Beautiful People

Nov 17, 2006

At the Museum of the Moving Image tonight, Peter Cowie is presenting his new book on Louise Brooks, Lulu Forever, and they are digitally screening our new Pandora's Box restoration with the Gillian Anderson score. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved to see a disc hitting the street. Pandora has been on the Criterion schedule since long before I started, but after thirteen years of laserdisc publishing and another eight years of DVD, we had never been able to come up with a version we felt was releasable. There was always something better just over the horizon: a better film element, a better version, a better restoration, a better score. In retrospect, I wish we’d put it out years ago in one of those more provisional versions and taken the heat for it, because even the versions we were rejecting were a good step up from the VHS tapes that were out there. At least I can say of the version that hits the street this week that we can’t make it any better than this—and just in time for what would have been her one-hundredth birthday. Happy birthday, Brooksie!

On Wednesday night, Isabella Rossellini and the Museum of Modern Art threw a birthday party of sorts for the centenary of Roberto Rossellini, complete with cake and cocktails at the Fendi store on Fifth Avenue and a MoMA screening of the newly restored print of Rome, Open City made by the Cineteca Nazionale in Rome. For Fendi, Isabella set up an extraordinary display of family photographs, taken by the likes of Cecil Beaton, Robert Capa, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, and they were giving out copies of her new book, In the Name of the Father, the Daughter, and the Holy Spirits. They were also showing the film she made with Guy Maddin, My Dad is 100 Years Old , on the huge, two-story wall of the staircase. Vintage Rossellini posters were everywhere. But the star of the evening was the new print at MoMA. All I can say is that it was a revelation. Everything I had always thought about the look of Rome, Open City turns out to be wrong. It is not gritty and grainy and mismatched. This print is smooth and even with tight, fine grain. There is only one dupe-y shot in the entire film. It seems impossible that Rossellini made such a professional, almost studio-looking image when working with mismatched stocks, short ends of leftover military film, and even some rolls (at least apocryphally) intended for still cameras. At the end of the evening, we were all marveling over what Sergio Toffetti and his team of restorers had done. “I have seen the film hundreds of times, but on this print I see shadows I never knew were there,” Isabella said. “Who knew that Italian neorealism would look so slick?”