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7Omm Weekend in Varnsdorf – more than a fistful of classic film jewels!
A report by Gerhard Schwach and Leo Moser (both from Austria)

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Gerhard Schwach and Leo Moser, Austria Date: 28.05.2016
Fans of Big Fisherman: from left to right: Varnsdorf cinema staffowner Zdeněk Štěpánek, co-organizer Jean-Pierre Gutzeit and Austrian guest Gerhard Schwach - photograph by Ulli Rostek

In the lovely area of the Bohemian lowlands, in the tri-border-region between Czech Republic, Germany and Poland, one of the more unknown, but nevertheless very exciting 70mm Weekend Festivals in Europe took place: The festival took place from 12th until 15th May 2016, when the „Centrum Panorama 7Omm Cinema“ in Varnsdorf (German: Warnsdorf) entertained us with it's lavish cinema hall (built in 1970), offering a most interesting selection of some well-known and some rare vintage 70mm titles! It was also a re-encounter of German, Czech and Austrian 70mm fans who are constantly, or occasionally, present at other European 7Omm festivals.

First of all: the Varnsdorf 70mm festival 2016 offered a unique opportunity to experience road show screenings of three of the most seldomly shown jewels of the 70mm cinema history. The long awaited screening of The Big Fisherman [1960] (German: Der Fischer von Galiläa), Far From the Madding Crowd [1967] (German: Die Herrin von Thornhill) and – in a onetime-only private performance and surprise action: Porgy and Bess [1959]. All of the three titles mentioned were still in a surprisingly fresh and vital condition. Still with a lot of colour to see, and almost completely without missing scenes or parts of scenes! Freezing prints over a long time as a conservation method seems to pay for itself! The 70mm Super Panavision screening of The Big Fisherman was announced as the first one in 56 years! Thanks to „Kinomuseum Berlin“ and many thanks to Jean-Pierre Gutzeit and cinema director Zdeněk Štěpánek, who enabled us to see these ultra rare programme on a huge curved cinema screen in best picture and sound quality! Several enquiries to the owner of the „Fisherman“ print to scan it in 4k were provisionally postponed, in favour of giving different audiences the opportunity to watch the film at some other 70mm festivals in future. Only a cinema screening delivers the unique 70mm experience!
More in 70mm reading:

The 7OMM Ultra Panavision Roadshow in Gartenbau Kino, Vienna, Austria

Spaghetti Western in Super Technirama 70

Varnsdorf Reloaded

70mm Film Weekend in Centrum Panorama Varnsdorf, Czech Republic

70mm Retro - Festivals and Screenings
Czech 7Omm Cinema „Centrum Panorama“

Thursday started with „KLK an PTX - Die Rote Kapelle“, one of the better DEFA 70mm productions about spionage during WW2 times, accompanied with a long narration. The ORWO colours proved to be more stabil than the old Eastman Colour Kodak stock, as we can learn from this example. The second film was „Battle of the Bulge“, a must for lovers of war films. An english version print with a reddish fade, and only of average condition. Saturday, the second festival day, started with a slightly reddish blow-up print of „Die Hard“ in the shortened German dubbed version, but with excellent Dolby multi-channel- sound! The first big historic adventure started with the Ultra Panavision presentation of „Mutiny on the Bounty“ [1962]- the Marlon Brando movie which almost ruined MGM in the sixties. With excellent magnetic 6-track stereophonic sound - especially the musical score from Bronislau Kaper was very impressive. Print was with reduced colours, let's say mostly violett or blue with some reddish parts. Although the Centrum Panorama Cinema have two 70mm projectors there was only one original Ultra Panavision lens available for this festival. It was a loan from „Leokino Cinematograph Innsbruck“; thanks to cinema director Dietmar Zingel! The disadvantage was, that we had some extra intermissions in order to change the Ultra Panavision lens from one projector to the other several times. The afternoon programme progressed with a Ultra Panavision screening of the 11 times Oscar winner „Ben-Hur“ [1959]. Again we could experience excellent magnetic 6-track stereophonic sound – bombastic musical score from Miklos Rozsa! Again, a print in a mostly violett or blue colors. The extremely wide 1:2,76 Ultra Panavision picture was a challenge for the projectionists to keep sharp in all areas, since this ptint of „Ben-Hur“ was compiled from three surviving 70mm prints of different origins and format. Unfortunately anamorphic Ultra Panavision material alternated with spherical 70mm material from another print. That partly led to distorted figures and faces that seemed in parts rather confusing for the audience.

In the late evening came the time to reveal the secret about the surprise screening outside and beyond the festival programme. A bonus screening of „Porgy and Bess“ [1959] in good colours, sharp picture and fantastic sound. Otto Premingers masterwork united actors like Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis jr. and Broke Peters for a famous film version of the George Gershwin opera. Please note, this screening was private screening in a club atmosphere for the 70mm enthusiasts.

Saturday, day number 3, started with „The Dirty Dozen“ in a 70mm blow-up version (from 35mm widescreen, blown up to 1:1,85). A French print, slightly orange picture but still a good blow-up. It was followed by Stephen Spielberg's 1982 blockbuster „E.T. the Extra Terrestrial“, a vintage print showing Drew Barrymore as a child. The picture was in normal format (not widescreen) and somewhat grainy but the sound was excellent. „Alien Nation“, produced by the „alien“ and „Terminator“ team, came along as a Super-35 blow-up version in widescreen and relatively good colours. The movie was a pilot for the later TV series.

