Great Digital Projection

Call me George Lucas if you must, but I’m ready to embrace digital projection. Chicken Little, in digital 3D at the Sony Metreon, blew me away.

Let me explain. Chicken Little, a paint-by-the-numbers studio assembly-line piece of junk that tried vainly to recreate the Pixar magic, did not blow me away. The characters were family movie clichés, the plot was entirely predictable, and the jokes were always lame and only occasionally amusing (I remember laughing a few times, but I don’t remember why).

It wasn’t even the digital projection of Chicken Little that blew me away (although the 3D was excellent). Computer animation always looks great digitally projected, since even the best of it lacks the fine detail and subtle shading of real people filmed on location. It was the trailers–all live action–that really won me over.

My infatuation started with a crystal clear aerial shot of Antarctica–the first shot of the first trailer. “What a great print,” I thought before realizing that there was no print involved. I had mistaken digital projection, not only for 35mm, but for 35mm at its best.

The following trailers didn’t look that good, but they could still pass for real film.

I found out later that this was 2K DLP projection; all my previous digital experiences had been only 1.2K. If 2K projection becomes the norm, we’re in for something wonderful, especially when the prices get low enough for the art and revival houses–small, independent films can’t afford large print runs. And Landmark Theaters is planning to add Sony’s even-better 4K projectors to some of their theaters.

In the meantime, 35mm is still a great way to see a motion picture. That’s the way most of the films below are presented.

Recommended: Design for Living, Balboa Friday. If I had to pick one movie to represent pre-code comedy at its naughtiest, this would be it. How could this not work wonderfully? Ernst Lubitsch directing a Ben Hecht screenplay adapted from a Noel Coward stage play? With Fredric March and Gary Cooper playing struggling artists who both fall in love with Miriam Hopkins (who wouldn’t). Part of the Balboa’s Sin in Soft Focus series, Design for Living is double-billed with Love Me Tonight.

Recommended: , Dolby Labs, Friday, 7:00. Funny, exhilarating, perplexing, and tragic, 8½ is not only the greatest film ever made about writer’s block and the ultimate cinematic statement on the male midlife crisis, it’s also a movie about making a movie, where the movie being made appears to be 8½. Filled with one memorable and unique scene after another, Fellini’s autobiographical surreal comedy lacks nothing except a coherent plot–something it has no use for. This is a DVD, not film, presentation.

Noteworthy: Major Dundee, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. I’m not a huge Peckinpah fan, and I’ve never seen any version of this 1965 western, but its reputation as a semi-lost film, now semi-restored, makes it worth noting. Columbia Pictures drastically cut Major Dundee for its original release, but has now restored it to something approaching Peckinpah’s original desires.

Recommended: The Constant Gardener, Parkway, opening Friday. Fernando Meirelles does John le Carré, taking on the greed of international corporations (and the governments that serve them) while also serving up an effective thriller and a heart-wrenching love story. Ralph Fiennes is terrific as a mild-mannered British diplomat looking into the murder of his wife (Rachel Weisz, seen only in flashbacks, in the performance that will put The Mummy behind her forever). A very good movie, but it would have been a great one if only someone had given cinematographer César Charlone a tripod.

Noteworthy: Black Narcissus, Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. Not much more than a well-done but silly melodrama, Black Narcissus is nevertheless a must if you’re interested in cinematography or three-strip Technicolor. No one could work emotional magic with that clumsy but beautiful system like cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and this is his best work. On a double-bill with The Innocents.

Recommended: Horse Feathers, Balboa, Sunday. The Marx Brothers go to college, where they major in puns, pranks, and chasing Thelma Todd. One of their best films, and the only one where all four get to perform their own variation of the same song–each sillier than the last. A quarter century ago, this one was commonly double-billed with Animal House, but as part of its Sin in Soft Focus series, the Balboa is showing it with Kiss and Make Up.

Recommended: Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Rafael, Sunday. Loosely based on a now-forgotten comic strip, Blimp takes a leisurely two hours and 43 minutes to explore the life of a career soldier–and a gentleman–from his youth in the Boer war through World War II. Wartime propaganda to be sure, but wartime propaganda that Winston Churchill wanted banned. Part of the Rafael’s Michael Powell retrospective.

Noteworthy: Beyond The Rocks, Castro, Sunday; Rafael, Tuesday and Wednesday. The only movie ever to co-star Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson, and it’s based on a novel by Elinor (It) Glyn (that’s three points for sex appeal). Thought lost for nearly 80 years, a print was found recently in the Netherlands and we can all now rediscover it. The Castro will present it with live accompaniment by Dennis James on the Wurlitzer pipe organ. The Rafael, alas, will show it with a recorded score

Recommended: Taxi Driver, Parkway, Tuesday. Do young people watch The Aviator and wonder why the big deal about Martin Scorsese? They should see his first real masterpiece, and one of the great American films. Staring Robert De Niro as the creepiest protagonist ever to light up the screen.

Recommended: Peeping Tom, Rafael, Thursday, 7:00. 1960 saw the release of two shocking films about serial killers (shocking for 1960, anyway). Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho became a huge hit, while controversy sank Peeping Tom and ruined Michael Powell’s career. Centering on a psychotic who films his victim’s terrified faces while he murders them, this picture finds the sympathetic human inside the monster, without allowing us to either feel superior or vicariously enjoy his crimes. It can also be read as an indictment of cinema, itself. Part of the Rafael’s Michael Powell retrospective.

Recommended: Gold Diggers of 1933, Stanford, Thursday and the next Friday. Before A Hard Day’s Night, before Singin’ in the Rain, before Astaire and Rogers (well, before Astaire), Warner Brothers was putting out a whole different type of musical; smart, sassy, funny, definitely pre-code, and with Busby Berkeley production numbers that defy description (and the laws of physics). Gold Diggers of 1933 is the best early-thirties’ Warners musical; upbeat, sexy, and entertaining, but never really letting you forget that there’s a depression going on out there.