MoMA Festival of Film Preservation 2008: Manhatta and N.Y. N.Y.

Nov 1, 2008–2K Digital Restoration
MANHATTA (1920) by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler
and N.Y., N.Y. (1957) by Francis Thompson
Friday, November 14 (6:15pm) & Saturday, November 15 (2:00pm). The Museum of Modern Art, The Roy and Niuta Titus Theater 2


The centerpiece of this New York City-themed program is the premiere of a new 2K digital restoration of Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler¬ís groundbreaking MANHATTA (1920), preserved by a consortium of the world¬ís leading archives, including The Museum of Modern Art and Anthology Film Archives (see below for full description and participants), and supervised by independent curator Bruce Posner, who introduces the program and explains the digital restoration process, carried out by Lowry Digital (formerly DTS Digital Images, Burbank). ¬ìNYC Restored¬î also features views of New York shot by Lumi?®re cameraman Alexandre Promio in 1896 and a newly preserved print of Francis Thompson¬ís fantastical N.Y., N.Y. (1957), blown up from glorious 16mm Kodachrome to 35mm. The silent films in the program are accompanied by Donald Sosin, whose new orchestral score will premiere with the Manhatta. Program approx. 80 min. Introduced by Bruce Posner and Donald Sosin.


Manhatta by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler United States Premiere.

2K Digital Restoration by Lowry Digital, Burbank. Supervised and produced by Bruce Posner. 35mm b/w film with new orchestral music score by Donald Sosin, 12 minutes

A day in the life of New York as viewed by noted American photographers Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler. This is a 2008 2K digital restoration of the original 1927 projection print discovered at the BFI in 1949. It is the only known copy of the film and as such is a unique artifact of early cinema history. The 2K digital restoration was performed by Lowry Digital (formerly DTS Digital Images) in Burbank, California under the supervision of film curator Bruce Posner for Anthology Film Archives, British Film Institute, The Library of Congress, The Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery of Art, and Nederlands Filmmuseum. Silent film specialist Donald Sosin composed the full orchestral music score that is performed by the Slovak Sinfonietta.

N.Y., N.Y. (1958)

N.Y., N.Y. by Francis Thompson Restoration by Cineric, Inc. and Trackwise-Full House Productions, New York. Supervised and produced by Bruce Posner. 35mm color film with original jazz score by Gene Forrell, 15 mins.

A pre-digital, surrealistic portrait of New York City from morning to night made by IMAX pioneer Francis Thompson. Over a period of eight years, Thompson shot this highly influential film by painstakingly framing the city through special prisms, lenses, and mirrors. The film was restored to 35mm in 2005 by Anthology Film Archives and Bruce Posner at Cineric, Inc. and Trackwise in New York from the 16mm Kodachrome originals that Thompson had stored under his bed for 45 years.

MANHATTA (Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler, US, 1920-21) Alternate titles: New York Film (1920- ), New York the Magnificent(1921), Le Fum?©e de New York (1923), Mannhatta (1926- )

Dir., ph., ed.: Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler; intertitles adapted from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”(1860-65); mus. (2008): Donald Sosin, cond. Peter Breiner, perf. Slovak Sinfonietta; original film: 35mm, 642 ft., 10’42” (16 fps); digital restoration: 2K 10bit Log DPX output to 35mm, 11’41” (16 fps); print source: Anthology Film Archives.

Digital restoration produced and supervised by Bruce Posner for Anthology Film Archives, New York; British Film Institute, London; The Library of Congress, Washington, DC; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Nederlands Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

In 1920 the American photographers Paul Strand (1890-1976) and Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) decided to film lower Manhattan in an abstract style comparable to that of their still photography. Consciously producing an “art” film, they orchestrated an aesthetic counterpoint between shots of skyscrapers, clouds of steam and smoke, and glistening harbors traversed by ships. To do so they made multiple shots of the same views framed from slightly different vantage points high above the nascent skyscrapers. The editing of the film followed the same principles, juxtaposing shots to achieve a symphonic form “expressive of the spirit of New York, of its power and beauty and movement” (Strand). Intertitles culled from lines of Walt Whitman’s poetry complement the filmmakers’ sublime vision of the city.

The original negative and all but one print were lost after a mere handful of screenings in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and London between 1920 and 1927. The single known copy – a 35mm dupe negative made in 1949 from a vintage 1927 nitrate projection print – was supplied by the British Film Institute for the digital restoration of Manhatta. This unique element displayed practically every cinematic defect imaginable, making the restoration process time-consuming and challenging. The numerous problems were compounded by imperfections in the initial shooting and processing of the film, including vibrations of the image due to hand-cranking, uneven lab work, multiple generational materials, poorly made splices, and shaky floating titles.

In November 2006, the BFI’s third-generation negative was scanned at Post Logic Studios, Hollywood, frame by frame, each one at 2048 x 1556 pixels. The 10bit DPX file was delivered to Lowry Digital (then operating as DTS Digital Images) for extensive image processing. Between October 2007 and September 2008, the film was meticulously repaired by Lowry engineers, technicians, and artists. The restoration required 900 hours of automated and manual retouching to stabilize the images, to clean dirt, scratches, and rips, to reduce flicker and flare, and to enhance the overall grain and resolution. The goal was to reconstruct as closely as possible the “look” the filmmakers had intended at the time of photographing the film in 1920.

Finally, in keeping with the lyrical nature of the film, Donald Sosin composed a new orchestral score that was performed by the 39-piece Slovak Sinfonietta. The synchronized score, Sosin’s first effort with a full orchestra after many years of silent film accompaniment on piano, harmoniously complements the images, adding great depth to the spectator’s experience. The music was edited and mixed at Chace Audio, Burbank.

The new restoration of Manhatta is intended to revive the original grandeur of this cinema classic and make it available in a form that closely resembles what might have been seen some nine decades ago. Manhatta is generally regarded as one of the first American avant-garde films, and recent critical appraisals recognize it as a forerunner of ¬ìcity symphony¬î films, such as Alberto Cavalcanti¬ís Rien que les heures (1926), Walther Ruttmann¬ís Berlin. Die Sinfonie der Gro?üstadt (1927), and Dziga Vertov¬ís Chelovek s kinoapparatom (Man with a Movie Camera, 1929). Anticipating all of these experiments, Manhatta remains a radical modern masterpiece. Its lean poetic simplicity belies a complex formal construction wherein two master practitioners of still imagery applied their combined genius to the production of a motion picture.

Manhatta is listed on the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.

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