Martin Scorsese paid tribute to Italian film maestro Michelangelo Antonioni Sunday at the preview of Lincoln Center’s complete retrospective “Dear Antonioni.”

Scorsese recalled how he and fellow students at NYU’s film school in the early ’60s watched Antonioni’s “L’Avventura” over and over to study a picture that “celebrates the emotional power of the image, in which the composition becomes narrative,” and hailed Antonioni’s “spirit of creative freedom, combining the curiosity of an explorer with the precision of a surgeon.”

Scorsese stressed the importance of keeping Antonioni’s films alive for a new generation to discover, as part of his ongoing crusade to promote preservation and exhibition of classic cinema.

Intro’d by Film Society of Lincoln Center program director Richard Pena, Scorsese’s remarks were followed by the first local screening of Antonioni’s 1975 feature “Profession: Reporter,” which was the international version of the film (running an extra five minutes longer than the MGM domestic version, titled “The Passenger”).

Beautiful fresh print of the Jack Nicholson starrer was prepared by Cinecitta Intl., which has made new prints of all of Antonioni’s works with restoration conducted by Italy’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia.

Antonioni and the film’s co-star Maria Schneider attended the screening at Walter Reade Theater. Following the “Reporter” screening, a dinner celebrating Antonioni’s 80th birthday was held at the Harry Cipriani restaurant.

The films, ranging from 1940s short subjects to 1982’s “Identification of a Woman,” will be shown publicly through Nov. 8 at Lincoln Center with the support of Ministero del Turismo e dello Spettacolo and New York’s Italian Cultural Institute. Already screened in September at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris, series segues from Manhattan to Rome Dec. 2-17 at Palazzo Delle Esposizioni.” Several publications and a photo exhibit prepared by Carlo di Carlo will accompany the film series.

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