FotoKem Restores The 1965 Classic, The Sound of Music
COW Library : TV & Movie Appreciation : Tim Wilson : FotoKem Restores The 1965 Classic, The Sound of Music
There is hardly a more cinematically inspiring film done, with the beauty of the landscape singing as loudly and with such poignancy as the actor, themselves.
Maria's voice echoes through the hills and such love and comfort wrap around the motherless children like a warm, comforting blanket.
It's easy to forget that The Sound of Music was at one time the highest-grossing picture of all time. Adjusted for inflation, its US box office is still #3 all-time, behind only Gone with the Wind and Star Wars. Worldwide, #6 all-time.
It's easy to forget that The Sound of Music won the Oscar for 1965's Best Picture, among five in all, including Director, Sound, Score, and Editing. (In fact, The Sound of Music also won the ACE Eddie Award for Best Edited Feature Film.)
It's easy to forget that The Sound of Music was only Julie Andrews' third picture, after Mary Poppins and the overlooked masterpiece The Americanization of Emily, directed by Arthur Hiller from a Paddy Chayevsky script, and co-starring James Garner.
It's easy to forget that The Sound of Music's director Robert Wise had also done The Day the Earth Stood Still, vand would later direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Maria is appalled by Captain Von Trapp's method of calling the children into order.
Aside from all of that, and aside from the indelible classic songs (the final collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the film's soundtrack was for a time the best-selling album in history), it's impossible to forget just how gorgeous The Sound of Music looked.
Not just the famous opening sequence, either. All of it. Fantastic production design, striking costumes, and unforgettable European exterior locations cleverly wedded to interiors built on Fox's Hollywood lots, captured in Todd-AO's 65mm process: a spherical 65mm format printed to 70mm stock, to allow extra room for the soundtrack.
It happens that among the other companies to adopt Todd's 65mm image/75mm print way of working is IMAX, and it happens that the IMAX screen at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood is the site of the debut of FotoKem's 50th anniversary restoration of The Sound of Music on March 26, 2015, as the opening film of the sixth annual TCM Classic Film Festival.
The film's Hollywood debut was on March 10, 1965 at the Beverly Hills Fox Wilshire theater, where it played for 94 weeks (!!!) before continuing to play for considerably longer in limited showings.
An overwhelmed Novice (Maria, sent from the convent to be governess to Captain Von Trapp's children) takes in the grandeur of the Von Trapp Castle.
Cinematographer Ted McCord, responsible for another of the film's 10 Oscar nominations in all, had previously worked with Wise in 1962 on Two for the Seesaw, starring Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine and shot in black and white, largely in cramped interior spaces!
However, McCord had experience with outdoor shoots like The Treasure of Sierra Madre and the Cinemascope East of Eden. The trick on The Sound of Music would be to balance what needed to be a strong hand for detailed, outdoor scenes within the emotional framework of the story. "I felt he could bring the right touch of romanticism," said Wise. "Not a harsh, realistic treatment, but a soft focus feeling appropriate for all aspects."
As Variety noted in their 1965 review, "Ted McCord catches the beauty and fascination of the terrain with his facile cameras, combining the splendor of towering mountains and quiet lakes with the Old World grace of the historic City of Music, a stunning complement to interiors shot in Hollywood."
Ted McCord catches the beauty and fascination of the terrain with his facile cameras
Perhaps laying it on just the tiniest bit thick in classic trade press style, the reviewer was nevertheless right on the mark observing that "the Todd-AO film cloaked in the superb tints of DeLuxe Color bears the mark of assured lengthy runs and should be one of the season's most successful entries."
There are few more moving opening sequences than McCord's long helicopter ride through the Alps, culminating in Julie Andrew's luminous turn in the meadow. The longest stretches of that sequence on YouTube are actually in the four-minute 1965 trailer which also presents the reminder that the differences in trailer production may have changed even more than film production in the past 50 years.
The intersection of Julie's action with Ted's flight was understandably challenging, especially with the downdraft from the helicopter blades kept knocking Andrews to the ground. After she had finally had enough, she joined Wise and McCord for a ride to the location of the film's final shot, of the family's escape from Austria, a necessity forced by the film's location shoots going over budget because of rain. Another day with the helicopter was out of the question, but when Julie declared that they surely had the shot on the mountaintop that they needed, she was proven absolutely correct.
(It should be noted that The Sound of Music is frequently credited with the first helicopter opening sequence, but that in fact took place in 1961 on another Robert Wise picture, West Side Story.)
FotoKem is in fact one of the last film labs in the country, making their skillset all the more valuable as time goes by.
For the restoration of The Sound of Music, FotoKem's Andrew Oran and his team started from the beginning on the company's re-engineered 65mm contact printers to create high-quality intermediate 65mm prints. Those were digitized at 8K, downscaled to 4K for final digital cinema output. 4K was also the resolution that FotoKem colorist Mark Griffith worked in, in a process supervised by Schawn Belston, Executive Vice President, Media and Library Services at Twentieth Century Fox. They set out to address the kinds of issues that might not have been as readily addressed in earlier restoration attempts.
Such love and camaraderie was formed between Maria and the Von Trapp family that the children were free to reach out to Maria when ever the need arose, hearts were breaking, loves were gained and lost, and finally the reaches of deadly war touched their idyllic lives.
The difference this time, Mark says, is nuance. "The tools have never been better and the technology has never been gentler for asset protection." He points out that early film restoration efforts tended to see grain as a problem to be fixed, rather than one of the most important characteristics to protect and preserve. It's not just a matter of accuracy (which of course it is. It's a matter of feel. "Film grain adds a certain life to the image. People began to realize grain was part of the attraction of film and should be embraced."
Mark also notes that there's a fine line between wanting to make a picture pop to modern eyes, while also honoring the intent of the original artists, whose aesthetic may not have been as inclined to pop. The additional challenge for a picture like The Sound of Music is that so many people who will be attracted to the restored version of the film are people who have strong emotional connections to their memory of previous prints.
The attention to the nuances of era-appropriate grading, and cleaning up schmutz without removing grain, is painstaking work. For all that digital tools make the work easier than ever, the hard part is the actual use of the tools, with experience gained on actual film. Hence FotoKem.
As Oran puts it, "Working with 65mm requires precision, whether the images are new or old. Whatever the vintage, we consider it our duty to retain the intentions of the original filmmakers.
"We're honored to have been entrusted with the job of digitizing and restoring The Sound of Music. This 50-year-old film comes alive today in a whole new way with a vividness and emotional impact that arguably exceeds even its original release because of its 65mm pedigree, and the great care we've taken throughout the post process to honor that unique, ultra-high quality source."
In early March 2015, Fox released the 5-disc Ultimate Collector's Edition 50th Anniversary Blu-ray(TM)/DVD/Digital HD set for The Sound of Music, featuring over 13 hours of extra features, including a new hour-long documentary, The Sound of a City: Julie Andrews Returns to Salzburg.
(And for all that we're talking about the tremendous efforts to restore the picture, and some of the work that went into the original production, the draw here is, as it has always been, Julie Andrews. 'Nuff said.)
As noted earlier, the restored version of the film will see its world theatrical premiere in Hollywood on March 26, at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival. This is actually the second year in a row that a FotoKem restoration has opened the festival, following Oklahoma! in 2014.
In good news for the world beyond Hollywood, Fox is partnering with Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies to show The Sound of Music in over 500 theaters across the US for two days only, April 19 and 22.
And because we guarantee that this has been running through your head the entire time you've been reading this, we will show you the mercy of showing you this clip.