A few thoughts on film in 2010

As we look back on the year in film that was 2010, it would seem that the medium made few significant strides.  Aside from a few major standouts (Inception, The Social Network, The Black Swan), the year’s releases read pretty fuzzily:

What was that Matt Damon thing? It was just like a Bourne movie only… not?


And remember that CGI thing with Steve Carell and all the little goggle-eyed blobs?


And wasn’t Denzel Washington in a zombie movie or something?


As sure as there were forgettable ‘original’ films (Greenberg), there were exponentially more derivatives, Hollywood’s favorite old reliable ways to make a buck.

We saw sequels, some good (Toy Story 3), some bad (Little Fockers), and some ugly (Hatchet II).  We found the remakes, some good (True Grit), some bad (Robin Hood), some weird (Alice in Wonderland), but most of them ugly (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Predators, The Wolfman, The Crazies, I Spit on Your Grave, etc). And lastly, we had franchise reboots, and guess what? they were good (The Karate Kid), bad (The A-Team), and unforgivable (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice).

Rather than try to opine at length about all of these, and inevitably arrive at the same top 10 list as everyone else, I’m awarding my 2010 tip of the hat to those who trod upon old, familiar ground for more noble reasons than making a buck off the same old schlock. The major accomplishments in film in the past year came in the restoration and (re)release of classic and historic works from around the world. This year, many skilled archivists and restoration buffs went to great lengths to ensure that films from across cinematic history will survive, intact and as their creators intended.

Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin underwent 35mm restoration, high-definition digital transfer, and comes complete with new, more accurately translated English intertitles and the original score by Edmund Meisel. Perhaps most importantly, this version even includes never-before-seen scenes that had been deleted by German censors short after the film’s 1925 premiere in Berlin.

Fifty years after it launched the French New Wave movement, Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (Á bout de souffle) was newly restored for an anniversary high-definition release. IFC Films struck a new 35mm print of the epic 9 1/2 hour documentary, Shoah, which Claude Lanzmann culled together from hundreds of hours of footage taken over the course of 12 years he spent interviewing Holocaust survivors across the globe. It will be screened in arthouse theatres across America in the coming year.

The foremost of these achievements, however, is the newly restored Metropolis, the seminal work of dystopian science fiction by Fritz Lang. Culled together from the two most completeprints known to exist (one from New Zealand, one from Argentina), years of restoration yielded an definitive edition contains all but eight minutes of the original director’s cut. A 35mm print of the film is currently touring cinemas across the US, and locals listen up! It will be visiting Bloomington, screening at the soon-to-be-open IU Cinema in February. Furthermore, for the first time in the States, a salon orchestra will perform the newly lengthened score live in the theatre!  As I type this, students from the Jacobs School of Music are likely getting their first glimpses of the score and beginning to rehearse.

In an era bursting at the seams with new cinematic formats (digital transfer, digital video, 2D vs. 3D, DVD vs. Blu-Ray, Internet streaming, mobile viewing, 3D TV, and so on), it is comforting to know that, at least in these cases, special care has been taken to secure the future of the art form’s most revered reels of celluloid. And better yet, the fruits of these efforts are being distributed, being cast across the silver screens once more in all their original glory, being presented as they were meant to be seen. Let us resolve to make 2011 the year we re-discover the joy of the movies, and let that joy come not just from the latest CGI, 3D roller-coaster flick, but also from the wonder of all that a re-release of a classic film entaileshas been painstakingly cared for, frame by frame, restored so that it might retain its original power for future generations.

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