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Fox Offers 100 Films Digitally to Celebrate Century Mark, With Help From Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese will present a restored version of the Ernst Lubitsch comedy “Heaven Can Wait” at the New York Film Festival on Thursday.

In an interview, the director of “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” said the film was a perfect candidate for an appreciation because Lubitsch, whose other credits include “Ninotchka” and “To Be or Not to Be,” was “a great artist,” one who taught him about film structure.

“Everything in a Lubitsch film counts: every gesture, every word, every design choice for every set, every angle, every second,” Scorsese wrote in an email. “He was absolutely remarkable. And like many of the directors that came out of the silent era, he understood form so perfectly.”

He went on to praise “Heaven Can Wait,” which marks the director’s first color effort, as “like an ancient cathedral: the beauty and the integrity of the form are one and there’s not a stone out of place.”

The technicolor look at a sybarite’s admission interview into Hell has been touched up through the combined efforts of Scorsese’s the Film Foundation, the Academy Film Archive and 20th Century Fox.

The screening and the question-and-answer period that follow will also help inaugurate a wider examination of film history being undertaken by Fox. The studio has just reached the century mark and to recognize the milestone, it is re-releasing a hundred films spanning the silent era, continuing through the golden age of Hollywood and ending in the early ’90s.

The pictures will be available on digital HD for the first time in their history, and include such classic films as F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise,” Raoul Walsh’s “Big Trail” and John Ford’s “Men Without Women.” The first batch of titles will be available Thursday and includes the musical “Can-Can,” the western “My Darling Clementine” and “Pigskin Parade” — a 1936 musical that marked Judy Garland’s film debut. There are also more modern offerings such as the Julia Roberts thriller “Sleeping With the Enemy” and the Michael Douglas adventure “Romancing the Stone.”

The shift away from DVDs and the collapse of the video store could have dealt a death blow to classic movies, but Fox’s home entertainment team says the digital revolution appears to have ushered in a renaissance of film appreciation.

“You’re not trying to hold shelf space in a retail outlet,” said Mike Dunn, president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. “It allows you to have more of your catalog readily available, because you put it on iTunes and it stays there. You’re not being judged by how many units it sells. Services like iTunes want to be a completists.”

In fact, catalogue titles now make up more than 40% of digital sales. That’s massive growth from four years ago, when they comprised approximately 5% of digital receipts, and Dunn expects their popularity will continue. To help draw attention to the offerings, Apple will have a dedicated iTunes landing page featuring these new titles.

“Acquiring movies is so easy now,” said Dunn. “You read about something and maybe there’s a reference to a filmmaker’s historical work, and my thumb moves across my phone and I’ve bought it.”

Although there are financial incentives to offering these pictures to the public, the studio positioned the move as about more than dollars and cents.

“We are custodians of a great legacy of filmmakers whose contributions here span 100 years,” said Jim Gianopulos, chairman and CEO of Twentieth Century Fox Film. “We owe their work our best efforts to preserve and protect it, and to make these important films accessible in their best possible presentation for generations to come.”

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