We live in a thrilling time for film preservation, with new restorations of older films premiering regularly. In some cases, a film’s restoration gives the movie its first significant audiences; in others, a well-known work looks and sounds the best that it quite possibly ever has. More and more, the experience of viewing a restoration projected is tantamount to that of seeing a new film.
This thought is troubling to some viewers (as it has been on several occasions to me), who fear that the original film’s essence will be lost. Of particular poignancy to them is the increasing trend of screening DCPs and other digital presentations of restored films that were originally offered to audiences on celluloid. This is a complex issue that deserves more space than can be given here; for now I will say that films, like books, must be reprinted regularly in order for their contents to remain legible, and that each reprinting is necessarily a mark of its era. While expressing dismay at the future is one option for concerned filmgoers, another is learning about what is actually happening in new restoration and projection developments in order to demand the best possible viewing experiences, a wider variety of which exist right now than likely ever have before.
Here are some recent film restorations screened over the course of this past year that I find to be worth noting. In a nod to the richness of what’s happening now, I have made a list of ten double-features, sometimes going even further; and in defiance of logistical limitations, I have considered all recent restorations that excite me, rather than stick to what I have been able to see up to now. Please consider this list incomplete. Add other great recent restorations that you know about in the comments:
1. They Live by Night (Nicholas Ray, 1948) and The Lusty Men (Nicholas Ray, 1952)
Two 35mm Film Foundation restorations of early works by a filmmaker who captures the highs and lows of human feelings.
2. Manila in the Claws of Light (Lino Brocka, 1975) and Batang West Side (Lav Diaz, 2001)
The same year that greeted a sparkling digital restoration of Brocka’s humanist epic about a poor boy looking for his lost love in a big city—often considered to as one of the great Filipino films—met a 35mm restoration of the first independent feature by the great current Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz, whose early viewing of Manila helped inspire him to become a filmmaker.
3. Nidhanaya (Lester James Peries, 1973) and Mysterious Object at Noon (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2000)
Two further treasures from the World Cinema Foundation, one a celebrated Sri Lankan family drama and the other the debut feature by a certain Thai experimenter who has since grown in stature.
4. Luther Price (various films and years) and Anne Charlotte Robertson (various films and years)
A number of restorations and rediscoveries presented at various festivals of short films by two Boston-area filmmakers whose major work began in the 1980s. Both artists make indirect, oft-painful autobiographies that shock with laughter and stun with beauty. Robertson passed away in 2012; Price has faked his death on past occasions, but lives on.
5. Caravan (Erik Charell, 1934) and The Adventures of Hajji Baba (Don Weis, 1954)
Two great Hollywood fantasies excavated this year for public pleasure. The first, essentially unscreened for over eighty years, is a musical romantic comedy about gypsies that stars a young Charles Boyer and was written by Samson Raphaelson (Lubitsch’s longtime collaborator). The second is a rousing Technicolor adventure tale of the time-old love affair between a poor boy and a rich girl, set in ancient Persia.
6. Le Joli Mai (Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme, 1963) and Providence (Alain Resnais, 1977)
Early collaborators Marker and Resnais parted ways in the 1950s to spend subsequent decades collecting isolated, fractured voices and perspectives through which to reflect contemporary life. The restorations of these two works in particular might prove novel even to viewers who have previously seen the films. The Le Joli Mai restoration, overseen by co-director Lhomme, presents a version of the movie with cuts per the late Marker’s wishes; the Providence restoration brings Resnais’s long-unavailable, bizarre and moving brew of Shakespeare and werewolf tales back into circulation. A restoration of Resnais’s Hiroshima, mon amour also premiered this year.
7. Stan Brakhage (various films and years) and Sidewalk Stories (Charles Lane, 1989)
Two great pleasures of American silent film. The first entry reflects an ongoing effort by the Academy Film Archive to restore works by an epic film poet who omitted sound from his films in order to focus on vision. The second is the writer-director-star Charles Lane’s debut feature, a 1980s Chaplin variation set in the West Village with a predominantly African American cast playing street artists and new friends.
8. Tosca’s Kiss (Daniel Schmid, 1984) and Cousin Jules (Dominique Benichetti, 1973)
Two fresh documentaries. The first, restored under the close gaze of cinematographer Renato Berta, is a blissful visit to retired opera singers living in Italy’s Casa Verde; the second is a sensorial immersion by debut filmmaker Benichetti into the life of his blacksmith cousin and the man’s wife, an elderly couple living in the French countryside. Cousin Jules is currently receiving its world premiere theatrical run in New York at Film Forum.
9. Boy Meets Girl (Leos Carax, 1984) and Mauvais Sang (Leos Carax, 1986)
Viewers who have seen Carax’s latest feature, Holy Motors, might sense it making reference to a mythology that begins with these two films, created in tandem with his eternal star, Denis Lavant. They jointly explode with energy, giving a young person’s sense that, in cinema, nearly anything is possible.
10. Satyajit Ray (various films and years) and Gregory Markopoulos (various films and years)
A pair of tremendous efforts to present the life’s works of two masters. The ongoing efforts to restore the deep-souled Indian master Ray’s films have so far yielded new renderings of tragicomic splendors including Charulata, The Big City, The Holy Man, and The Coward, as well as the installments of The Apu Trilogy. The Markopoulos project, undertaken largely by the late filmmaker’s longtime partner and fellow artist Robert Beavers, includes a cinematic Mecca for several moviegoers: A presentation of restored entries in Markopoulos’s eighty-hour Eniaios cycles, unfolding every four years outdoors in summertime on the Greek island of Temenos. Here’s looking forward to 2016.
Thanks for suggestions to Gustavo Beck, Adam Cook, Samuel Engel, Jytte Jensen, Neil McGlone, Boris Nelepo and Chris Stults.
Aaron Cutler works as a programming aide for the São Paulo International Film Festival and keeps a film criticism site, The Moviegoer.
Gregory Markopoulos: http://www.the-temenos.org/
Boy Meets Girl: http://www.filmlinc.com/nyff2013/films/boy-meets-girl
Mauvais Sang: http://www.filmforum.org/movies/more/mauvais_sang
For the complete list of year-end lists on Keyframe, go to The Year in Film: 2013.
For the complete index of the films on these lists, go to 2013 Year in Review: Indexed.