Children of Paradise [Les Enfants du Paradis] is perhaps the most stunning classic film you've probably never seen. The movie was made in 1943 - 1944, when the Nazis forbade the making of films longer than 90 minutes, and released in 1945. It was last shown in the U.S. 30 years ago, despite the fact that 600 French critics, directors, actors and technicians have voted it as "Best French Film Ever." Join Debra Kaufman as she brings the restoration of this classic beauty to light the story of how Éclair Labs in Paris battled a disintegrating nitrate original.
Children of Paradise [Les Enfants du Paradis] is perhaps the most stunning classic film you've probably never seen. The movie was made in 1943 - 1944, when the Nazis forbade the making of films longer than 90 minutes, and released in 1945. It was last shown in the U.S. 30 years ago, despite the fact that 600 French critics, directors, actors and technicians have voted it as "Best French Film Ever."
That changed on the evening of August 20, when a 4K restored version of Les Enfants du Paradis played at the The Reel Thing Technical Symposium, an event of the AMIA (Association of Moving Image Archivists) organized and coordinated by Grover Crisp and Michael Friend, and shown at the state-of-the-art Linwood Dunn Theater at the Academy's Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study.
Directed by Marcel Carné and shot by cinematographer Roger Hubert, the three-hour Children of Paradise takes place in the hurly burly of theater actors and theater life in 1820s Paris where a beautiful courtesan is courted by four very different men. "For French audiences, it is one of the most famous French films ever," says Christian Lurin, manufacturing manager at Éclair Laboratories, the Paris-based facility that restored the film. "First, the screenplay is by Jacques Prévert, one of the most famous French poets, and the actors such as Arletty who plays Garance, are very well known. All the costumes, sets, make-up are outstanding especially when you take into account that it was shot during World War 2 in occupied France. When you look at the film--and we looked at it many times--you still discover something new."
Children of Paradise was shot with nitrate film but not well archived for 30 years. "From the 1940s until the 1970s, when the French government decided to properly store film, this film wasn't stored under proper conditions," explains Lurin. The result was that the original negative--stored in 11 film cans--was in danger of being completely lost, suffering moisture, mold, missing frames and other age--and wear-related issues. Éclair also accessed two nitrate dupe positives. Lurin notes that the original nitrate had been copied photographically in the 1990s. "So they already had some kind of back-up even if it wasn't so good," he says.
The miracle of this restoration process often involved creating images where there was none -- in this case, a gaping hole. Also, one of the most serious problems was the number of missing frames, which had been replaced by black frames.
After the restoration process.
The film is owned by French film company, Pathé, founded in 1896, and, in 2010, Pathé and the Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé Foundation decided to restore Children of Paradise because, says Lurin, "It was in real danger. They probably waited until digital technology has sufficiently developed," he adds.
For scanning, Pathé sent the nitrate elements to L'Immagine Ritrovata, a film laboratory closely associated with the Cinémathèque in Bologna, Italy. There, an ARRI scanner was used to digitize the elements to 4K. "But it was done without wet gate," says Charlotte Quemy, Éclair's head of digital restoration department. "They used it in archive mode because the nitrate had shrunk too much to be accommodated on a regular gate."
Éclair then got the 4K files to begin the restoration. The process started a year ago, gained momentum in December 2010 and then went full speed until the Cannes Film Festival in May 2011, where they delivered a 2K DCP that was projected. Since then, Éclair completed the work and now has a 4K DCP.
According to Quemy, the first step was the semi-automatic cleaning using Image Systems' Phoenix to remove some of the dust and dirt semi-automatically. "Phoenix provided the starting point for a project like this," says Quemy. "Straight away, we were able to use the system's automated toolset to remove a number of imperfections. Problems that we couldn't repair with the paint tool, we repaired with the auto fix tool, which allowed us to accurately rebuilt parts of the image."
...and after the restoration process
"Some of the easiest defects to remove were small aberrations such as scratches and dirt," she adds. "This automatic process can deal with a lot of defects. If we'd done it manually, it's not difficult to do but there was so much dirt in every frame, it would have taken us 10 years. The Phoenix was a powerful help to the restoration."
But it wasn't the only restoration tool. For the second pass, Éclair imported each of the 11 reels into two types of manual toolsets: four stations of Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Revival and a single station of MTI Correct DRS Digital Film Restoration tool. "MTI was very efficient and Revival was very quick, so we spread the reels around," says Quemy. "We probably spent 50 days per reel, which is why we had to treat several reels at the same time."
The reels got a careful QC but the work still wasn't done. One of the most serious problems was the number of missing frames, which had been replaced by black frames. "About 10 percent of the image negative wasn't from the original negative," says Lurin. "These images were very poor quality." The images were replaced from the nitrate dupe. "We didn't find all the frames that were missing, so we reconstructed the frames, like visual effects," says Lurin "We were also left with other defects like tears, mold and punch holes. It was one of the most difficult aspects of the restoration."
For this last phase of restoration, the Éclair team used its Autodesk Flame and Flare workstations. "These tools come from the visual effects world, but we used them for restoration," says Lurin.
Quemy also notes that another division of Éclair Laboratories did the sound restoration, which was also from an original nitrate sound positive. The last thing they did was take a careful look at grain. "We had certain shots coming from different film elements and the grain on those shots was very, very poor," says Lurin. "To a point, it was really distracting to the audience. You'd look at an image with fine grain and then you'd switch to the next shot from a dupe positive with lots of grain." Post-restoration, the team used Cinnafilm Dark Energy to manage the grain and texture."
When the work was done, they did another careful QC in 2K and 4K, and then invited the clients in to look. "The clients always wanted to go further," says Lurin. "We had to say, at one point, the movie is clean." But after seeing the film in 2K at the Cannes Film Festival, says Lurin, he and Quemy knew that they had to push to get the 4K version done. "We knew we had to make it a little bit better," he says.
The first time that Lurin and Quemy saw the final digital 4K version of Children of Paradise was at The Reel Thing screening at the Linn Dunn Theater. "We don't have that kind of venue in Paris," says Lurin. "It was very emotional for us. It was the first time we had the chance to enjoy the film."
To make sure that Children of Paradise never again faces extinction, Éclair Laboratories is now recording images out to film, using the Aaton K film recorder. The results will be stored in Éclair's heat-and-humidity controlled vault.
Plans for a theatrical and/or BluRay release for Children of Paradise are still under wraps.
This is the original trailer from the first American release of the picture, in 1945.
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