Last summer it was announced that TCM, the Film Foundation, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would be funding a nitrate projection booth at the Egyptian, enabling screenings of beautiful but highly flammable prints.
Tonight the booth had its first tryout with an invitation-only screening of the last surviving nitrate print of CASABLANCA (1942). The packed audience at the Egyptian included director Christopher Nolan, Scott McGee of TCM, Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation, and several members of the L.A. classic film blogging and Twitter community.
Traffic was unusually bad as I made my way to the Egyptian tonight, and during the drive I wondered if it would be worth it. The answer is a resounding "Yes." Yes, yes, yes!
Unlike some in the audience, I actually once saw nitrate prints on a regular basis, when they were still being shown in L.A. revival theaters in the '70s. I've recounted how in recent years I realized that my memories of the black and white prints sparkling and shimmering was at least partly because I'd been watching nitrate prints.
The print also carries a sense of history with it; the Museum of Modern Art says of this 1942 print that it's "a luminous vision of the black-and-white feature and truly the closest material to the original that was shot when Bogart and Bergman walked on the set."
I've seen the movie many times, of course, as I suspect most in the audience had; my experiences seeing it included a screening at the Fine Arts in the '70s. However, it had a been a while since the last time I saw it, and certainly the film has never meant more to me than it did tonight.
It's one of those movies where the viewer mentally recites the dialogue along with the cast, but being able to do so is the opposite of boring; it thrills and warms the heart. So many brilliant lines, perfectly delivered; I think my favorite must come at the end: "If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.” The way Bogart says it, the cadences, it's like music.
And speaking of music, you'd have to be dead not to have goosebumps during "La Marseillaise." It was all I could do not to stand up myself.
Another random thought: With so much greatness in CASABLANCA, I think Orry-Kelly's costume designs for Ingrid Bergman don't get enough praise. Perfection.
CASABLANCA was directed by Michael Curtiz and filmed by Arthur Edeson. It runs 102 minutes.
There are many prints available of CASABLANCA, including a 70th Anniversary Blu-ray, but it's going to be a while before I can watch it again, as I don't think any other viewing will be able to compare to tonight's screening.
The audience was promised that CASABLANCA would be the first of "many, many" nitrate screenings at the Egyptian Theatre. Can't wait.