Getting More Immersed with Indiewire

  The Penske Media purchase of Indiewire has resulted in an expansion of my role as crafts and awards season contributor.  Beginning this week, I begin Emmy coverage of below-the-line contenders along with my usual Oscar season crafts reporting, working closely

Immersed in Blu-ray: Hitchcock and Bogart

The WB Archive Collection gets Hitch and Bogie on Blu-ray and they've never looked better for home viewing. In Kent Jones' indispensable doc, Hitchcock/Truffaut, he reminds us that Truffaut was on a mission to correct misconceptions about Hitch as a lightweight

Immersed in Books: Farber on Film

For the first time, the complete writings of film critic Manny Farber is available from Library of America, edited by Robert Polito (Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson). Manny Farber (1917-2008) was the first modernist film critic to write like a modernist.


Remembering Chinatown

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Festivals, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, Trailers | Leave a comment

Chinatown came out on Blu-ray two weeks ago (Paramount Home Ent.), and while it looks great in HD (the color seems right as witnessed by Gary Tooze’s screen captures at DVD Beaver), I have to agree with Bob Harris that it deserved better. It’s certainly a crown jewel worthy of the lavish attention given The Ten Commandments or Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

However, Paramount sent me the following info about the Blu-ray mastering: Chinatown was scanned from the original negative, but to significantly improve the image, several short sections where the original negative was missing were replaced with digitally combined separation master scans: “This gave a previously soft, compromised image quality a sharper more integrated look, especially in the ‘orange grove’ scene.”

Final color correction was overseen by Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Towne; the SD transfer was approved by Alonzo, who helped ensure that it remained true to the “scorched landscape” look of the original movie, which was one of the last printed in dye transfer by Technicolor.

Meanwhile, the 5.1 audio remix was done from an original mono multi-track recording. Audio expert Bruce Botnick oversaw the work and had a close working relationship with composer Jerry Goldsmith.

“When I first saw the movie, years and years ago, just before it was released, all I could think of was everything that was missing from the movie,” recalled Towne a few years ago when we spoke by phone about the last DVD. “And with the passage of time, those memories of what’s missing have faded and I can see the movie as a moviegoer––and it seems to me to hold together very well.”

Towne was especially proud of the fact that it never breaks from Gittes’ POV: “Not even The Maltese Falcon can say that,” he offered. “But Chinatown faithfully sticks to the point of view of the detective, which is a pretty difficult thing to do, because if there is nothing to cut away to, you have to keep telling the story strictly from his point of view. The tone of the piece is really consistent.”

For Towne, Chinatown is really about “the futility of good intentions.” “When I got to the end and the significance of the title and everything, I realized that was the basic, underlying truth of that particular story––deeply pessimistic but honest. It’s all too often a truth about humanity.”

He recalled a memorable line from The Seventh Seal: “No matter which way you turn, your ass is always in back of you.”

Towne, who wrote Gittes for his good friend Jack Nicholson (a consummate collaborator), described Gittes as “a naïve adolescent.” Towne has also long since gotten over his disagreements with director Roman Polanski: “I don’t think anybody ever worked harder than Roman. He’s exacting and I can’t imagine in retrospect that there could’ve been anybody but Roman. The two great elements that made the script work so well were Roman and John Huston. I think it was as convincing a dramatization of evil as any actor was liable to give you; Huston had the power, the patina of grandfatherly good nature, and the malevolence that was needed.”

Immersed in Blu-ray: A Night to Remember

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Below the Line, Blu-ray, Cinematography, Festivals, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech, Trailers | 1 Comment

Before James Cameron’s monumental Titanic (released theatrically this week in a costly and painstaking 3-D conversion), there was Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember (1958), which is currently out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. Elegant, restrained, and gripping come to mind, and for many this remains the key movie to watch about the Titanic disaster. (Next Saturday, of course, marks the 100th anniversary and the TCM Classic Film Fest has the U.S. premiere of the restoration at the Chinese at 9:30 pm.) Scripted wonderfully by Eric Ambler, A Night to Remember (starring Kenneth More and featuring Honor Blackman and a very young David McCallum) is a study in “nobility under pressure,” as film critic Michael Sragow reminds us in his enlightening Criterion notes.

Geoffrey Unsworth’s black and white cinematography is sumptuous once again, thanks to the ITV Studios Global Ent. restoration (carried out at the Perivale Archive). Deluxe 142 partnered on the digital picture restoration, scanning the original 35 mm camera negative on an ARRI Laser Scanner at 2K resolution.

