Restored 35mm print of La Dolce Vita at Film Forum / by KirstenStudio

Only a few days left of the Film Forum's screening of Frederico Fellini's 1960's satiric portrayal of the Italian jet set and the paparazzi (the film to inspire the term paparazzi, based on a character in the film) that follow, in mythic proportion. La Dolce Vita has a new 35mm 4K digital (referring to the horizontal resolution of the film scanner) restoration print and I strongly recommend seeing it on the big screen in all it's decadent glory.

GUCCI and The Film Foundation, partnered with Cineteca di Bologna, Medusa Film, Pathé, Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, Paramount Pictures and Cinecittà Luce for a complete restoration in time for the film's 50th anniversary last year.

Since most of what I could find on the internet regarding the La Dolce Vita restoration was about it's premiere last October at the Italian Film Festival, who attended and who Eva Mendes was wearing, I thought I'd explore the preservation, rather than reiterate the festival red carpet sitings (although I did read those findings too and it was cool to hear about Anita Ekberg's appearance).

I am in no way a film preservation or restoration expert. I'd say I qualify as an enthusiast.  I think it's fascinating to learn about preservation through a sort of case-by-case basis since preservation is always different depending on the film and it's known existing elements.  For La Dolce Vita's recent preservation, I've broken down some of La Dolce Vita's process and provided basic explanations of terminology here and there to the best of my knowledge .  A lengthy and intense process that is no doubt a labor of love for preservationists, so this really only covers some of the steps in very very broad strokes.  

The La Dolce Vita restoration was done at Cineteca di Bologna laboratory L'Immagine Ritrovata and involved working from the original camera negative. For those who aren't completely familiar with the term, the original camera negative is the film that literally records the original image.  It creates a negative image where the black and whites are reversed and colors are compliments of their true colors. In this case, the original camera negative was shot in Totalscope, a Dupont film stock, a form of CinemaScope from Italy, but with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

Digital grading was executed using a vintage copy as areference print along with a positive copy that was restored by Mediaset back in the 1990's. The digital restoration phase follows the physical photochemical cleaning and scanning process.  Digital restoration uses mathematical algorithms with software to compare each frame of the film with the frames on either side of it. Unwanted visual issues such as tears and scratches are digitally removed, frame by frame.  I believe once this process is finished, it's onto the adjustment of brightness, contrast and color grading if needed.

As mentioned above, all found film elements are usually collected, inspected and compared to the original or the closest thing to the original that exists. In this case, a number of sources were compared to the original negative including a vintage lavander print. A lavender print (sometimes referred to as a protection print) is a positive print (where the black and whites are not reversed) made from camera negatives or a duplicate negative.  The fine grains of the film have a lavender sort of tint to them.  There are some disadvantages, from what I hear, to using a lavender print, but sometimes it is necessary when piecing a film together where some of the other prints have already significantly deteriorated. For this film the CSC-Cineteca Nazionale had a preserved lavender print in their collection.

The final result is a gorgeous, rich new 35mm print. Apparently Fellini’s processing expert Vincenzo Verzini and the cinematographer, Ennio Guarnieri, Director of Photography Otello Martelli's camera assistant along with Martin Scorsese (who established The Film Foundation), were consulted for this beautiful restoration.

Check out the Film Forum site for ticketing information as well as La Dolce Vita review links from New York Times, Village Voice and more. The information in this blog was taken from a couple of online sources, including The Film Foundation, the Film Forum and a couple of preservation reference books. To find out more about film preservation (note: the line between the terms 'preservation' and 'restoration' are grey, even within the industry, depending on what expert you talk to) I recommend the book by Karen F. Gracy, Film Preservation: Competing Definitions of Value, Use, and Practice.