Pogorzelski: THE SATYAJIT RAY
PRESERVATION PROJECT REALLY STARTED WITH RAY
RECEIVING AN HONORARY OSCAR AT THE 64th ACADEMY AWARDS. THE PRODUCERS WHO PUT TOGETHER
THAT TELECAST HAD A LOT OF DIFFICULTY IN
ASSEMBLING THE CLIP PACKAGE. THE PRINTS THEY FOUND
WERE BEAT UP, SCRATCHED, MANGLED, MISSING SECTIONS, SO A COALITION OF THE ACADEMY
AND NONPROFIT FOUNDATIONS STARTED AN EFFORT
TO PRESERVE RAY’S FILMS. Becker: RAY IS ONE OF
THE ESSENTIAL FIGURES IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF
INTERNATIONAL ART-HOUSE CINEMA. THE APU TRILOGY
WAS IN A SORT OF SPECIAL PLACE NOT ONLY IN HIS CAREER, BECAUSE IT WAS THE START
OF HIS CAREER AND IT’S WHAT LAUNCHED HIM
ON THE INTERNATIONAL SCENE, BUT ALSO BECAUSE
THE FILMS THEMSELVES WERE IN SUCH
LAMENTABLE CONDITION. Lindner:
JUST AS PEOPLE WERE STARTING
TO REALLY COMMIT THEMSELVES TO PRESERVING HIS MASTERPIECES,
AS PART OF THAT WORK, THERE WAS A TRAGIC FIRE
AT A LAB IN LONDON — A LAB CALLED
THE HENDERSON FILM LAB. Pogorzelski: THE RESULT WAS
THAT SEVERAL VAULTS’ WORTH OF NITRATE AND SAFETY FILM WERE EITHER COMPLETELY DESTROYED
OR SEVERELY DAMAGED, INCLUDING THE NEGATIVES
TO THE APU TRILOGY. Lindner:
EDGES WERE MELTED, PERFORATIONS WERE TORN
AND DISTORTED, AND SOMETIMES WHOLE SECTIONS
WERE FUSED TOGETHER. AND SO THOSE ORIGINAL PIECES
THAT CAME BACK FROM THE FIRE SEEMED TO BE A TOTAL LOSS. Pogorzelski:
BUT, LUCKILY, THE DIRECTOR
OF THE ACADEMY FILM ARCHIVE ASKED FOR ALL OF THE FILM
AND EVEN ANY FILM CANS RELATED TO RAY’S FILMS TO BE SHIPPED
FROM LONDON TO LOS ANGELES. Becker: CALLING TO HAVE IT SENT
TO THE ACADEMY TO BE PRESERVED, AND THEN NOT THROWING IT OUT DESPITE THE FACT THAT IT HAD
BEEN DEEMED COMPLETELY UNUSABLE IS A KIND OF ACT OF FAITH
THAT SAYS, “YOU KNOW WHAT? THIS THING — THIS FILM
THAT PASSED THROUGH THE CAMERA, THAT THOSE ACTORS
STOOD IN FRONT OF, THAT THAT DIRECTOR CAUSED
TO ROLL IN THE FIRST PLACE AND CAUSED TO CUT — THERE’S SOMETHING SACRED ABOUT
THAT AND IT HAS TO BE PRESERVED. Lindner:
THEY STAYED THERE. THEY SAT THERE ON OUR SHELVES
FOR 20 YEARS. AND WHEN WE HAD THIS OPPORTUNITY TO DO THE DIGITAL RESTORATIONS
WITH CRITERION, THAT STARTED US THINKING,
“IS THERE ANYTHING LEFT? COULD WE GO BACK TO THEM?” THIS IS THE FILM THAT’S BEEN SITTING
AT THE ARCHIVE FOR 20 YEARS. THE FIRST THING WE DID IS TAKE
THEM OUT OF THOSE SMOKY CANS AND FIND OUT WHAT WAS LEFT. SOMETIMES THE RESULTS
WERE PRETTY HORRIFIC. Kline:
THE FIRST CAN THAT WE OPENED SHOULD HAVE MADE US
CLOSE THE CANS AND JUST SAY, “OKAY, WE CAN’T USE THESE,”