“On A Night to Remember, … there are two important features — both associated with the film’s maritime location – which needed to be taken into consideration, explains Deluxe 142′s David Collard. “First, dancing highlights on water meant that you couldn’t automate restoration on these sections of the film because the highlights might be identified as dust and removed. Second, use of the automated stabilization tools would be an issue on sections of the film featuring lifeboats because they would attempt to correct the natural rolling of the boats. Image Systems’ Relativity and Clarity were used to soften the grain build up, which you inevitably get when you go from first to third generation film stock.”

According to Fiona Maxwell, restoration project advisor, “Another challenge was to put the film back to its original full length, as there was a scene which was originally removed for the release. This was the scene where Kenneth More helps a survivor holding a baby out of the water. He checks to see if the baby is breathing but, sadly, the child is already dead. The shot of a child being lowered into the water by Kenneth More was absent from the original release negative.”

Trevor Brown, the colorist at Deluxe 142, explained: “ Due to the censor cut we had to reinsert the missing shot and to cover the nasty join on the cut negatives. We inserted a fade down and up in DI. We had to do a little bit of an edit on this because of some negative damage but it’s in the original film.”

Immersed in Movies Hosts FMX Frame Rate Panel

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Events, Festivals, Movies, performance capture, Production Design, Shorts, stop-motion, Tech, VFX, Videogames, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

I will not only be attending my first FMX but I will also present a panel about higher frame rates with Doug Trumbull and RFX president Ray Feeney at FMX 2012. The 17th conference on Animation, Effects, Games, and Transmedia will take place May 8-11 in Stuttgart, Germany.

We will explore how higher frame rates will improve the quality of 3-D presentation and help forge a new cinematic language along with other innovations. While Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit is being shot at 48fps and James Cameron intends to shoot his upcoming Avatar sequels at 60 fps, Trumbull is already paving the way with his Showscan Digital process of 120 fps.

In addition, Trumbull provides an in-depth look into his prolific career (from 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Tree of Life). Also, Feeney presents a retrospective on the history of VFX. Feeney has created and implemented numerous new technologies, many of which have become industry standard techniques. Intimately familiar with Robert Abel and Associates (RA&A) from his time there, Feeney reveals how the innovative work of RA&A continues to influence various VFX developments and processes that are nowadays taken for granted — spanning from full ray-traced renders to fluid character animation.
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Snow White and 20,000 Leagues Coming to TCM Fest

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Events, Festivals, Movies, Oscar, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

The TCM Classic Film Festival (in collaboration with D23: The Official Disney Fan Club) will present a 75th anniversary screening of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Plus Kirk Douglas will be on hand to introduce the first general public screening of the newly restored 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), which is surely Blu-ray bound.

On Saturday, April 14, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs will screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theater at 1:00 p.m. This film revolutionized the art of animation with its cutting edge technique, design and storytelling — setting animation in pursuit of an ever more realistic look. Moreover, it demonstrated animation’s viability as a legitimate cinematic art form. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestowed a special Academy Award on Walt Disney, recognizing Snow White as “a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field.” The unique Oscar trophy consisted of one full-sized statuette standing next to seven miniature versions. The film also earned an Oscar nomination for Leigh Harline’s memorable score.

In 1997, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was named one of the 100 Greatest Films of All Time by the American Film Institute (AFI). The following year, the AFI named it the greatest American animated film of all time.
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SIGGRAPH Mobile Launched

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Education, Events, Festivals, Movies, performance capture, Production Design, Shorts, Tech, VFX, Videogames, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

SIGGRAPH Mobile, inspired by the Symposium on Apps at SIGGRAPH Asia 2011, is a first-time SIGGRAPH program developed to showcase the latest advancements in mobile development.

SIGGRAPH Mobile seeks innovative mobile pioneers to submit their latest discoveries in the field of mobile graphics and apps. The program is divided into four submission categories:

Presentations – One speaker presents on a single topic, technology, or result
Panels – Multiple speaker presentation and discussion of a particular area
Workshops – Hands-on tutorials for current mobile technologies and tools
Demonstrations – Full-day demonstrations of the latest and greatest mobile applications, software, and hardware
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The Return of Napoleon This Weekend in Oakland

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Festivals, Movies, Music, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

I highly recommend taking in the fully-restored Napoleon beginning today at Oakland’s Art Deco Paramount Theater. Abel Gance’s legendary epic has never looked better, thanks to more than 30 minutes of additional footage discovered by Kevin Brownlow. Plus you’ll get to enjoy Carl Davis conducting his rousing score in person for the first time in America with the Oakland East Bay Symphony. I spoke with Brownlow and Davis for this week’s Immersed in Movies column at TOH at Indiewire.
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Further Restored Napoleon to Debut in Oakland

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Festivals, Movies, Music, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival will present the U.S. premiere of Abel Gance’s legendary Napoleon in its complete restoration by Academy Award-winning historian, documentarian and archivist Kevin Brownlow, in four special screenings at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre on March 24, 25, 31, and April 1, 2012.

