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The Resolution Starts Now: 4K Restorations from Sony Pictures

December 1, 2013 - December 15, 2013

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Few of us would have predicted the precipitous conversion of commercial film exhibition from 35mm prints to digital media, though archives still covet photochemical prints. It has arrived with some accompanying costs—disturbed aesthetic histories, for one—but it also situates cinema, properly, as an evolving technology. A nine-film series, The Resolution Starts Now attempts to air some of the complex issues raised by the ouster of analog while enjoying laudable examples of recent 4K restorations from Sony Pictures.

But first the facts: what we see in digitally equipped movie theaters is high-definition digital cinema. It’s termed 2K, meaning a picture standard that produces an image that is 1920 x 1080 pixels or just over two million bits of information. However, there is a standard beyond 2K that is used for scanning older films called 4K, which contains about eight million bits of screen info. This same 4K standard is used for film restoration because it allows for the manipulation of picture elements at a level far superior to its general exhibition format. Occasionally, as in this series, 4K is used as an exhibition format for special screenings.

Contemporary films originate on a digital platform, making digital cinema the native exhibition standard. A prickly issue arises when an older film, born photochemical, is transferred to digital for projection. Suddenly, the “film” finds itself occupying the screen in absolute stability, the subliminal flicker gone, the light values subtly altered, the contrast and depth redefined. Does this misrepresent the experience of film history? Perhaps. Or does it resurrect a history that might otherwise be lost to us? Again, perhaps.

To mine some of these matters, we’ve asked exemplary archivist Grover Crisp, senior vice president of asset management, film restoration and digital mastering at Sony Pictures, to come to BAM/PFA. Ever since Sony acquired Columbia Pictures, they’ve been involved in restoring their holdings. Under Crisp’s guidance they’ve returned not just the blockbusters, such as On the Waterfront, Lawrence of Arabia, and Taxi Driver, to circulation, but also the more obscure titles, reaching deep into their vaults. Crisp’s insights about the state of digital preservation, the technological choices driven by new models of distribution, and the thorny side of cinematic authenticity will throw light on this digital dilemma.

Steve Seid, Video Curator

For more on analog versus digital, read Steve Seid's recent blog post, DCP: Demanding Conversion Perfected.

Sunday, December 1, 2013
3:00 p.m. Lawrence of Arabia
David Lean (U.K., 1962). 4K Widescreen! Embedding the enigma of T. E. Lawrence in unforgettable desert images, David Lean and cinematographer Freddie Young created “an astonishing, unrepeatable epic” (Chicago Tribune). (221 mins)

Thursday, December 5, 2013
7:00 p.m. Grover Crisp: The Resolution Starts Now, followed by Bonjour Tristesse
One of the leading voices in the field of digital preservation, Sony Pictures archivist Grover Crisp joins us to discuss technological changes in the field of film preservation and exhibition. Followed by an introduction and screening of Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse, starring Jean Seberg and David Niven, at 7:45 p.m. (94 mins, plus presentation).

Saturday, December 7, 2013
6:30 p.m. Alamo Bay
Louis Malle (U.S., 1985). 4K Restoration! Introduced by Grover Crisp. A downhearted Vietnam vet (Ed Harris) clashes with a newly arrived community of Vietnamese refugees in the shrimping waters of the Texas gulf in Malle’s fascinating look at American racial turmoil. (98 mins)

Saturday, December 7, 2013
9:00 p.m. Taxi Driver
Martin Scorsese (U.S., 1976). 4K Restoration! Introduced by Grover Crisp. Vietnam vet turned vigilante Robert De Niro cruises through a New York cesspool of crime and concupiscence until he meets his supposed savior, the angelic Cybill Shephard, in Scorsese’s memorable film, one of the acknowledged classics of the 1970s. (113 mins)

Sunday, December 8, 2013
5:15 p.m. Picnic
Joshua Logan (U.S., 1956). 2K Widescreen! A staid Kansas town prepares for its annual Labor Day picnic. On the surface, this town is idyllic Americana, but underneath seethe some not-so-bucolic desires. Kim Novak, Rosalind Russell, and William Holden star. (115 mins)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
7:00 p.m. Experiment in Terror
Blake Edwards (U.S., 1962). 2K Restoration! Bank teller Lee Remick gets a phone call she’ll never forget: embezzle a hefty sum from the bank or her sister gets snatched. Edwards (The Pink Panther) goes noir in this San Francisco-set thriller. (123 mins)

Friday, December 13, 2013
7:00 p.m. Obsession
Brian De Palma (U.S., 1976). 2K Restoration! A heightened homage to Hitchcock’s much-valorized Vertigo, this Paul Schrader-written thriller induces bouts of dizziness through its whirlpooling camera moves, eddying Bernard Herrmann score, and maniacal plot twists, replete with body doubles and double crosses. (98 mins)

Friday, December 13, 2013
9:00 p.m. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Stanley Kubrick (U.K., 1964). 4K Restoration! Peter Sellers, Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott, and Peter Sellers (again) star in Kubrick’s scathing satire on the nuclear age. Cold War camp, here brought to life in a luminous 4K restoration. (94 mins)

Sunday, December 15, 2013
3:00 p.m. On the Waterfront
Elia Kazan (U.S., 1954). 4K Restoration! “I coulda been a contender,” mumbles failed boxer Marlon Brando in this brilliant American noir drama, set among the docks, unions, and cops of an East coast waterfront. Winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor. (108 mins)