We're happy to welcome Lee Kline from The Criterion Collection back to the Wex on Friday for our fourth annual Cinema Revival: A Festival of Film Restoration. Along with his colleagues, lead restoration artists Cara Schatzman and Russell Smith, Lee will be here to discuss Jim Jarmusch's recently restored 1995 acid Western, Dead Man. They'll get into the details of bringing the imagery and the Neil Young soundtrack back to their pristine states, and cover the restoration process behind another of this year's selections, Tony Richardson's 1963 classic Tom Jones. Director of Film/Video Dave Filipi connected with Lee for a teaser of Friday night's program. Click here for an intro to Thursday's opening film for this year's Cinema Revival, Med Hondo's Soleil Ô.
Dead Man came out in 1995. For many, it seems so recent that it would not be in need of "restoration." Can you discuss how Criterion came to decide to work on the film?
While it’s true that a restoration of the more recent Dead Man might be less in need than a restoration of Tom Jones, we can’t assume that films from 1995 might not need work to bring them up to current standards. Yes, Dead Man was a relatively easy one on the big restoration scale. But, you’d be surprised to know what an improvement the new version of the film brings to the table. Because all of the transitions in the film (and they’re are quite a lot of them) were printed optically, we had the A/B reels for the transitions and could create much better versions of the fades, dissolves and titles. Using the original negative and scanning in 4k also allowed us to achieve an amazing degree of resolution in the body of the film from the black and white negative. Sharpness, detail, stability were all something that helped create a new Dead Man that everyone should be able to see.
How involved was Jim Jarmusch in the workflow?
Jim Jarmusch watched the new grading and gave us input on any density and light changes toward the black and white picture. Since we’ve worked with Jim with many of his other films, we could show him a version of Dead Man that was going to be close to what we know he liked and what was left basically a sign off and small changes that only the director would know. For example, what time of day it was, or how light or dark a certain room was meant to be.
The soundtrack and black-and-white cinematography are such memorable elements of the film. Did the restoration of either provide any particular challenges?
From our audio restorer on this title: "The track sounded really great, so we barely touched it. Most of the effort was spent measuring and confirming sync. Several sequences were slightly shifted, but only if there was consistent and obviously offset dialog."