Author Archives: Julian Antos

Fantastic Prints and Where to Find Them

For the past couple years, Silver Cinemas’ Market Square Location has been one of the only places to see new Hollywood movies on 35mm. On this visit INSIDE OUT and ANT-MAN were both playing on film, with the other three titles on DCP. About 5 months into its run, the print of INSIDE OUT had probably been run over 400 times (and still looked very nice).

Even for those paying close attention, the conversion from 35mm to DCP on all of Chicago’s multiplex screens happened with very little fanfare.

In December of 2010, Regal City North 14 was playing True Grit on 35mm, but by the time Super 8 came out in June 2011 all screens were DCP – some bitter irony. Kerasotes Webster Place (best worst 7th grade date spot) installed its first digital projector around February 2009, was taken over by Regal in May of 2010, and by August of 2011 all screens had been converted. The AMC-owned Piper’s Alley simply closed in May of 2011 without a word. The Logan Theater (best $3 date spot) closed for renovations in September 2011 and reopened in March 2012 as an all-digital 4-plex, with inaugural DVD and Blu-Ray screenings of The Wizard of Oz and Enter the Dragon – one 35mm Century SA projector and Christie AW3 platter was kept for special events. The Landmark Century was the last major holdout: Samsara screened on 35mm in August 2012, but The Master opened on DCP in September, with all projectors being swapped out and installed the night before. The single-screen Patio Theater closed Argo on November 21, 2012 and added a new, Kickstarter-funded digital projector the following week.

The Music Box and the Gene Siskel Film Center can still run 35mm and do with great frequency for repertory programming, but as far as first-run art-house movies go, the 35mm well pretty much dried up by mid-2012. Any subsequent runs on film would be anomalies, usually at the request of the filmmakers à la Son of Saul or The Love Witch, and many independent and arthouse titles that were shot on film didn’t have the luxury of 35mm release prints (most notably Certain Women, Queen of Earth, the partially-shot-on-65mm Sunset Song). Continue reading

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Pause of the Clock – 20 Years Later


Until relatively recently, 16mm and super 16 were the mediums of choice for anyone who wanted to make a feature film with limited resources. With the glut of independent features shot quickly and digitally over the past five years, it’s hard not to get excited about recent features like LISTEN UP PHILIP, HAPPY CHRISTMAS, and GOD HELP THE GIRL being shot on 16mm on relatively small budgets even though, to the best of our knowledge, these films were exhibited only on DCP.

The few film schools that still offer classes in 16mm production tend to warn their students that it takes a patient person to work with the medium. Unless you’re in California or New York, it takes several business days for your film to be processed and printed, and if you’re lucky enough to work with optical printers, that crossfade you can drop in in Final Cut Pro in a few seconds can take a few hours to set up and execute. Continue reading

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ORWO at the End of the World

Depending on who you talk to, motion picture film is either dead, floundering, or very much alive.

In the past year, Kodak has announced the discontinuation of several 16mm stocks. Deluxe and Technicolor have closed their main film production labs and auctioned off all their equipment. (We got a couple splicers, other forward-thinking institutions purchased what they could, and much was scrapped). Seeing a first-run movie in 35mm is now such a rarity that we drove all the way to Madison to see the Liam Neeson thriller Non-Stop on film. (Chicago’s last remaining 35mm-only second-run house, The Brew & View, announced its own digital conversion two weeks ago.)

At the same time Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, and others convinced major studios to place enough minimum orders with Kodak to keep film-on-film production a possibility for at least a few more years. Nolan’s Interstellar will open two days early on 35mm, 70mm, and 70mm IMAX, and the Weinstein Company announced that Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight would see the widest 70mm release in 20 years (presumably referencing Ron Howard’s Far and Away). On the other side of the world, Film Ferrania (a new company resurrecting equipment from the old Ferrania film factory) in Italy launched a  $250,000 Kickstarter campaign (so far wildly successful) to reopen their film production facilities and start producing color reversal film–both 35mm and medium format still camera film, as well as Super8 and 16mm motion picture film.

