Someday prints will come, in pink

Music Box 70mm film festival confronting, and mostly solving, quality issues

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'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'

'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' (February 21, 2013)

"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" was pink. But we'll get to that in a minute.

Music Box Theatre general manager Dave Jennings considers himself fortunate to have such a "smart, forgiving audience" for the current and very popular 70mm retrospective. The minifestival continues through in all its wide-gauge and, when the print conditions are right, drool-worthy visual glory.

Now, about that matter of print quality. When you're dealing with film, as opposed to digital moviemaking, any film retrospective brings with it a certain degree of risk and surprise, often having to do with the physical and technical qualities of the prints and soundtracks themselves.

Jennings and his Music Box cohorts were forced to cancel last Friday's 70mm screening of "2001: A Space Odyssey" because, although the print was in excellent shape, the accompanying trio of DTS (digital) soundtrack discs didn't cooperate. Two of the three, Jennings says, arrived cracked. The third didn't work with the Music Box system. So they canceled, rebuilt the system in a hurry over the weekend, and rescheduled "2001" this week.

"Lord Jim," another title in the retrospective, arrived with its fifth reel shorn of its digital sound information. And "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" had fine sound, but the print dating from the musical's original release year, 1968, hadn't been inspected. "And no one reported that it had faded to pink," Jennings says, with an audible wince.

Genuine 70mm prints are rare birds, and some fly better than others. Jennings explains: "70mm can be presented either in magnetic 70mm sound, right there on the film print, or in digital sound." But the bugs can be serious. And the preciousness of 70mm is sobering, as in the case of "Spartacus," a film Jennings "desperately" wanted to include in the festival but couldn't. "There's one 70mm print in existence. One. It's in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences archive," he says.

Since Monday's "Lord Jim" trouble, though, no major problems, Jennings says. The audiences have been large, enthusiastic and understanding. "Vertigo" killed. "2001" killed. "Good attendance for everything," he says. He adds that the theater boasts nearly 3,000 screenings annually, and "98percent go off without a hitch."

"There's a desire and an appreciation for the 70mm film format," he says. "So even when we had to cancel a screening, everyone understands. They know what 70 is, and how rare these prints are, sometimes."

The Music Box 70mm festival continues with "Playtime," "The Master," "West Side Story," "Hamlet" and "Lifeforce." Go to musicboxtheatre.com for the schedule.

mjphillips@tribune.com

Michael Phillips talks Oscars:
5:40 a.m. Friday, “ABC-7 News This Morning,” WLS ABC-TV (Ch. 7)
11 p.m. Friday, midnight Saturday, Filmspotting, WBEZ-FM 91.5 FM
7:30 a.m. Saturday, “CBS Saturday Morning,” WBBM CBS-TV (Ch. 2)
10 a.m. Monday: Monday-morning Oscar quarterbacking along, live streaming at chicagotribune.com
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