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The Perils of Restoration

The Perils of Restoration

Who doesn’t love The French Connection? One of the darkest, best acted crime movies of all time was rightfully a hit with both critics and the public. I’d never seen it on the big screen so I was excited to see that MoMA was doing a six-day run of a new “digital restoration” that Bill Friedkin has called “the definitive version.” I’ve since learned that DVD sites have already been fuming about this version, which came out on Blu-ray in February.

I didn’t think much of the restoration factor, and hadn’t heard any chatter about this “new version,” but was horrified by what I saw today when I walked in a couple minutes late and sat down. This digital version is a nightmare—a complete horror. Two of the qualities that made The French Connection so great were its texture and speed (most notably in the Bensonhurst-shot chase). The digitization destroys both. The dirty dinginess of the film stock beautifully complemented the filthy 1971 New York underworld it captured. Now, Friedkin’s erased all the dust and dirt, jacked up the brightness so much that the whites are usually blown out, and substituted hideous digital grain for the warmth of the original. He’s marred the kinetics of the chases—the digital process can’t handle the quick cuts. Even the long pans tend to stutter and skip.

The movie’s cinematographer has understandably disowned this version, calling it “atrocious” and “emasculated.” More here.

I still had fun once I got over it, but was a little outraged thinking that some people might be seeing it for the first time like this. Mr. Friedkin’s come down with a case of the George Lucases; Reverse Shot prays for his speedy recovery.

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