Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Taxi Driver Restoration Screening

Tonight I went to a special screening of Martin Scorsese's 'Taxi Driver' on the big screen. As I wrote about a few months back I went to a screening here of it which happened to take place on my birthday (which I wrote about HERE). How could I say no? That was an original film print. I believe from the original release because it was pretty beat up and faded. I love seeing older films on film. Even if the print is not in the best of shape. It represents the way the film was intended to be seen at the time it was made. It's why when I go to screenings of older films and it's not an actual print but a DVD projected I get mad. I can stay at home and watch the DVD. I can't see the print at home. So film all the way and I was happy to have the chance to see one of my all time favorite films on an actual print.

Now, that being said I love technology. I love digital. I just don't like manipulating something that wasn't intended to be. I fully support restoring older films in the new digital age and cleaning them up and making them closer to standards we have for current films. However older films were not made for our current film market. So they shouldn't be made to be in an unnatural way. They need to be preserved as closely to their original intent as possible. One such way is a film's grain structure. Grain is what makes up film. It's where the image lies. In some film stocks the grain isn't so apparent as in others. During the transition from the old Technicolor process which was extremely expensive the film studios dabbled in different film stocks until they eventually found one that was stable. It took a good 20 years or so but it happened. 'The Godfather Part II' remains the last studio film to be made under the old Technicolor process. The following years there were less stable film stocks used which is why many films during the 70's and 80's appear to be grainier. Mirroring the look of low budget films made on "cheaper" film stock. But that also lent itself the charm. The fact is the films made during this time have a thicker grain structure and it's part of how they are. It's there and it should not be taken away. Otherwise the films take on a very fake almost plastic look.

This leads me to the recent restoration done for 'Taxi Driver'. I wasn't sure what to expect. Hearing about one of my favorite films getting restored and getting a Blu-ray release is exciting for me. Having it get a theatrical run is even more exciting. The restoration was done carefully and tonight having watched this restored version in 4K digital projection I can say the film looks stunning in all of the best ways possible. The opening Columbia Pictures logo was soft which made it look like an old worn out print from the time. Then came the opening credits montage which have always been a little soft as well because the credits were superimposed over the footage which meant additional processing of the footage in a lab. It's why credit sequences, visual effects shots, and even transitions like dissolves and fades, may have a softer or faded look to them in older films compared to the shots around them because of additional printing in the lab to pull off those things. The opening credits looked great but softer. However, the first real shot which is full on straight film from the negative without additional printing is the second cut after Travis Bickle walks into the cab company's manager's office. The first shot is still a processed shot coming out of a dissolve. Then we cut to the great Joe Spinell sitting at the desk and the detail was absolutely incredible. I was floored but how good it looked. And not in a cheating way. The grain structure was completely intact. The grain was there but the image was clean and the detail was very fine. The colors were perfectly stable and exactly as they were intended to be.

The audio was not some spruced up audio remix. It was clear and had a little more oomph to it but it did not falsify the film's original mix. It was a solid stereo mix which upheld Bernard Herrmann's outstanding score. One that I still argue is one of the best ever written.

Read a great interview with Grover Crisp over at The Digital Bits who was in charge of doing the restoration HERE.

This was a limited showing in a handful of theatres across the US in AMC theatres. Luckily the one I go to all the time was one of these theatres. The downside was there were very few people there. But on the upside it wasn't filled with people who would disrespect the film. No kids sneaking in halfway through because the previous movie they snuck into had ended. It was people of different ages watching the film again or bringing someone with them who was experiencing it the first time. I would hope this would be done more often. I don't know how the returns were but I hope it was enough to warrant more special screenings of older restored films like this.

Me sitting in my seat wearing my Travis Bickle shirt right before the screening started.
To this day the film still manages to pack a wallop. There were times when I could feel the uneasiness of the people watching it as we descend into Travis' madness. And the ending still brought a silence to the theatre with only gasps as the carnage escalates.

'Taxi Driver' has been one of my favorite films for over 20 years now since I first saw it. It has lost nothing in my eyes and to have the honor to experience it not just once but twice on the big screen both in an original beat up film print and in a beautifully restored digital projection is beyond a special experience for me. Watching the film in a theatre humbles me. I know I will never make a film like this. I will never make a film this good. You know what though? I'm ok with that. I know where I stand in my career. I am just happy to have the chance to watch the film and feel the way I do. And to have seen it this way makes me appreciate it all the more.

Congratulations on the restoration Sony. You did the film good. And yes, I am talkin' to you.

UPDATE: Blu-ray.com has a review of the upcoming Blu-ray release and it looks to be amazing. Check it out HERE


Alicia Gregoire said...

Glad to hear that it didn't disappoint! (I've never seen it.)

Gory said...

Thanks Alicia! It's a great film so try and check it out sometime.

Catherine Meyers said...

Hello Richard,

Was reading your blog and I find it great. I think I'll try this movie as I really liked your thoughts on it. Also, as I'm the admin of a web myself and a blog directory, if you are interested in a link exchange you can contact me through the email here.

Good Luck!

Catherine Meyers