Tuesday, March 24, 2015

3 Duke Ellington Films Restored

A Bundle of Blues (1933) [all images courtesy of Cohen Film Collection]
Duke Ellington was one of the Silver Screen's favorite personalities since the sound was introduced to cinema. The Duke's life on celluloid started with 1929 Black and Tan Fantasy and continued until the last days of his life. Among a wealth of visual material left behind after Duke's passing, the early films, for their presentation of best musicians in their glory days, are most precious, but also because of their age, less satisfactory in terms of sound and image quality.

In that regard, probably the best gift one could give to the members of Ellingtonia all around the world is the restoration and re-release of three Duke Ellington films, undertaken by Cohen Film Collection in the US whose new prints look like a Rembrandt picture being cleaned and removed from elements of dust and dirt by National Gallery. Now, you can see Black and Tan Fantasy, Symphony in Black and Bundle of Blues in very good to excellent qualities.

The digital restoration of the films was carried out by Cohen Film Collection at Modern Videofilm in Los Angeles, California. Originally produced by Paramount Pictures, U.M.&M. TV Corporation acquired the rights in 1954-55 along with approximately 1,600 other shorts from Paramount catalogue. The company removed the Paramount logo card from the original 35mm nitrate negatives and replaced them with the U.M.&M. TV title card. The original opening title card is not known to exist. [pic below]

The Collection's 35mm safety duplicate picture and track negative master was scanned at 2K, and later restored in 2K. In terms of audio, the original optical track of the 35mm print was also restored.

These restorations are presented as bonus features to Blu-Ray/DVD release of Syncopation (William Dieterle, 1942), a rather interesting jazz film starring (aside from its main Hollywood actors Adolphe Menjou and Jackie Cooper) Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Harry James, Charlie Barnet, Joe Venuti, and Rex Stewart.

Black and Tan Fantasy
As you may have already read the news of the "jazz and film" programme in Italy (June 27-July 3, 2015) on this blog, I must add that the restored Black and Tan Fantasy will be screened there as part of the retrospective.

Billie Holiday in Symphony in Black
On a similar note, UCLA Film Archive, too, has revived an Ellington short film, the early Date with Duke (directed by George Pal, 1947). Restored in 35mm, the film is the closest thing to meeting up Duke in a Technicolor dream.

Symphony in Black
More about Ellington 3 here.

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