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Recently Restored

September 1 - October 5

From September 1 through October 5, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents Recently Restored, a series of seventeen films showcasing recent achievements in film restoration. Accompanying the series are several screenings of DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME, Bill Morrison's imaginative and informative documentary centered on the discovery of long-lost silent films in a former Yukon boomtown.

This recurring series is by no means the only place in our program where restoration efforts are highlighted. Three of our week-long runs this month — NO MAPS ON MY TAPS, L'IMPORTANT C'EST D'AIMER, and IL BOOM — feature restorations, as do our upcoming runs of Jean-Luc Godard's LA CHINOISE and LE GAI SAVOIR in early October.

Film restoration is distinguished from conservation (storing prints and other media in optimal conditions) and preservation (transferring a film to a more stable storage medium, such as from nitrate stock to safety stock). Restoration involves a more active intervention designed to return a film to an original state that has been compromised by such factors as deterioration, damage, fading, loss of footage, and loss of information (such as color-tinting).

Restoration is a relatively recent phenomenon in the timeline of film history, seldom undertaken before the 1970s. Stimulated by the advent of the home-video market and cable movie-channels, restoration efforts gained momentum in the 1980s and 1990s, with several high-profile examples (NAPOLEON, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, VERTIGO) winning attention and even a degree of box-office success.

The most important — and potentially problematic — development in the history of film restoration has been the shift from photochemical, film-based processes to digital processes. The first feature film to be restored digitally was Disney’s SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS in 1993. The prevalence of higher-resolution home-entertainment formats such as Blu-Ray and HDTV has increased the demand for superior copies that more closely approximate the film’s original theatrical quality.

Digital tools have given archivists greater control over such factors as dirt, scratches, shrinkage, color grading, and even the replacement of damaged or missing areas by culling information from other, more intact areas of the print. Digital restorations are currently considerably more expensive than photochemical ones. They also carry the danger of overzealously removing such perceived imperfections as grain, flicker, and jitter to produce a sterile, excessively smooth, and inauthentic result.

These problems highlight an essential principle of film restoration: it is not simply a matter of replicating a universally agreed-upon original version of the film. The differences in the tools, materials, and conditions by which the restored version is produced and presented make such purity impossible. This was true of film-to-film restorations (such as those involving movies originally filmed on nitrate stock and/or projected on arc-lamp projectors), and it is even more true of film-to-digital ones. Film restoration necessarily involves a negotiation between the original source and the current technology, and, accordingly, it requires a high degree of informed but inevitably interpretative judgment on the part of the restorationist.

Reflecting the increasing dominance of digital tools and processes in film restoration, all the films in this series are presented in digital formats. We want to emphasize, however, that important achievements in photochemical film restoration and preservation continue to be made, as demonstrated in the latest edition of the UCLA Festival of Preservation, which will be presented here in October.

— Martin Rubin, Associate Director of Programming

Special thanks to Bret Berg, American Genre Film Archive; David Marriott and Ei Toshinari, Arbelos Films; Tim Lanza, Cohen Film Collection; Clemence Taillandier and Maxwell Wolkin, Film Movement; Brian Belovarac, Janus Films; Jonathan Hertzberg, Kino Lorber; Dennis Doros and Amy Heller, Milestone Film & Video; Andrea Benveniste, 20th Century Fox; Ben Model, Undercrank Productions; Dennis Chong, Universal Pictures.

Buy a ticket at our regular prices for the first "Recently Restored" film on any Saturday in September, and get a ticket for the second "Recently Restored" film that day at the discounted rate with proof of your original purchase: General Admission $7; Students $5; Members $4. This discount rate applies to the second feature only. Discount available in person at the box office only.