Alicia Eastman

L’immagine ritrovata

A soft breeze sifts through my hair. The summer heat has me laid back and relaxed. Ahead of me is the big screen, across which a canyon of the Old West sprawls. And there he is! The star of this Raoul Walsh film, Robert Mitchum, appears. Is this the scene of an American drive-in? No. Absolutely not. Because this time I’m in Bologna, and no Cadillacs in sight. All are seated side by side with thousands of eyes, under these millions of stars, fixed on one movie screen. The backdrop is Piazza Maggiore with its cathedral and its majestic palaces that enclose the open-air cinema in sweet silence. But the shows I saw at the end of June in Bologna  during the “Il Cinema Ritrovato” (Cinema Rediscovered) festival perfectly convey the feeling of being on a voyage. The organizers of the cultural event nailed this objective. At the celebrated Piazza Maggiore, where the event was inaugurated on June 21st, and the historic movie theaters like the Lumière, Arlecchino and Jolly, for a whole eight days one could enjoy a movie offering that has made this festival one of the most interesting in Italy. At 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m. – all the way through ‘til late at night, each day film after film was shown, from the most recent to the oldest, divided up into four themes: “La macchina del tempo” (The Time Machine) with 96 movies from one hundred years ago, “Cinema documentario invisibile”(Invisible Documentary Cinema) with the great Italian masters, “Il paradiso dei cinefili” (The Paradise of Film Buffs) with unknown films that have been dug up and even restored in some cases, and “Non solo film” (Not Just Movies) with meetings especially for those from the industry. In this trip through time, one goes from silent films from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the Crash of ’29 to documentaries that are a wake-up call like those by the visionary Mario Ruspoli. We are led to far off lands, even         to India, Japan and to Argentina in the epoch of Italian emigration. But “Il Cinema Ritrovato” isn’t just a festival that is in some way still relevant today – above all it is a festival that lets us rediscover movies and this rediscovery couldn’t be more contemporary, or technological. But we mustn’t jump to the conclusion that “digital” was the name of the game. The festival offered cinema and techniques catered to any tastes – just as tailored to those who love tradition as to those who look to the future. To sum it all up, it was a complete offering for those who truly love cinema. But what exactly is the “new cinephilia”? Roy Menarini, one of the curators of the program under the artistic direction of Peter von Bagh, states, «The new cinephilia is not based on a mistrust of all that is “new” or on the so-called decline of the influence of film. On the contrary, it is based on a relaunching of cinephilia in new forms». So the goal of this year’s 2012 festival is to «create a common ground for exchange between different generations» – the parallel worlds of those that prefer their own living room with a vast selection of DVDs or those that rely on the computer or those that won’t let go of the dear old movie theater. What is the main vehicle that unites the film buff population? Technology. A perfect example is the screening of the mammoth production “Once Upon A Time in America” by Sergio Leone. It underwent an extraordinary restoration, bringing back 26 minutes that had been cut when the movie came out. Robert De Niro is unforgettable as “Noodles”, one of a group of Jewish kids in New York. The storyline is based on the novel The Hoods by Harry Gray, an ex-gangster that Leone met while preparing  the film. The brainchild of a team of Italian screenwriters of        a certain caliber (Kim Arcalli, Enrico Medioli, Leo Benvenuti and Piero De Bernardi) and 11 years of hard work, the movie was extremely popular, with the recent film festival being no exception. Just a few days after my trip to Bologna, when I told my father – who lives in the American Midwest and had seen the film for the first time in the United States – about the excursion, he exclaimed, «That was one of my favorites!» , but perhaps in 1984 he had seen the American version that lasted one hour and 34 minutes, as compared to the 4 hour-long one that was released in Europe. The movie had undergone a great deal of cutting! The version reconstructed for the festival lasts 4 hours and 15 minutes, thanks to the major job financed by Gucci and The Film Foundation and the restoration performed in Bologna by the “L’Immagine Ritrovata” laboratory in association with Andrea Leone Film, The Film Foundation and Regency Enterprises. I say “extraordinary” restoration, because after the scanning of the original negative at Warner Bros Motion Picture Imaging in Los Angeles, it was digitally restored at a resolution of 4K at the Cinémathèque of Bologna. The poorly preserved positives, i.e., cut scenes, were reinserted in the blockbuster’s storyline. And so the evening of the screenings – as in many other moments of the festival, I was there in the midst of all the viewers, spellbound by the alluring cast and by the plot that unraveled through acting and frames of a true lyricism, not to mention by the wonder of discovering a new essence of this film after the cut scenes had been reinserted, precisely where they had been spliced. In short, I got to see the entire film in its original version, but with a digital technology twist – making for a wonderful discovery right in line with a new cinephilia. The locations of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna were a stage for this evolution, where those from the industry, and the audiences as well, are finding their way. I couldn’t help but look upon the city itself and think back on the images of the earthquake that hit the region of Emilia Romagna just one month before. Hurtled into instability, the people of this area had to rebuild that which was struck to the ground in just a few minutes, but we can be certain that    they will do so with the optimism and creativity that are characteristic of that part of Italy. The face of the Bologna area has changed, but its soul and its culture are as vibrant as ever – in evolution, just like art, and like cinema.

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