last night's Academy screening of FUNNY GIRL (a film I don't like much, despite my reverence for the work of William Wyler) used a print made a few years ago during the short-lived revival of dye-transfer IB Technicolor.

 

It was (to echo la Streisand) simply gorgeous -- there's no other way to describe it (if only THE SEARCHERS had been done up this way).

 

The sad thing is, the process had been advanced to the point at which Technicolor could make prints for about $.05/foot of film; for a typical 10000-foot film (111.11 minutes), that means a cost of only $500 per print (versus $35,000 per print by standard photochemical Eastman process -- an immense saving).

 

So, why aren't we all being treated to new IB Technicolor prints at all our local Bijous and multiplexes? That's the sad part. Unlike the old days, where a studio might need a couple-hundfed prints, which would then ben sent to other theaters after the first run ended (with replacement prints run off as needed), studios today release films in 2000, 3000, 4000 theaters simultaneously, and Technicolor simply cannot produce that many prints in the time a studio gives them, from "answer print" (when the final version of the film is "locked in") to release date (yes, Technicolor could build more equipment, and hire more workers, but there's no guarantee that, in the capricious world of Hollywood, all that capital investment might not go for naught if the economics of film processing, or the improvement of digital technology suddenly superseded it).

 

Technicolor simply couldn't guarantee the studios that they'd have all the prints the studios needed, when then they needed them, and the studios, understandably, couldn't gamble on anything less than that.

 

A great pity.

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