Oscar winner tackles cult pic's revival

In one week, Bob Murawski went from being an Oscar winner to obscurity.

But in a good way.

Murawski (who co-won an editing Oscar with his wife Chris Innis on “The Hurt Locker”), world premiered the restored version of legendary cult pic “Gone With the Pope,” by Duke Mitchell, a nightclub fixture in Vegas and Palm Springs from the 1950s throughout the ensuing decades, March 12 at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood.

Murawski is partnered with Sage Stallone in Grindhouse Releasing, which successfully distributes exploitation and cult movies, but why this one? “We started our company to give exploitation films the deluxe treatment,” says Murawski.

His 16-year journey restoring “Pope” started after watching Mitchell’s “The Executioner” with helmer Bill Lustig (“Maniac”). Lustig, Stallone and Murawski found out that Mitchell had died but his son lived close by in Hollywood. They tracked him down, and miracle of miracles, he had these dusty reels of “Pope” footage, and would they like to have a go at it?

The no-budget film — starring Mitchell as a gangster who hatches a plan to kidnap the pope in exchange for a ransom of $1 from every Catholic in the world — was a mess, unfinished, with no screenplay to speak of to use as reference. But Murawski saw a gem in the making. “It was a hobby,” Murawski says of the laborious process in which he digitally restored everything in his spare time, enlisting some of his talented friends in along the way, such as Paul Hart, Jody Fedele, Paul Ottosson (also a “Locker” Oscar winner), dialogue editor Robert Troy and Foley artist John Sanacore, and Marti Humphrey and Brad Semanoff, who had done the sound mix on “Drag Me to Hell.”

And he needed the help because Mitchell’s on-the-cheap shooting style — he fired the sound guy because he didn’t want to pay him, so the DP juggled camera and mics — left a technical mess. Mitchell had shot it in L.A. and Vegas over weekends between November 1975 and January 1976. Then he ran out of money, never was able to finish the film and died.

But it’s still a lesson in DIY filmmaking that kids today could learn from. “It’s the ulimate independent — he used short ends of films… he made it look like a big movie by using all kinds of locations, Santa Anita, Griffith Park, Palm Springs, Las Vegas casinos,” says Murawski. “He knew everyone,” and was able to film almost anywhere because of that — and by giving his donors bit parts in the film.

While Murawski used digital tools to restore the film, “Pope” will be shown theatrically on a 35mm print. “The Fotokem guys were amazed by the look of the film,” says Murawski. “It has that (film stock) period look that they can’t re-create with digital.”

Grindhouse will release “Pope” theatrically in Seattle and New York City, with other dates pending.

” ‘Hurt Locker’ was tough,” says Murawski, “but this was harder.”Murawski is partnered with Sage Stallone in Grindhouse Releasing, which distributes exploitation and cult movies. But why was this film a must for restoration?

“We started our company to give exploitation films the deluxe treatment,” says Murawski.

His 16-year journey restoring “Pope” started after watching Mitchell’s “The Executioner” with helmer Bill Lustig (“Maniac”). Lustig, Stallone and Murawski found out that Mitchell — a nightclub fixture in Vegas and Palm Springs beginning in the 1950s and on into the ensuing decades — had died, but that his son lived close by in Hollywood.

They tracked the son down, discovered that he had these dusty reels of “Pope” footage, and would they like to have a go at it?

The no-budget film — starring Mitchell himself as a gangster who hatches a plan to kidnap the pope in pursuit of a ransom of $1 from every Catholic in the world — was a mess, unfinished, with no screenplay to speak of to use as reference. But Murawski saw a gem in the making.

“It was a hobby,” Murawski says of the laborious process by which he digitally restored the footage in his spare time, enlisting some of his talented friends, such as Paul Hart, Jody Fedele, Paul Ottosson (also a “Locker” Oscar winner), dialogue editor Robert Troy and Foley artist John Sanacore, and Marti Humphrey and Brad Semanoff, who had done the sound mix on “Drag Me to Hell.”

And he needed the help because Mitchell’s on-the-cheap shooting style — he fired the sound guy because he didn’t want to pay him, so the d.p. juggled both the camera and the mics — left a technical mess. Pic was shot in L.A. and Vegas over weekends between November 1975 and January 1976. Then Mitchell ran out of money, was unable to finish the film and eventually died.

But it’s still a smart lesson in DIY filmmaking.

“It’s the ultimate independent — he used short ends of films … he made it look like a big movie by using all kinds of locations, Santa Anita, Griffith Park, Palm Springs, Las Vegas casinos,” says Murawski. “He knew everyone,” and was able to film almost anywhere because of that — and by giving his donors bit parts in the film.

While Murawski used digital tools to restore the film, “Pope” will be shown theatrically on a 35mm print. “The Fotokem guys were amazed by the look of the film,” says Murawski. “It has that (film stock) period look that they can’t re-create with digital.”

Grindhouse will release “Pope” theatrically in Seattle and New York City, with other dates pending.

” ‘Hurt Locker’ was tough,” says Murawski, “but this was harder.”

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