As King of Jazz (1930) made its world premiere last month at Universal Pictures: Restorations and Rediscoveries, film enthusiasts were introduced to a genre of films which they thought are lost in time. The event, which celebrated lesser known European works like Broadway (1929) and the Kiss before the Mirror (1933), highlighted the effort production houses are putting to bring Technicolor back to theaters in a new form.
Film curators all over the world are celebrating the yesteryear’s in reels. The recently held San Francisco Silent Film Festival (June 2- 5, 2016) brought five such gems from the silent era into life. Rob Byrne, board president of the Film Festival was quoted saying that he grew up watching Chaplin’s silent films like Modern Times (1936) and City Lights (1931) and wanted to bring them back to the theaters for a larger audience.
Film restoration is more of an archaeological expedition for curators. While finding an old film is like a treasure hunt, the effort that goes behind bringing back the movies to life is overwhelming. Byrne says that sometimes the curators need to go through exhibitor publications to understand the exhaustive details before reconstructing the missing shots.
The amount of effort that has already been put in film restoration is notable. From global film production houses to mid-size restoration agencies, the major players are putting all their efforts to digitally restore old classics – some even in 4K. And what makes the restoration effort noteworthy is some of these films have never even been released on DVD, leave alone Blu-ray.
Film curators hope that the digital restoration will introduce the old works to new eyes, apart from bringing back old favorites to life. From Kurosawa to Chaplin, old classics that were almost once lost has been digitally restored – some even in 4K. The list is varied – from classics of world cinema like The Third Man (1949), The Bicycle Thief (1948), and Notorious (1946) to cult hits like Dracula and Frankenstein. What makes the list more interesting is many among these have never been released for home viewing.
While some classics in the first half of the 20th century – the era of silent movies has been lost forever, curators are experimenting with classics that can be restored. Notable among the effort is John D. Lowry, a Canadian film restoration expert who developed his own technique called the Lowry Process to restore films. The technique reduces visual noise in motion pictures like dirt scratches and flicker, sharpening the quality of existing images, before making it possible to restore the complete film.
Lowry has restored more than five hundred classic films using this process, which includes some popular classics like Sunset Boulevard (1950), Casablanca (1942), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom(1984), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1965), and James Bond Film franchise to name a few.
Taking Lowry Process further, production houses has restored Hollywood classics like the original Star Wars trilogy, North by Northwest (1959) and Gone with the Wind (1939).
To cater to the diverse formats in which millennials consume content, curators are now restoring movies from celluloid to 4K digital where each frame is digitally polished to remove noise, colors and contrast are enhanced so that the film looks as good as new. For example, the Warner Bros Motion Pictures restored Citizen Kane (1941), which was recently premiered at the 68th Cannes Film Festival.
Who said you can’t relive yesteryear’s?