‘CAUSE THEY WERE — I MEAN, THE FILM LITERALLY
LOOKED LIKE IT WAS IN A FIRE. Pogorzelski: THIS AN EXAMPLE
OF EXTREMELY CHARRED FILM COMPLETELY MELTED TOGETHER. THIS WAS PROBABLY CLOSEST
TO A DIRECT FLAME. Kline: IT WAS BRITTLE,
IT WAS DRY, IT WAS FLAKY. THE ENDS WERE CAKING OFF. YOU REALLY COULDN’T PICK IT UP WITHOUT IT FALLING APART
IN YOUR HANDS. Becker:
THE ONE LAB IN THE WORLD WITH A VERY HIGH DEGREE
OF CONFIDENCE SAID, “YES, WE BELIEVE
THAT WE CAN NONDESTRUCTIVELY GET IT INTO A CONDITION WHERE WE
CAN SCAN IT AND DO SOME TESTS WAS THE L’IMMAGINE RITROVATA AT THE CINETECA DI BOLOGNA
IN BOLOGNA. Kline:
I KIND OF SAW IT AS IF YOU HAVE
REALLY ONE SHOT AT THIS, AND IF YOU DON’T GET IT RIGHT,
YOU MAY DAMAGE WHAT YOU HAVE, YOU MAY LOSE THE ABILITY
TO SCAN IT EVER AGAIN. Lindner: WE HAD TO TAKE OUT
WHAT WAS ENTIRELY BURNED. THERE WERE LITERALLY
CHARRED PIECES, FUSED PIECES, AND IT WAS REALLY SAD, BUT WE HAD TO KNOW
WHAT WE COULD SAVE AND WHAT WE WERE JUST
LEAVING BEHIND. WHEN WE HAD THOSE PIECES
THAT COULD BE SAVED, WE MOVED IT RIGHT AWAY TO ITALY. THEIR FIRST STEP WAS TO PHYSICALLY
GET THE MATERIALS INTO SHAPE TO GET IT THROUGH A SCANNER. Pogorzelski:
THEY SPENT THOUSANDS OF HOURS
FIRST REHYDRATING THE REELS SO THAT THEY WERE LESS BRITTLE
AND COULD BE UNROLLED SAFELY WITHOUT FURTHER DAMAGING
THE IMAGE AREA. Kline: THEY DECIDED
TO SCAN IT SPROCKETLESS, WHICH MEANT THAT
IT WOULD BE VERY UNSTABLE ON THE GATE, ON THE SCANNER. THEN THEY WOULD DO A TEST
WHERE THEY WOULD TAKE OUT THE BAD PERFORATIONS
AND THE BAD SPLICES AND PUT NEW ONES IN. SO THEN IT COULD GO THROUGH
A PIN-REGISTERED GATE, WHICH WOULD MAKE IT
MUCH MORE STABLE. Pogorzelski: ALL OF THIS WORK
HAD TO BE DONE BY-HAND, FRAME-BY-FRAME,
PERFORATIONS-BY-PERFORATIONS. Becker: EVERY SINGLE SPLICE
HAD TO BE REBUILT. ALL OF THE TAPE HAD MELTED
AT A DIFFERENT RATE FROM THE UNDERLYING CELLULOID, WHICH CAUSED OTHER
KINDS OF THINGS TO CEASE UP. AND IN THE END, ABOUT HALF OF THE FILM
FROM THE FIRST TWO FILMS, I WOULD SAY 40% OF THE SURVIVING
ORIGINAL NEGATIVE FROM “PATHER PANCHALI” AND ABOUT 60% OF THE SURVIVING
ORIGINAL NEGATIVE FROM “APARAJITO” WERE USABLE. ONCE WE HAD A FULL ASSEMBLY, THEN WE STARTED
WITH SIX OR SEVEN MONTHS OF STRAIGHT-ON
DIGITAL-RESTORATION WORK. Lindner: WE’RE VERY FORTUNATE
THAT CRITERION HAD A WORK FLOW TO HANDLE 4K RESTORATION, BECAUSE THIS IS
AN EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE PROCESS. 4K RESTORATION
OF INDIAN FEATURES LIKE THIS IS ALMOST UNHEARD OF TO DO
IN AN ARCHIVAL PERSPECTIVE. IT WAS REALLY OUR PARTNERSHIP
