Digital Cinema and DVD at Cannes

in 56th Cannes Film Festival

by Robert Fischer

As more and more movies are shot in digital format, digital screening increasingly becomes the norm, bringing with it a whole array of technological and strategic imperatives. Last year, Cannes saw digital screenings of ‘Spirit’ and ‘Star Wars Episode II’. This year, digital projection systems were installed in the festival’s Lumière, Debussy and Buñuel theatres.

Digital cinema screenings at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival included:
– Lumière theatre (Official Selection): ‘Les Marches’, directed by Gilles Jacob
– Debussy theatre (“Un Certain Regard” selection): ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, directed by Yu Lik Wai

The two technological highlights at this year’s festival were the 3D screening of James Cameron’s film ‘Ghost of the Abyss’ on Saturday May 17 in the Lumière theatre using two high-power projectors, and the screening of the restored version of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’ in the main Lumière theatre, closing the festival on May 25.

Four restored films representing the legacy of the art of cinema were also screened in digital format in the Buñuel theatre: ‘Le Roi et l’Oiseau’ (1980) by Paul Grimault, ‘Scarecrow’ (1973) by Jerry Schatzberg (winner of the Grand Prix du Festival, 1973), ‘Mildred Pierce’ (1945) by Michael Curtiz, and ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ (1938) by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley.

Finally, this year the Cannes Film Festival awarded, for the second time, the 2003 Cannes Film Festival DVD Prize to the best titles in the ‘New DVD’ and ‘Heritage DVD’ categories. The organizers see DVD as “a true extension of the film itself”, and the festival acknowledges this phenomenon with its prize. This year, the jury, chaired by French director Christian Vincent (‘La Discrète’), awarded the prize in the ‘New DVD’ category to ‘Capitaine Conan’ and ‘The Sixth Sense’, while the DVD box-set with the trilogy ‘Flesh’, ‘Trash’ and ‘Heat’ received the prize in the ‘Heritage DVD’ category. The trilogy’s director, Paul Morrissey, was present to receive the award. A year before he had presented all three films in beautifully restored versions at special screenings in Cannes.

The Paul Morrissey trilogy DVD box-set is truly one of the best edited DVDs in the medium’s five years of existence. It features, each on its own disc, the three films in pristine transfers, making ‘Flesh’ (1968), ‘Trash’ (1970) and ‘Heat’ (1972) look at least as good as at the time of their first theatrical release. Each film has optional French subtitles and is accompanied by outtakes and alternate takes, sometimes with commentary by the director, and by featurettes analyzing the films within their cultural, social and political contexts. Also included are three early short films by Morrissey.

As if this weren’t enough, the box contains a fourth disc featuring an additional set of extra features: five documentaries about the making of the trilogy, totalling at 75 minutes running time; a 12-minute ‘Encounter with Jonas Mekas’, the underground filmmaker who was Morrissey’s biggest influence; Jonas Mekas’ guided tour through the Anthology Film Archives, guest starring Paul Morrissey (13 minutes); ‘Scenes from the Life of Andy Warhol’, Jonas Mekas’ 35-minute documentary on the famed producer of the trilogy; and much, much more. It is truly amazing what Carlotta Films, the Paris-based label who produced this DVD box-set, has achieved here.

Re-experiencing Morrissey’s concept of cinema verite and filmic time, re-seeing Joe Dallesandro exposing his body in Morrissey’s films, and re-entering, through this extraordinary DVD experience, the underground movement of the sixties and seventies, one cannot help but secretely re-evaluate Vincent Gallo’s ‘The Brown Bunny’, which got sunk at this year’s festival, but is so clearly rooted in the cinema of Mekas, Warhol and Morrissey.