Earlier this fall we spoke to George Campbell of ORWO North America, the North American sales division of ORWO FilmoTec GmbH. For the past three years ORWO North America has been making black and white motion picture and sound recording film available in 16mm and 35mm to archives, amateurs, and filmmakers. At a time when the future of motion picture film is at best uncertain, ORWO presents a welcome light at the end of the tunnel, and is one of the many groups working to change in dialogue from the wimpy “film is not dead yet” to “film is alive.” Continue reading

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Sylvia Sidney: A Lovely Crook for Reforming

Thanks to Neil Cooper for sharing this clipping with us.

Miracle Man_Sidney_Morris

Miracle Man

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CITY STREETS in the Chicago Daily News

City Streets opened at the Chicago Theater almost exactly 82 years ago. Here’s the original review from the Chicago Daily News (thanks to Neil Cooper for giving us the article). Check out the mini-reviews for other films on the right!

City Streets - Chicago Daily News

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Saving Vintage Animation One 400-Foot Reel at a Time:
An Interview with Tommy Stathes

Photo courtesy Lazara Stathes

Several of the shorts in our Wladyslaw Starewicz program (Screening Sunday 11/2 at 7pm at Cinema Borealis) are coming from film collector and animation historian Tommy Stathes. We exchanged a few questions with Tommy by e-mail about some of his ongoing projects and his role in keeping film alive.

For more information, visit Cartoons on Film & the Bray Animation Project

JA: What came first, your interest in film collecting or your interest in animation? How did you first get involved with both?

TS: I was definitely deeply interested in animation as a very young child, well before the moment when I understood that I could collect anything. Growing up in the early 90s, I was seeing most classic animation by way of VHS tapes given to me as gifts by older family members, and less occasionally, on television. As for why I gravitated toward animation so much at such a young age, I’ll never know, although it’s generally accepted that most infants, toddlers and older children simply love cartoons. My fascination and urge to see more and more and eventually learn about their history was the unusual aspect. Continue reading

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An Interview with Tommy Stathes

In Which Walter Huston’s Vacation is Ruined, and Joan Crawford Never Had Much of a Vacation to Begin With (1932)

A recent service call at the Portage led us to the service manuals for the early 1930s Western Electric Soundheads currently installed in the cinema, which included the list price, no less than $34,000. This is in 1934 dollars, and given that the only way film could be run at the time (and the only way a respectable repertory house runs film now) was on a two projector changeover system, the cost of the sound heads alone was at the time just under $70,000. This didn’t include the cost of installing the machinery. The manual reminds the exhibitor that though the cost might seem a bit high, Western Electric was offering the best sound reproduction possible. (They were right, of course, the design on those sound heads is very similar to those used in theaters today, about eighty years later as we look at the end of 35mm distribution as an industry standard, and the ones installed at the Portage are still running flawlessly.)

Exhibitors running expensive sound systems in 1932 – and regardless of what system they were using it never would have been cheap – were no doubt quite frustrated with Rain. Most exhibitors, critics, and audiences were at least unimpressed with the film, Variety called it a mistake, and Joan Crawford hated her performance, but the most impressive thing about Rain is the sound of Lewis Milestone recklessly destroying the sound mix with an onslaught of engineered thunderstorms. The dialog is never unintelligible (it helps that everyone is yelling at each other) but every scream and every murmur is abrasive and often downright frightening. Continue reading

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On The Bill This Wednesday: “The Young In Heart”

Some brief notes about what we’re showing April 6th at the Portage.

It seems irresponsible not to introduce a film like At the Dog Show, but then again, maybe it’s the recklessness of showing it in the first place that makes it so worthwhile. Redistributed by National Telefilm Associates (it was an RCA film originally) and produced by by Fairbanks and Carlisle (we’ll assume a relation to Douglas Fairbanks here, but can’t promise anything) it’s nearly impossible to tell what the film’s target audience might have been. Presumably it was shown fairly casually in cinemas when it was released theatrically in 1942, but its appearances on television (for children at odd hours of a Saturday morning, unassuming housewives in the afternoon, the whole family before The Dick Van Dyke Show, mom and dad late at night just before bed … all situations would be equally startling occasions to see dogs with rotoscoped talking mouths) must have been quite baffling. Television was doing something right. The animation was done by George Webster Crenshaw, who was responsible for the 1962-1995 single panel comic strip Belvedare, and worked as an animator for Disney (specifically on Fantasia and Pinocchio) and recalls the strangest of George Pal’s Puppetoons.