WITH CRITERION THAT ALLOWED US TO DO THAT. Becker:
THERE WERE COLOR-GRADING ISSUES,
THERE WERE STABILIZATION ISSUES, THERE WERE DIRT AND SCRATCHES, MATCHING DIFFERENT PIECES
OF FILM TO EACH OTHER, STEALING INFORMATION FROM DIFFERENT PARTS
OF ADJACENT FRAMES — BY FAR THE BIGGEST JOB
WE’VE EVER DONE. Kline: THE MOST IMPORTANT THING
WE HAD TO FIX WAS THAT WARPING. PLASTIC DOESN’T WARP IN ONE WAY. PLASTIC KIND OF WARPS
ALL OVER THE PLACE, WHICH MEANS IF YOU LAY IT FLAT
AFTER YOU’VE WARPED, YOU END UP
WITH SORT OF A GEOMETRY ISSUE. THIS WAS SORT OF
A LOGISTICAL NIGHTMARE FOR THE COMPUTERS
TO TRY TO FIGURE THIS OUT BECAUSE THERE’S NO
CHECK BOX FOR “FIX THE GEOMETRY
OF THE WARPED FILM HERE.” THAT DOESN’T EXIST, SO YOU HAVE TO COME UP
WITH THE IDEAS YOURSELF. Becker: THE MOST IMPORTANT PIECE
OF RESTORATION EQUIPMENT IS NEVER THE COMPUTER, IS NEVER THE SOFTWARE
THAT WE’RE USING. IT’S THE PERSON
WHO’S RUNNING THE SOFTWARE, AND IT’S THAT
PERSON’S EXPERIENCE. OUR PRINCIPLE
WHEN WE UNDERTAKE A RESTORATION IS WE WOULD RATHER SEE
ORIGINAL DAMAGE THAN SEE EVIDENCE OF A FIX. WHAT YOU WANT
TO BE SHOWING ONSCREEN IS SOMETHING THAT FEELS LIKE
THE BEST IMAGINABLE PRINT THAT COULD HAVE BEEN MADE
FROM THAT ORIGINAL NEGATIVE WHEN IT FIRST CAME OUT. Pogorzelski:
THE WAY WE LOOK AT MOVIES,
THE WAY WE WATCH MOVIES HAS CHANGED SUBSTANTIALLY OVER
THE COURSE OF CINEMA HISTORY. MODERN AUDIENCES THAT ARE USED
TO HIGH-DEFINITION VIDEO AND SUPER-CLEAR, CRISP,
CLEAN IMAGES — DUST AND DIRT AND SCRATCHES WOULD BE SOMETHING
POTENTIALLY SO DISTRACTING THAT IT WOULD ACTUALLY
TAKE VIEWERS OUT OF THE MOVIE. Lindner: RAY IS KNOWN
FOR HIS NARRATIVES AND IS A VERY HUMANIST
FILMMAKER, BUT I THINK
HE’S UNDERAPPRECIATED AS A VISUAL STORYTELLER. WE’VE PRESERVED THESE FILMS
AT THEIR FULL VISUAL QUALITY, THE FULL IMPACT OF THE IMAGES,
NOT JUST THE STORIES. Kline: I DO BELIEVE THAT RIGHT
NOW IF YOU WATCHED THESE FILMS, YOU PROBABLY WILL HAVE
A BETTER VIEWING EXPERIENCE THAN YOU WOULD HAVE IF YOU WENT
TO SEE THE PRINT IN THE ’50s. Becker: THE SATISFACTION OF THEN
SEEING THESE FILMS OPEN 60 YEARS AFTER THEY FIRST PLAYED
IN NEW YORK, BEING REVIEWED AND DISCOVERED BY A WHOLE NEW GENERATION OF
FILM WRITERS AND CINEPHILES — THAT’S WHAT WE ALL DID IT FOR
IN THE FIRST PLACE. Lindner: OVER THE PAST 20 YEARS,
THE ACADEMY AND ITS PARTNERS HAVE BEEN ABLE TO PRESERVE
20 OF RAY’S FILMS. I’M VERY EXCITED TO MOVE FORWARD
BEYOND THE APU TRILOGY AND SEE WHAT OTHER FILMS
WE CAN GET DONE THIS WAY AND BRING THEM BACK
TO NEW AUDIENCES, AS WELL.