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TCM Film Fest: How ‘Sound of Music’ and ‘1776’ Were Restored for Their Big Screen Returns

TCM Film Fest: How 'Sound of Music' and '1776' Were Restored for Their Big Screen Returns

This weekend’s annual TCM Classic Film Fest is all about “History, According to Hollywood,” and you couldn’t find two more diverse musical examples than “The Sound of Music” (kicking things off tonight at the TCL Chinese Theater IMAX in honor of its 50th anniversary, with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in attendance) and “1776” (screening Saturday at the Chinese IMAX). Both tout digital restorations to show off their compelling stories of nonconformity and revolution.

FotoKem did “The Sound of Music” digital restoration a while back and the uber 5-disc 50th Blu-ray edition is currently available from Fox Home Entertainment. They scanned a new 65mm intermediate on the Imagica and then a completely 4K workflow was used for the rest of the restoration. FotoKem colorist Mark Griffith particularly addressed flicker, density fluctuation and variable color fading.

“While the fading wasn’t as challenging, the density and flicker were more so,” explained FotoKem VP Andrew Oran. “So we had to on a shot-by-shot basis go through the show and tame that. We speculated while we were working on it, whether it was camera issues or original processing. But it has always been there. But the main challenge was to represent it accurately, and not impose ourselves on the film. Often these films cut between not very sharp and high contrast shots of the male actors to soft and very diffuse shots of the female actresses.”

Interestingly, one of the hardest scenes to color-time was Maria’s memorable meeting with the children because of the beige walls that they had on set. They didn’t light it consistently, so the digital master is smoother and more consistent than the original.

Fox’s Schawn Belston, who supervised the restoration, believes the enormous popularity of “The Sound of Music” (the number three film of all-time when adjusted for inflation) is in part due to its large-format splendor. “It’s extremely well photographed [by Ted McCord], so sharp, with so much detail.”

Highlights include the “Do-Re-Mi” tour of Salzburg, during which, among the eye candy, we notice every droplet of water in the fountain when Maria makes a splash, and we see every grain of grass more vividly. “During a musical interlude, they all come to a fruit stand, and what you can see suddenly is ridiculous; you can see all the detail in the children’s play clothes, but even the fruit looks 3-D,” Belston added.

Meanwhile, “1776” (1972) is a cult favorite about the intense political struggle by the Continental Congress to declare independence that gets better with every viewing — and Sony will be premiering the “definitive” director’s cut in collaboration with Peter H. Hunt (the Blu-ray debuts June 2 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment). 

The restoration by Sony Pictures Colorworks from the original camera negative (supervised by Grover Crisp) is based, in part, on an earlier one carried out for a 2002 DVD release. That version, also prepared with Hunt’s participation, added a number of scenes and lost elements that were missing from the original theatrical release. Among them was a musical number (“Cool, Cool Considerate Men”) that had been dropped from the film by Jack Warner at the request of President Richard Nixon (who believed the scene cast conservatives in an unfavorable light). Further detective work for the new version uncovered additional “lost” material, including dialogue that had been changed over ratings concerns. 
“There were a few lines that Jack Warner wanted changed… but the changes weren’t funny,” Hunt said. “The original lines from Broadway were funny, and now, for the first time, they are in the movie.”
State-of-the-art 4K digital technology allowed them to fix problems and restore color fidelity to a level not possible at the time of the earlier restoration, which was done photochemically. Variations in color, due to different levels of degradation in negative elements, have been mostly eliminated, resulting in a seamless look.

“When a scene comes up that had been cut out or compromised in some way, it looks like it is supposed to be there because we could maintain consistency with the image and keep its natural filmic quality,” Crisp explained.

Hunt will be in attendance at Saturday’s screening along with co-stars William Daniels and Ken Howard, who played John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

“It was the movie I was most excited about for the film festival,” admitted TCM Classic Film Fest programmer Charles Tabesh. “I knew they were working on a new director’s cut and it’s a movie that I just fell in love with the first time I saw it. It’s very well crafted but I felt I came away with a great history lesson that I enjoyed.”

One of the continuing challenges of the festival is dealing with digital and film presentations, he added. “It’s about half and half and certain venues can only take digital and certain others can only take film. And where you might want to put a movie because of the size of the venue for talent or other reasons, sometimes you’re restricted by formats. The Egyptian is the one theater that can do both. The Chinese can only do digital, but we bring in reel-to-reel in to show archival screenings upstairs. So we’re handcuffed if there are big movies not yet available on DCP or indie films only available on DCP that won’t fit in the smaller venues only set up for film.” 

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