Panel ponders Italo pix repair

LACMA confab discusses wide-ranging matters

The difficulties and prospects for restoring revered Italo pics were at the center of discussion at a panel Saturday at the L.A. County Museum of Art. Confab was centerpiece of its current retrospective of 1950s and ’60s Italian cinema, repped by nine pics recently restored by Milan-based media firm Mediaset.

Despite the stated theme of restoring early works of Federico Fellini (with four pics in series, including the first for which he received the sole helming credit, “The White Sheik”), panel dealt with wide-ranging matters, from restoration techniques to charming anecdotes.

Writer-director Paul Mazursky, for example, recalled flying to Rome expressly to appeal to a stunned Fellini to play a small role in his movie about moviemaking, “Alex in Wonderland.”

Mediaset creative affairs director Paolo Penza noted that film critic and Mediaset curator Mario Sesti had in 1996 begun plumbing the company’s film library and selected a handful of titles to be restored. Of the current batch, Penza added, “The White Sheik” and Fellini’s subsequent 1953 memoir of youthful sloth, “I Vitelloni,” were in the worst condition. “The White Sheik” was in especially bad shape, with a degraded soundtrack and an original in such decay that six prints had to be cobbled together for a positive print.

In a remarkable note, the physical work of restoring was supervised by Vincenzo Verzini, the same man who had served as the film lab printer when many of the collection’s films — ranging from Roberto Rossellini’s medieval-set “St. Francis of Assisi” to Michelangelo Antonioni’s ultra-modernist “Red Desert” — were in production.

Turner Entertainment veep of preservation Richard May stressed the importance of such essentials as cold storage of original negatives. Yet Penza noted that, in Italy, most films remain stored in poor, unsuitable conditions, and that the DVD market — which has been credited as a key in the acceleration of American film restoration — is now barely off the ground.

If it is difficult preserving some of these films, moderator Guido Fink, director of the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles, stressed the equal difficulty endured by Antonioni and Fellini in getting their pics seen at all given a reluctant Italo aud and resistant government and religious authorities uneasy with the pair’s disparate, ambitious experiments.

Prospects for classics in theatrical re-release was taken up by Rialto Pictures’ Mike Thomas, who observed that the best B.O. is generated by previously less-viewed pics such as Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt” and Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria.”

Thomas announced that among Rialto’s upcoming re-releases is Vittorio De Sica’s ’52 pic “Umberto D,” part of the Mediaset/LACMA series. Mediaset also announced Saturday that another in its holdings, De Sica’s Sophia Loren starrer “Two Women,” will be shown in restored condition in L.A. in March or April.

Other panelists included LACMA film department head Ian Birnie, lenser Laszlo Kovacs and L.A. Weekly film critic F.X. Feeney.

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