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Friday, July 13, 2012 - Page updated at 03:00 p.m.
35mm film series kicks off with grand restoration of 'Grand Illusion'
By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic
Jean Renoir's World War I drama "Grand Illusion" celebrates its 75th anniversary with a run this week at Northwest Film Forum, in a newly restored 35mm print — and a format gradually slipping away.
"When I saw this print, I felt like I actually saw [the film] for the first time," said Adam Sekular, program director of NWFF. "Many of the prints I'd seen previously just didn't have the luminosity that this print has — it kind of jumps off the screen."
The first foreign film to receive an Academy Award nomination for best picture, "Grand Illusion" stars Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay and Erich von Stroheim in an anti-war tale set among French prisoners in German POW camps. Though immediately acclaimed, the film was nearly lost: Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels named it "cinema enemy number one" and its original negative was confiscated by the Germans. Recovered decades later, it received a major restoration for its anniversary by Studiocanal and the Cinémathèque de Toulouse, complete with restored sound and newly revised subtitles. It plays at NWFF nightly through Thursday.
"Grand Illusion" screens as part of the ongoing series "35mm: The Celluloid Dream" at NWFF this summer; it's both celebration and elegy. The series will also include "The Graduate," "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," "The Long Day Closes" and "The Devil Probably," all screening in new 35mm prints (several of which, including "Colonel Blimp," have had major restoration work).
Film, threaded through a projector's beam of light, has been with us more than a century; now, rather suddenly, it's disappearing. Most multiplexes today have replaced their film projectors with digital equipment, screening movies that arrive on a hard disk rather than a canister of reels. In recent months, Hollywood studios have begun indicating that they will soon stop shipping movies in 35mm; smaller cinemas have been scrambling to update equipment or face limitations on what will be available to screen.
"It's a very different experience than a video projection," said Sekular of film. "There's a material presence to it, there's a tangible object that you can feel."
These days NWFF screens the majority of its offerings in digital formats, the preferred mode of many contemporary independent filmmakers. But with the flexibility to show movies in both high-tech and old-school fashion, NWFF is celebrating classic 35mm — with the current series, with a Universal Pictures 100th Anniversary series in the fall (to include "Jaws," "The Sting" and more), and with ongoing presentations of archival films on film.
"We're trying to create the conversation about this transition through a series like this," Sekular said. "We want to continue to screen as many films in 35mm as we can, until nobody will service those prints to us."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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