15 July 2010
ITV Studios Global Entertainment has partnered with Paramount Pictures and Romulus Films to save this great classic and restore it back to its former glory. This restoration is the culmination of over 10 years of campaigning for the funding, permissions, and sponsorship needed to preserve and protect this important film. As this Romulus Films picture has shared rights between ITV Studios Global Entertainment and Paramount Pictures either one or the other of us were ready and willing to collaborate on the project over the years but with many changes in both of our organizations only in 2009 were we in the same place at the same time!
My technical team at our Perivale Archive were given access by Romulus Films to the original film elements. These were called in to our facility where they measured checked and compared all the possible reels to help identify the best technical route. The Original 35mm camera negatives are three strip with three separate layers Yellow, Magenta and Cyan making up each reel. These Negatives were badly faded with different levels of shrinkage and damage causing registration problems with the picture and even switching to black and white in the middle of the rapids scene! To conquer the effects of age and degradation each reel was scanned at high resolution at Cinesite in London. These files were shipped to Warner’s MPI in Los Angeles who under supervision by Ron Smith of Paramount Pictures digitally recombined the separation scans using restoration tools to repair tears and scratches, remove dirt and stabilize the picture.
We had a special insight into how to re-grade the picture and remove and coloured hue or phosphorescence that had occurred in the studio scenes. This was due to some years ago having engaged the services of the great British cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who had photographed the film for Director John Huston In 1951. Jack arrived at Pinewood studios one cold winter morning at Studio Seven where there is a plaque outside in his honour. The occasion was to screen a year of release Technicolor dye transfer print of “The African Queen” we had shipped over from the Los Angeles Academy Archive where it was lodged. It was released into our safe keeping for this important screening. Jack arrived bang on time and ready to go to work. Advising us on the colour grading and providing detail of how each scene had been shot as a guide to how the film should look when it was restored. Collaborating with Barry Allen from Paramount we miked Jack up and recorded from behind him with a video camera so that we had his comments filmed in sync with the images on the screen. His memory was razor sharp and it was fascinating watching the mute print with Jack explaining in detail the lighting and filters he had used, when there were studio inserts and most fascinating of all divulged the behind the scenes secrets of getting some of the most difficult footage This information became and invaluable guide to the restoration. This was my first meeting with jack and the beginning of a friendship that lasted until his death last year.
The sound track also underwent full digital audio restoration at Audio Mechanics in L.A. removing clicks, hum, and other audio defects before creating a new Optical soundtrack negative. The Digital files have been output to a high resolution digital cinema File as well as creating a pristine new combined 35mm negative and an HD master.
The end results are stunning we had our world premier of the restoration at the Cannes film festival in May of this year followed by the UK Premier at the BFI and a wonderful screening in Bologna Italy at the film festival there earlier this month. All three events were high profile due to support from the Huston Family.
I had met with the Directors daughter Anjelica Huston some six years ago and garnered her support for the project. This was following the screening at the BFI of another John Huston Directed from our catalogue “The Dead” in which Anjelica stars. At the private dinner following the screening and Q&A I asked Anjelica if she would support the re-release and she was most enthusiastic about the restoration project. True to her word Anjelica has participated in radio, Television and print interviews and lent her name and image to an exclusive HMV campaign to support the Blu ray release.
When Anjelica’s filming schedule meant she was unable to attend our World premier event in Cannes she proposed her younger brother the Hollywood Actor Danny Huston who was in Cannes for his role in the new “Robin Hood” movie which opened the festival. So our world premier was attended by the son of the Director, who introduced the film and regaled the sell-out audience with some anecdotes about his famous father.
Anjelica Huston was able to support our June UK Theatrical Premiere at the BFI Southbank coming on stage to help introduce the film as well as participating in an Audience Q&A session alongside Angela Allen who worked on set in Africa with John Huston. This screening was also sold out and is pre-cursor to the full Theatrical roll-out for both Digital and 35mm release by our agents Park Circus in Cinemas through-out Europe in 2011. The film can now be re-released in the Cinema both on 35mm prints and digital projection, and will be available for High definition Television transmission, Blu Ray disc and standard definition Television, and DVD exploitation. All formats benefiting from the hours of restoration using today’s technologies to protect and preserve this film both digitally and photo-chemically for the next 100 years and beyond.
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