Jean Renoir and Spike Lee at the PFA

I saw two highly-regarded classic films Saturday night at the Pacific Film Archive. This was not a double feature. They were about as different as good films can be.

The Golden Coach

This was my first experience with Jean Renoir’s 1952 commedia dell’arte about, well, commedia dell’arte. It’s also about arrogant aristocrats, starving artists, and, yes, a horse-drawn coach gilded with gold. But the movie’s primary purpose is a simple and yet noble one: To make the audience laugh.

Anna Magnani stars as a member of a commedia troupe in 17th-century South America, stranded in a remote outpost of the Spanish empire. Here Magnani’s character finds herself juggling a dashing soldier, a famous and egotistical matador, and the aristocratic viceroy of the colony–and thus causing her life to reflect the commedia dell’arte in which she performs. Despite the French director and the Italian star, The Golden Coach‘s dialog is overwhelmingly in English–presumably for commercial reasons.

I can’t quite agree with François Truffaut’s description of The Golden Coach as “The noblest and most refined film ever made,” but I can tell you that it’s a very fun and funny movie, thanks largely to a clever script and Magnani’s precise comic timing. I give it a B+.

Claude Renoir shot the film in three-strip Technicolor, but the heavily-scratched 35mm print screened Saturday night lacked the beautiful, saturated colors I’d come to expect from a dye-transfer Technicolor IB print. On the other hand, the colors were often inconsistent, sometimes changing within a shot–a flaw I associate (perhaps inaccurately) with IB prints. The last minute or so looked especially bad.

Update: Hours after I posted this article, PFA projectionist Seth Lorenz Mitter filled me in on the print:

I was projecting THE GOLDEN COACH last night. That was a Janus Films distribution print on color positive print stock (struck from an internegative) – I know it looked old and worn, but it wasn’t old enough to be an IB print.

Registration errors from the Technicolor three-strip printing process were very noticeable at times and I have to assume were flaws in the master material from which the internegative was made (or in the camera original itself).

The PFA screened The Golden Coach as part of the series Anna Magnani: Eternal Soul of Italian Cinema. It will screen again on Sunday, December 4, at 4:00.

Do the Right Thing

I first saw Spike Lee’s masterpiece in first run. A few years later I rented the Criterion Laserdisc. I saw it again Saturday night at the PFA. It’s every bit the masterpiece I remembered. I give it an A+.

For a 27-year-old film, Do the Right Thing feels very much like the here and now. When the cops kill an unarmed black man in this 1989 film, the only difference is the lack of cellphones.

By focusing on a few blocks of Brooklyn over the course of one very hot day, Lee dramatizes and analyzes everything wrong (and a few things right) about race relationships in America. And yet the movie is touching, funny, warm-hearted, and humane. It’s beautifully written, acted, photographed, paced, and edited.

I won’t go into detail now. I’m writing a whole other article on the film, which I’ll post soon.

This is a film of bright and hot colors, and the beautiful 35mm print screened Saturday night was all one could hope for. The soundtrack was recorded and presented in Dolby Stereo Spectral Recording, an improved version of the Dolby Stereo I’ve discussed earlier. The PFA’s new Meyer sound system showed that soundtrack at its best.

Do the Right Thing was the first screening of a very short PFA series, Three Lives: Classics of Contemporary African American Cinema.

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