Sunday, March 25, 2007

Woman who loved (and hated) too much

It has become a film convention to show the past in faded colors, perhaps because that's how we usually see old movies, given the propensity of color dyes to fade as they are repeatedly illuminated by bright projection lights. It's always a surprise and a bit of a shock to see the past with its true colors restored -- the way we saw a restored Technicolor film print of 1946 box office hit "Leave Her to Heaven" last night at the UW Cinematheque. Part of the fun is the simple pleasure of seeing that there was nothing faded or colorless about 1945, the year it was shot.

The restored DVD, a Fox Studio Classic, came out in 2005, but there's nothing like seeing a big screen film projection of a Hollywood spectacle like this -- which earned Gene Tierney her only Best Actress Oscar nomination and was the second most popular film of 1946. It's a completely over-the-top melodrama incorporating film noir elements about a femme fatale of whom her mother says "There's nothing wrong with Ellen, she just loves too much." And how. Especially her late father, on whom she has a very unhealthy Freudian fixation. One of the great scenes in the movie is her rampaging horseback ride across a mountaintop, scattering her father's ashes from a huge urn. It's worth seeing for that wild gallop alone.

"Leave Her to Heaven" won an Oscar for cinematography, and its amazing, expressionistic use of color is what makes it watchable now. It was shot in the heyday of Technicolor filmmaking, when highly coordinated color palettes were carefully designed to highlight character traits and advance the story. As we watch, the colors of passion turn cooler and then acrid with jealousy. It's a trip.

Archivists responsible for the restoration were on hand to discuss the restoration and answer questions: Schawn Belston, executive and former director of film preservation at 20th Century Fox, left, and Mike Pogorzelski, a UW alum and director of the Academy Film Archive, right. Pogorzelski was recently profiled in the Capital Times. I wasn't taking notes on their presentation, but here's an interview in Home Theater magazine story about digital film restoration that covers some of the same ground.

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