Francis Ford Coppola's well known for achievements ranging from the iconic Godfather trilogy to a hugely successful winery. Lesser known are his efforts in technical innovation. From early in his filmmaking career, Coppola sought new and more efficient technology for creating his work, and in 1979 his efforts—alongside sound designer Walter Murch—resulted in Apocalypse Now being the first feature film with a computer-generated sound mix. We're thrilled to have James Mockoski, the film archivist for Coppola's San Francisco-based studio American Zoetrope, join us on Saturday for this year's Cinema Revival. He'll introduce Coppola's first film, Dementia 13, along with Sofia Coppola's debut short, Lick the Star, and discuss American Zoetrope's efforts to restore both.
Joe Neff, programmer of Columbus' annual sci-fi and horror marathons and a staffer at Cohen Film Collection, asked James a few questions via email to get the conversation started. Want to know more about Cinema Revival? Click here for an essay on the opening night film, Med Hondo's Soleil Ô, and here for a Q&A with Lee Kline from The Criterion Collection about Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man.
Dementia 13 might not be the first film that comes to some people's minds when discussing major film restorations, but aside from being Francis Ford Coppola's feature film debut, it's also a key part of the Roger Corman/American International Pictures period that gave many major directors and artists their start. What was the initial process that led to the restoration of this film?
For Francis is was a film that really started some of the themes we would come to associate him with. One example is the theme of family. In Dementia 13 it centers around a family dealing with a tragic occurrence, and you get to see how Francis deals with this dynamic and we can explore how he deals with this theme over his career. So for me, this is a very important work that shows the beginning of his career, to [help] fully understand where he is today as a filmmaker.
Since this is Francis' first film, it holds a special place for him. Working with Corman gave him a tremendous opportunity to learn everything he could about filmmaking and he would later apply what he learned when he created his own company, American Zoetrope.
What were the challenges of assembling film elements for a title of this vintage?
The amount of damage that was done to the original elements and peeling back some of the replacement/dupe sections that had been inserted to fix this damage. In some cases, we would have access to the damaged negative to scan and fix digitally, but in the case of Dementia 13 the original negative sections have been lost and only the duplicate sections remain. So we hunted to look for the very best elements that we could use to fix these sections.
How personally involved was Coppola in the restoration of Dementia 13? Has he also taken a commensurate role in the other restorations on which you've worked?
It is his first film, and close to his heart. It is where he met his wife Eleanor, so yes, this film is something he cares very much for and he was with the process every step of the way.
For him, what makes this version unique is that he removed certain shots that were later added. They were never in his original cut and so we are offering a restoration of Francis' first film the way he wanted people to see it in 1963.
[Editor's note: this program also includes an original seven-minute prologue added by producer Roger Corman.]
The film restoration environment contains a lot of debate about meeting the standards of modern digital expectations versus preserving fidelity to the nature of the original elements. How does this enter into your process when working on restorations?
As the Archivist, I care very much about preserving the original aesthetic of our films. Our philosophy when restoring our films is that we are presenting our films as they were originally shown.
You've worked with Francis Ford Coppola and American Zoetrope in supervising their film restoration efforts since 2002. What's the most exciting or cool thing that you've encountered in your work?
Meeting and working with some of the most talented artists and filmmakers in the world. :)
Dementia 13 image courtesy of American Zoetrope.