Making movies. Enjoying movies. Remembering movies.
THE SCREENING ROOM
By Rick Mitchell
The 1963 version of "Cleopatra" is still the most expensive western hemisphere film ever made when adjusted for inflation, and that and the behind-the-camera stories related to its production still make it the butt of jokes about filmmaking excesses. These issues were factors in reviews of the film when it finally premiered. But no one has really seen it since then. Aside from a possible screening at Bradford, England, the last known 70mm presentation was a fading print at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood in the early Seventies. 35mm prints of varying length and quality have occasionally played at various venues, including one earlier this year at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 16mm anamorphic prints of the 189 minute general release version were available for rental from Films Incorporated, some of which may have found their way into the libraries of film collectors, but otherwise most viewings of the film have been via video from various sources. And, as a recent screening proved, "Cleopatra" is a film that needs to be seen on the big screen, ideally from a 70mm print.
The announcement that "Cleopatra" was to be included in this yearıs "Great To Be Nominated" program at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stirred interest among local Wide Screen and 70mm buffs as to what kind of print would be shown, as Schawn Belston of 20th Century Fox is the only studio preservationist who had been given a mandate to restore and strike new prints of all the studio's Wide Film productions.* The announcement that a new 70mm print would be shown had a lot of people salivating and those who attended the screening were well rewarded, for the new print was stunning, possibly even looking better than original prints when one allows for improvement in print stocks over forty years. A representative of Fotokem Laboratories, which struck the print, said the negative was in perfect shape.
"Cleopatra" in 70mm is perfect
my recent comments about the potential benefits of
reviving 65mm for production. Unlike in "South Pacific," Shamroy used
shorter focal length lenses for many of the film's full shots. Thus, not
only do you feel that you are in the huge sets with the characters, you
see details that would be lost in even the most high end home HD system,
including Ms. Taylor's throat and vaccination scars, for which no
attempt was made to hide with makeup. And in the mob scenes, most
notably the famous entry into Rome, details in the faces of the literal
cast of thousands are quite visible.
Although many are put off by its
four hour three minute (minus intermission) length, "Cleopatra" actually
holds up very well and the beautiful images created by production
designer John De Cuir and his many associates and captured by the great
Leon Shamroy, ASC keep one's eyes glued to the screen even in intimate
dramatic scenes. Based on his earlier films, director Joseph L.
Mankiewicz apparently preferred the deep focus approach that was in
vogue when he began directing in 1946, thus most of those dramatic
scenes are played in beautifully composed and lit medium to medium close
two shots, editor Dorothy Spencer going to loose close-ups only when
it's dramatically valid to do so.
*(For the record: including the CinemaScope 55 productions "Carousel" and "The King And I," and "My Fair Lady," to which it has some rights, 20th Century Fox has 12 wide negative films. With the pre-1986 MGM films, "Around The World In Eighty Days," and Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet," Warner Bros. has 12 if you also count its two three panel Cinerama films. And with its acquisition of the post 1986 MGM-United Artists library, which includes "Porgy And Bess," Sony now has 9-1/2; "MacKenna's Gold" (1969) having been shot partially in 65mm and partially 35mm anamorphic. Disney has 4, plus the Technirama shot "Sleeping Beauty" has been preserved in 65mm. Similarly Universal has the Technirama shot "Spartacus" and the VistaVision shot "Vertigo" preserved in 65mm added to its two original 65mm productions. The rights of certain other films are a subject for further research.)
Rick Mitchell is a film editor, film director, and film historian. He lives in Los Angeles.
İ 2006 Rick Mitchell. All rights reserved.
IMAGES: İ 20th Century Fox All rights reserved.
Copyright 2004-2006 From Script To DVD. All rights reserved.
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