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Large-Format Fun: The Somerville Theatre’s New 70mm & Widescreen Festival

Large-Format Fun: The Somerville Theatre’s New 70mm & Widescreen Festival


Need more proof that the 70mm theater experience isn’t dead?

The Somerville (Massachusetts) Theatre 70mm and Widescreen Festival offers a unique opportunity to see an eclectic collection of rarely screened films from Sept. 16-25, 2016. (A festival that contains West Side Story, The Wild Bunch, The Vikings and Sleeping Beauty defines “eclectic.”)

Because of a scarcity of prints and tightened distribution, opportunities to experience 70mm and widescreen films as they were meant to be seen is becoming increasingly difficult, which makes these screenings a don’t miss for Boston area (and beyond) film enthusiasts.

The festival features landmark 70mm films Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey alongside gems such as Richard Fleischer‘s 1958 The Vikings in 35mm Technirama, and Sam Peckinpah‘s 1969 Western classic The Wild Bunch as a 70mm blow-up (the film was shot in 35mm).

While recent films The Hateful Eight (2015) and The Master (2012) revived interest in 70mm and widescreen projection, procuring vintage prints for theaters continues to be a challenge.

Distributors are understandably weary of where they send their prints. For example, some distributors won’t send vintage prints to theaters with platter systems (where the print is built on a platter and shown via a single projector) because if something goes wrong with the screening the entire print is at risk.

Instead of a platter system, distributors often prefer two-projector setups and experienced projectionists such as the Somerville’s David Kornfeld, who is an old hand at running the format on the theater’s dual projectors.

“There aren’t many of [these prints out there], and they’re remarkably easy to damage if you don’t know what you’re doing,” says Kornfeld, who was featured in a recent documentary about projectionists, The Dying of the Light. “A lot of distributors and archives are greatly restricting access to their 70mm prints because of this. Basically, you really have to know what you’re doing. The tiniest error or mis-adjustment, and kaboom! It’s a supremely unforgiving format to project.”

The projector at the Somerville Theatre

The 70mm projector at the Somerville Theatre

For Kornfeld, though, “There’s nothing like the format. There’s superior sound, superior picture.” Here’s his take on festival highlights and the prints:

Sleeping Beauty is Disney’s only existing 70mm print and is rarely loaned out. When was the last time you got to see one of Disney’s animated classics on a screen?

The print of Lord Jim was struck off the OCN (original camera negative) and is mint. The 1965 film, directed by Richard Brooks, is rarely run.

The West Side Story print was also struck off the OCN and is lovely.

The last time It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World played in Boston in Ultra-Panavision was when it was released in 1963.

The Vikings, along with Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, are rarely screened IB Technicolor prints. You’ll never have the chance to see these like this again; they look nothing like modern release prints.

The Wild Bunch sounds awesome.

If you haven’t seen Lawrence of Arabia and 2001 in 70, you haven’t seen them at all. I don’t care what you think!

The Somerville's marquee

The Somerville’s marquee hawks this weekend’s goods

Having attended a number of sublime 70mm screenings at the Somerville, I can attest to the high quality of the sound and projection. After vanilla, digital screenings in modern shoebox theaters, attending a proper 70mm screening is a reminder of the glory of film. MM

The Somerville Theatre’s 70mm & Widescreen Festival runs September 16-25, 2016. For tickets and film times, visit its website.

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