The window decoration: Big Fisherman in the „Centrum“ (poster and colour stills supplied by Gerhard Schwach)

At 06:30 p.m. the sensation of this year's 70mm Varnsdorf film festival was about to begin. The almost three-hour roadshow presentation of „Der Fischer von Galiläa“ the German dubbed version of „The Big Fisherman“ [1960]. It was simultaneously translated into Czech during the film by using headsets. This biblical costume drama is the dramatic story of the young Arab/Jewish girl Fara (Susan Kohner), king Herod's daughter and prince Voldi (John Saxon) and the roman occupation of Gallilee, woven with the biblical story of Simon Petrus (Howard Keel), the first pope, John the Baptist (Jay Barney) and Jesus Christ. The Sermont on the Mount scene was captured very sensitively and we see Jesus do the wonders described in the Holy Bible. Contrary to that, the screen always becomes hot, lively and passionate, when Herod Antipas (Herbert Lom) or his vicious wife Herodias (Martha Hyer) enter the scene. Contrary to other film versions of the life of Jesus Christ, this time we are spared the humiliation, torture and murder of Christ during the crucifixion. What a relief! This monumental spectacle was directed by Frank Borzage, photographed by Lee Garmes („Land of the Pharaos“) and musically scored by Albert Hay Malotte. The excellent use of the Super Panavision 70 format shows the real scope of this committed, wonderfully composed and decorated ultra-rare historical movie. We find some of the eternally recurring motives of mankind such as hate and love, cold bloodedness, unscrupulousness, merciless sentence, excess and riot and on the other hand the ever enduring themes of mercifulness, fidelity, loyalty, lovingness, faith, chairity and love. We see arabic princes and princesses, oriental settings, look at the ancient Jerusalem and into king Herod's monumental palace with all its hidden chambers and doors. The setting is most colourful and stunning! In some scenes Howard Keel as Simon Petrus looks and plays a bit like a mixture of Charlton Heston as Moses and a slim Bud Spencer which comes somewhat exhilarating. Dispite all this optical splendour „The Big Fisherman“ is a slow going drama that demands endurance from the audience. The movie doesn't offer all too much physical action, compared with other biblical movies such as „Ben-Hur“ or „Quo Vadis“. I wonder what would have been the result if Cecil B. de Mille or William Wyler had made this movie? Nevertheless, box office in 1960 was great, but - without any understandable reasons - the film completely disappeared from official screenings and was only shown once in German TV many years ago. There is also no official DVD or BD available. So please look out for the next 70mm festival for an opportunity to enjoy „The Big Fisherman“ on the really big 70mm screen!
Center of Varnsdorf (church)

The four years between 1959 and 1962 comprised a concentration of biblical epics, many of them in the 7Omm format. There were especially 6 highlights of religious „sandale epics“ which were adored by the audience and loved by cinema owners because of their good box office, but not always by the critics. The musical score was an important elment to support the religious atmosphere in these films:

1) Ben-Hur 1959 (Music by Miklos Rozsa) Camera 65 / Ultra Panavision 70
2) The Big Fisherman 1960 (Music by Albert Hay Malotte) the first film in Super Panavision 70
3) King of Kings 1961 (Music by Miklos Rozsa) Super Technirama 70
4) Barabbas 1961 (Music by Mario Nascimbene) Super Technirama 70
5) Pontius Pilatus 1962 (Music by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino) (CinemaScope only)
6) Sodom and Gomorrha 1962 (Music by Miklos Rozsa) (not in wiedscreen format)
Beginning of Carol Reed's „Oliver !“

After this highlight all the participants were invited to a late night festival with dinner and live music, superior food and drinks, first to mention the delicious Czech Staropramen draught beer and good local wines. The party was not yet over when we left the scenery at 3:00 o´clock in the morning….

With some headache and dehydration feeling we began our, day number four. „Far from the Madding Crowd“ [1967] is another wonderful and rare-to-see film drama from the mid-sixties, directed by John Schlesinger and starring the lovely Julie Christie (two years after she had played „Lara“ in Doctor Zhivago), Peter Finch, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp. In a small appearence we discover Dave Swarbrick, legendary fiddler of the folk-rock band „Fairport Convention“. The impressive film music was composed by Richard Rodney Bennett. The plot: Bathsheba Everdene, a willful, flirtatious, young woman, unexpectedly inherits a large farm and is romantically pursued by three very different men. Highlights of the movie are a big fire and a big storm – and the scenic landscape of south west England. Photographed by Nicholas Roeg, who was already involved with „Lawrence of Arabia“, „Doctor Zhivago“, „Castaway“ and „Walkabout“. We saw a delightful „Panavision 70“ blow-up version in 6-track-magnetic sound. The print has still good colours, sometimes a little reddish but o.k. – it's a vintage print. It was the German dubbed version, supported by Czech subtitles. Last of the 4th day was the english Panavision 70 blow-up version of Carol Reed's film version of the Charles Dickens story and musical „Oliver!“ [1968] starring Mark Lester as the boy Oliver, Hugh Griffith and Oliver Reed in a superb performance. As many other prints of that time, most colours besides red have gone (and continue to go). Never mind, yet most of the audience enjoyed also this movie, since it contains pure cinematographic quality!

Almost all of the movie presentations were combined with the presentation of short film programmes, trailers, cartoons fron the Czech Republic and France, among these also a presentation „100 years of cinema“ from the British Film Institute.

Resumee: The Varnsdorf 70mm Film Festival was a Festival to remember ! Congratulations to all who have contributed to its success!
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Updated 30-06-22