DCP – Digital Cinema Package – at Film Forum

Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove in Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE

On Friday, March 2, Film Forum started a week long series of 13 classic films screened in the digital format DCP (Digital Cinema Package).  What this means is that these films were screened in high definition video, projected from a hard drive, as opposed to traditional 35mm film prints.  The movies shown were selected by Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum’s Director of Repertory Programming.

While digital screenings may not seem remarkable to the average moviegoer, it is remarkable for Film Forum.  The repertory side of Film Forum prides itself on showing only 35mm film prints of older movies, many of which are brand new prints.  The reason for Film Forum’s commitment to 35mm is that this is the way these films were meant to be seen.   Film Forum’s decision to have a series of classic films in the digital format, the way most theatres now screen current movies, could be seen as a break with tradition.  On the other hand it is also an acknowledgement that the digital format has made great strides in quality, especially when it comes to the restoration of older films.  Film Forum has made it very clear that DCP will not be replacing 35mm prints at Film Forum.

Last Friday afternoon I attended a screening of a stunning digital restoration of Stanley Kubrick’s cold war classic “Dr. Strangelove” (1964).  The screening was preceded by a talk and demonstration with Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Grover Crisp.  Film Forum Publicist Jenny Jediny introduced Crisp saying, “To those of us in the world of film classics he is simply a guru of film restoration and film preservation.”

Crisp explained that “Dr. Strangelove” was his first digital restoration project back in 2004.  He said that the restoration was done at a resolution of 4K, which is equal in resolution to 35mm film. Of the original negative Crisp recalled that, “This film suffered the worst of all fates in that the original camera negative was destroyed many decades ago through over printing and carelessness.”

Crisp said that Kubrick himself oversaw the creation of many prints of “Dr. Strangelove” but, since the original negative had been destroyed, Kubrick was hamstrung by having to work with duplicate negatives created from source material that was not well made.  In addition, Crisp said that Kubrick was using these less than ideal elements to make photochemical prints and, as a result, Kubrick “could never really get what he wanted the film to look like.”  Crisp continued, explaining that “what we were able to do was go back to the source of those negatives and prints and digitally scan that in at a high enough resolution which gave us a pretty wide dynamic range in terms of what we wanted to do with it and get the most out of that film element.”  Crisp added that in addition to providing improved resolution, the scanned elements were filled with scratches and dirt that were fixed and cleaned digitally.

Crisp screened a side-by-side comparison of “Dr. Strangelove,” switching between a 35mm print of the film and the DCP version.  He demonstrated that the DCP version was able to pull more sharpness and detail out of the film elements than the film print.  “It really does allow you to capture the image that they were looking at through the viewfinder and thought they were getting,” Crisp explained.  He pointed out that the traditional photochemical process involved making prints from duplicate elements. Duplicate elements, by their nature, lose a certain amount of sharpness.

Crisp said that part of his digital restoration process involves maintaining the grain of the original film. He pointed out that some restorations remove the grain, which results in a very smooth, plastic like look, which, he explained, also reduces sharpness.

Crisp concluded by saying that he wanted his 4K resolutions to retain the experience of seeing movies on film. “The art form is film and you should see it the way it was meant to be seen.”  However he pointed out that, “Inevitably there will not be film prints anymore.  At some point that’s going to happen.  Now is the time to start doing these things the right way so that they don’t just look like video presentations. They should really look like film presentations. I think we’ve accomplished that with the films in this series.”

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on March 7, 2012, in Feature Articles, Film Forum and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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