***At the Dog Show comes to us courtesy of our friends at the Chicago Film Archives ***

The Incredible Stranger (Jacques Tourneur, 1942)
The Incredible Stranger represents a body of work by Jacques Tourneur still relatively unearthed. This 1942 one-reller, made for MGM shortly before Tourneur directed Cat People for Val Lewton at RKO, is the second to last of a series of twenty-one short subjects the director made between 1936 and 1944. If they’re all this good then there’s a major section of the great Tourneur’s filmography we’ve been missing out on (though it should be noted that this short and a couple others have made brief, rare appearances on Turner Classic Movies), and if they’re half as good as The Incredible Stranger, they should still be pulled out of their respective vaults as soon as possible. We’re doing what we can, this original 16mm print comes from our own collection and was struck in 1942. Patrick Friel of Cine-File puts it best in his capsule review of the short (which was cited as “crucial viewing” on their site this week), but suffice it to say that the similarities between the short and the rest of Tourneur’s work are staggering, it’s the most emotionally resonant eleven minute film any of us have seen in a while.

THE YOUNG IN HEART (Richard Wallace, 1938)
The Young In Heart is neither rare nor terribly obscure, but for some reason this heavyhearted lightweight of a screwball comedy has slipped through the greasy fingers of auteurists and genre-files. Nevertheless Variety, Leonard Maltin, and even the grumpy Leslie Halliwell thought it was just about perfect. It’s incredibly tender, a case study of a family of con artists who get working class jobs in order to impress an elderly woman who’s possessions and real estate they’d like to inherit. This family, made up of Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Roland Young, and Billie Burke, may be a group of clueless ne’er-do-wells, but they’re also so socially inept that they’re almost sweethearted. One of the most touching exchanges in the film occurs between Fairbanks and Gaynor on a milk cart, in which he asks her if she ever heard of anyone marrying for love … they’re both perplexed. It’s a film about a rotten bunch of stray dogs, basically, but even they turn out alright (there was an alternate ending, however, explained here in the Variety review).

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“Railroaded!” Distilled

We think Railroaded! is a very good film by a great director (Anthony Mann, who would claim the cinematic West like nobody else in the 1950s, elevating James Stewart to Shakespearean proportions in films like Winchester ’73 while maintaining the stark photography and relentless pulp of the noirs he made in the late 1940s) – but before it was saved by the auteur theory it was – and still is – at heart a Poverty Row flick, a cheap movie made by a broke studio looking to make a profit.

Which doesn’t diminish the film.

Perhaps the most impressive quality of B pictures was their formal and commercial malleability, present both in the infamously cheap way they were produced (as the old saying goes, in a B movie the sets shake when an actor slams a door), and in the ways they were exhibited – and re-exhibited, and re-re-exhibited. These qualities, originally products of commercial necessity, are what make these films worth watching now. Continue reading

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Re: I Shot Jesse James

Made for Lippert Pictures, a low rent production company specializing in B-Westerns and crime films for their even lower rent theater chain stretching across America’s Bible Belt, Sam Fuller’s first picture as a director carries all the darkness and doubt of films like McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Anthony Mann’s grubby string of 1950s Western Noirs, or Heaven’s Gate with Park Row and Pre-Code poetics (yeah, we know, 1948 ain’t pre-code by any stretch, but watching this next to I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, Fuller’s 1948 feature sure feels like it). And if I Shot Jesse James can be considered the first revisionist western – an argument that makes more and more sense when one considers what a dramatic shift in sentiment it is to something like John Ford’s My Darling Clementine – than the Cine-Fist (as Godard would come to call Fuller) catapulted the genre out of its (perhaps) misdirected southern demographic like nothing else in the history of B-pictures. Continue reading

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