Thursday, April 22, 2004

Opening Night at Ebertfest

I'll keep this brief as my bed beckons me. Also, I'm writing this from the hotel lounge computer, so I don't want to hog it, not that there's going to be great demand at almost 1:30 a.m.

Prior to the screening of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, Roger Ebert talked on stage with Jack Valenti, the longtime head of the Motion Picture Association of America, for ten to fifteen minutes. Valenti has come under fire for the ratings system and the MPAA crackdown on file sharing, stances which earned him a few scattered hisses from the audience. The majority politely listened and clapped at various moments. As a special guest, Valenti received the first of this year's Silver Thumbs, a trophy that appears to be modeled on a life-size reproduction of Ebert's right hand giving a thumbs up.

The two friends bandied about a few issues, familiar stuff like the ratings system, piracy, and American films as exports. Nothing all that surprising to hear, although apparently an area theater chain is offering an "R card" that would allow parents to give their approval for their underage teenagers to attend R rated movies. The teens would receive a photo ID indicating that they were permitted to see such films. Valenti and Ebert object to the idea, for what it's worth.

There's no need for me to recap LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, but I do have a few thoughts on the film. The pristine 70mm print was a sight to behold. DVD is great and all, but it simply cannot compare to the theatrical experience, especially in a case like this. In LAWRENCE OF ARABIA there are several scenes in which a key person or image is the maybe six inches tall on the screen, and that's on the big screen at the Virginia Theater. Needless to say, those portions of the picture are impossible to see at home, even if you have a big screen TV.

Computer generated effects are de rigeur in contemporary Hollywood and won't be going away, but there's something to be said for seeing the real thing. David Lean used hundreds--or was it thousands--of real extras, as opposed to their modern day CG brothers. There's a palpable difference in seeing the scope of the shots and the action actually unfolding in them. The first siege that Lawrence leads, seen in long shot, is a breathtaking sequence that would lose something with a bunch of ones and zeroes scurrying around in the background.

The classical filmmaking approach of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA puts forward a strong argument against the current trend of hyper editing. Lean creates a stronger sense of space and time through long takes of master shots and extreme wide shots. There's little room for this kind of pacing in today's mainstream films, perhaps from fear of waning audience attention spans, yet the luxurious pacing of Lean's never feels slow or drudgerous. Instead it begs to be paid attention.

Joining Ebert on stage for the post-film discussion were Robert Harris, a noted film restorationist who saved LAWRENCE OF ARABIA from disappearing forever, and the film's editor, the great Anne V. Coates. Coates was something of a surprise guest and a real treat for the cineastes in attendance. Take a look at her IMDB filmography to see the many wonderful films on which she has worked.

A couple of tidbits from this discussion...LAWRENCE OF ARABIA had a shooting ratio of 9:1. The original negative and original continuity could not be located when Harris went to restore the film, so Coates' participation was extremely important in making sure it could survive.

Time for me to hit the sack. TARNATION, THE SON (LE FILS), and ONCE UPON A TIME...WHEN WE WERE COLORED are all on tap for Thursday, as well as a couple morning panels for which I'll drag myself out of bed early.

No comments:

Post a Comment