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The American Cinematheque's Second 70mm Festival

This article first appeared in
..in 70mm
The 70mm Newsletter

Written by: Paul Rayton, Chief Projectionist, Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood, USA Issue 63 - December 2000

The American Cinematheque, at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, (California), has just completed their second annual "Great Big 70mm Film Festival". Shows ran mostly on weekends, between November 24 and December 10.

A total of 10 titles were run; two titles ("Baraka" and "Lawrence of Arabia") being repeats from last year's films. Attendance was generally quite good, but with 600+ seats in the theatre, we cannot fill it all the time.

We started out with a 4-day run of "Lawrence of Arabia". Apparently, Columbia wants to stop booking the prints for a couple of years, awaiting the 40th anniversary of the film, coming in 2002. Knowing the film might possibly be (temporarily) unavailable, attendance was excellent. Our final performance actually occurred simultaneously with the annual Hollywood Christmas Parade (taking place on the street in front of the theatre) -- and yet several hundred people still were able to find their way in!

Things got off to a rather difficult start with "Lawrence": We were scheduled to begin the run on Nov. 24. The day before, Nov. 23, the theatre was dark because of a national holiday. So, having a little extra time, I thought I better check out the print of "Lawrence", since it was going to be a rather important engagement, it being was a farewell and all... And so I set up and ran a reel. Oops! Lots of static (noise) in the stage right channel, and also the surround channel. Checked another reel: more noise. Checked a 3rd reel: also noisy. Too much noise. Obviously, the entire print was unacceptable.

Then started a series of telephone calls to see if I could get a replacement print. Keep in mind this was during a major national holiday in the States. The principal film depot for these prints is at a "central" location...in Ohio, far away, near the east coast! Yes, they had one other print, but it was 2000 miles away!

After going back a forth several times with them on the telephone (and potentially being required to return to check out every other remaining reel!), they finally agreed that the other print would be delivered by mid-day the next day. That was what happened. (We benefitted from the 3 hour time zone difference between the depot and California!) I checked out some reels of this replacement print, all was okay, and this was the print we used for our run. But it was a close call; I would have been besieged with complaints if I'd been required to run the original print!

We brought in two 70mm prints from overseas: "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" from Bradford, England, and "Ben Hur" from Australia. "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" was an original print, from the 1965 release, and rather faded. The "Ben Hur" print was comparatively recent (circa 1995), but printed from a widely-despised (by wide-screen enthusiasts) negative that had been made back in the late 60s, at the time of a reissue of the film. (That would have been at about the 10th anniversary of the film, at that time). The original negative image had been cropped and reformatted then to produce prints in the 2.21:1 ratio that was used virtually everywhere in 70mm theatres in those days. The extreme left and right sides of the image were therefore missing; however the full 6-channel sound mix was retained.

"Ben Hur", especially, was a giant hit. It had not been seen here in L.A. (in 70mm) for years. Actually, we had screened "Ben Hur" in 35mm, about 6 months earlier, in a 4-track magnetic print, as part of our Technicolor IB series. At that time, the film's star, Charlton Heston, came over and introduced the film. Since the Cinematheque is planning a generous sampling of Heston films later this year, with additional appearances by him at that time, it was decided that we would not bother him to come over for our 70mm shows this time around... However -- one of our well-connected local Hollywood associates apparently decided to invite Mr. Heston anyway, and so on Friday night, Charlton Heston made an unscheduled appearance to introduce the film. The (full house) audience was thrilled.

Heston stayed for the complete film, and afterward was heard to remark that the film needed restoration attention (partly as a result of the noticeable left and right edge cropping.) So, we can hope that, with involvement of people of the prominence of Mr. Heston, we may yet see a new print -- maybe even in the proper aspect ratio (Camera 65's 2.7:1)!

Other key visitors: Jim Katz (of the noted restoration team of Katz & Harris) spoke prior to "My Fair Lady". Ken Annakin spoke after "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines". And Producer Mark Magidson spoke after "Baraka".

We concluded with the Polish mega-production from 1975, "Nights and Days". It was some 5 hours long (including intermission), and was mounted on 16 reels. I personally inspected all the reels. While inspecting the reels, I noticed some certain electronic cue tape sensors which seemed to be familiar...and soon I came to realize that, whaddoyaknow!, I had actually run the same identical reels and print about 25 years ago, during Filmex '75! The print has been stored in the archives of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, and used very few times in the intervening years. The print looked really great, with little if any fading. The film stock is made by Orwo (of [East] Germany) and the color stability is probably owed to its different film chemistry, i.e. different than that of the fade-prone Eastmancolor stock of the early '70s.

Also in attendance each weekend were editorial staff of "Widescreen Review" magazine. Their magazine is primarily written for people with high-end home video systems, but they grew up in the heydays of 70mm exhibition, and they (as are we) are absolutely convinced that, no matter what all the engineers and theatre executives and futurists say, there is a significant enhancement when a film is shown in the 70mm version. A classic case in point was our show of "Silverado", (a blow-up from super-35.) The print was from the original release (1985), and had a wonderful impact on the big screen. The fullness and richness of the images, coupled with the fine sound (including a rousing score from Bruce Broughton) all joined together to make a fine entertaining experience. The audience was really into it, applauding key creative staff (Director, DP, Music, etc.) and just generally rollicking in the whole show. It simply would not have been the same in "plain vanilla" 35mm! [For more from Widescreen Review, and to see their comprehensive 70mm prints listing, check out their web site

In the ultimate irony to the whole 70mm festival, the American domestic opening of the new film, "Vertical Limit" was over the weekend of Dec. 8-9-10. Several of us knowledgeable in the tricks of American exhibitors were astounded to see yet another dirty trick by the theatre owners, which perfectly illustrates how morally bankrupt the entire US exhibition scene has become: "Vertical Limit", an adventure film set among mountain climbers supposedly on the Nepalese peak "K-2", is a picture that positively cries out for the glistening splendor of a 70mm presentation.

So what did the miserable scums in the exhibition world come up with in a new ruse to screw the gullible public? "Special 35mm presentation on the giant Imax screen" at 3 locations in the southern California region. Words fail me when I try to describe how pitiful this excuse for "presentation" is. At least, the film "Everest" was photographed in Imax, and even Disney's "Fantasia 2000" was presented in the true Imax (15-perf) format. Here's "Vertical Limit" running for the trusting masses "at the Imax", but in a presentation that would probably need candles or flashlights in your hands to have enough light on the screen. I give up. (And, sorry, I did not go to one of those shows, even to "research" it. It is outright theft to charge for presentation like that, so I may as well just mail in the money to the theatre company and save the expense of having to drive there and spend 2 hours of my time sitting there in their uncomfortable seats!).

Further in 70mm reading:

1999 Festival

Paul Rayton  - Academy of the Widescreen Weekend

Seeing the Big Picture

Internet link:

Widescreen Review


 
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Updated 22-12-16