The Brownlow restoration, produced with his partner Patrick Stanbury at Photoplay Prods. in association with the BFI, is the most complete version of Gance’s masterpiece since its 1927 premiere at the Paris Opéra.

The SFSFF screenings also mark the U.S. premiere of the renowned orchestral score, written over 30 years ago (and twice expanded since), by Carl Davis, who will conduct the Oakland East Bay Symphony.

The presentation at the 3,000-seat, Art Deco Oakland Paramount will be climaxed by its finale in “Polyvision”—an enormous triptych, employing three specially installed synchronized projectors, that will dramatically expand the screen to triple its width. The logistics and expense of screening Napoleon properly with full orchestra and special equipment have made it nearly impossible to mount. Gance’s Napoleon hasn’t been screened theatrically in the U.S. with live orchestra for nearly 30 years and there are no plans to repeat the SFSFF event in any other American city.

The current restoration, completed in 2000 but not previously seen outside Europe, reclaims more than 30 minutes of additional footage discovered since the 1979 screening and visually upgrades much of the film. This unique 35mm print, made at the laboratory of the BFI’s National Archive, uses traditional dye-bath techniques to recreate the color tints and tones that enhanced the film on its original release, giving a vividness to the image as never before experienced in this country. Each screening of the 5 1/2-hour epic will begin in the afternoon and will be shown in four parts with three intermissions, including a dinner break. Tickets are available online through the  SFSFF website,

“I was stunned by the cinematic flair,” says Brownlow. “I was exhilarated by the rapid cutting and the swirling camera movement. What daring! I had never seen anything comparable — and I set out to find more of it.” That determination led to a lifelong quest. The first major Brownlow/BFI restoration culminated in a screening at the Telluride Film Festival in 1979, with 89-year-old Gance watching from a nearby hotel window. Under the auspices of Francis Ford Coppola and Robert A. Harris, a version of this restoration, accompanied by a score composed by Mr. Coppola’s father Carmine, was presented to great acclaim at Radio City Music Hall and other venues in the U.S. and around the world in the early 1980s. Mr. Brownlow and the BFI did additional restoration work in 1983.

Studio Ghibli Retro Come to LA

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Festivals, Movies | Leave a comment

GKIDS is bringing a complete retrospective of films from Japan’s renowned Studio Ghibli to the Egyptian and Aero Theatres in Los Angeles from Thursday, Jan. 26 to Sunday, Feb. 12. The Los Angeles run follows a box office record-breaking engagement at New York ’s IFC Center .

All 15 Studio Ghibli feature films produced between 1984 and 2008 will be presented, including Hayao Miyazaki’s Academy Award-winning Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Kiki’s Delivery Service.  Films will be shown in both the subtitled and English dubbed versions.

GKIDS recently entered into agreement with Studio Ghibli to handle North American theatrical distribution for their library of animated features.

Spielberg, Tintin, and the Race for Oscar

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Books, Festivals, Movies, performance capture, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

In my TOH column, I discuss my positive reactions to The Adventures of Tintin, which closed the AFI fest Thursday night. It’s not only a serious animated Oscar contender but also a game-changer for performance capture, as Weta navigates successfully through the uncanny valley.

Lollipop Monster to Close German Currents Showcase

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Festivals, Movies | Leave a comment

The five-day film series, German Currents Showcase, kicks off this Wednesday, Oct. 26, with the LA premiere of Yasemin Samdereli’s Almanya: Welcome to Germany, with a reception to follow. One of the closing night films, Lollipop Monster, is especially intriguing given it’s mixed-media use of music videos, Super 16 and short animation sequences to tell a spunky tale about teenage misfits.  Director Ziska Riemann (also a comic book artist) will be on hand for a Q&A immediately following the screening.  For more information on these films and the film series, you can view the entire program at, and tickets can be purchased at