A Few Minutes With Bob Hoffman as we talk about the magic of Technicolor

Posted in Blog, Interviews, Movies, News by - July 09, 2015
A Few Minutes With Bob Hoffman as we talk about the magic of Technicolor

It simply doesn’t matter if you love the new cinema or the old stuff…in the city of Toronto there are simply little to no excuses to be at theatres practically every night of the week in this town as we are swimming in an embracement of plentiful riches for film fans to soak up.  With the TIFF Bell Lightbox in full swing with several retrospectives including their “Dreaming In Technicolor” retrospective they have a unique treat in store for anyone heading down this weekend.

Screening on both Saturday the 11th and Sunday the 12th, Technicolor gems The Red Shoes & Tales of Hoffmann are both screening on the big screen like they should and in advance of both of those screenings there will be an introduction from a special guest.

Bob Hoffman is current a vice-president of Marketing and Public Relations at Technicolor’s Hollywood offices and brings his unique insight on the history of the medium and how Technicolor’s role shaped the modern movie making landscape that we know today.

I got the chance to talk to him via e-mail about the these two Powell and Pressburger classics that are screening on the weekend, the importance of the Technicolor process and some of his personal favorites that inspired him to get into this business of movie making and restoration.

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Dave Voigt: How do you feel movies like The Red Shoes The Tales of Hoffmann and the Technicolor process in general have influenced modern film-making as we know it today?

Bob Hoffman: Towards the end of production of Black Narcissus, The Archers (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s production company) started to employ a concept Powell described in his autobiography, Million Dollar Movie, as “the composed film.” This process, of pre-recording the musical track, was more fully realized in the dance and operatic sequences found within The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffmann.  But really this notion could equally apply to the entire remarkable success of The Red Shoes as it pertains to art direction, production and costume design by Hein Heckroth, the incredible cinematography of Jack Cardiff, BSC, as well as the film’s indelible performances and narrative.  Of all the great “dance films” Technicolor was associated with over the last 100 years, The Red Shoes (in my opinion) stands above the rest.  I’d like to think that Michael Powell continues to influence filmmakers around the world.  As it relates to the Technicolor contribution to the success of The Archer’s many wonderful films, I believe it’s a tribute to that particular triumph of our British lab that employed a very different sensibility with those triumphs in the 1940s – a more-subtle rendition of the color generally associated with Technicolor Hollywood during that period.

 DV: How has the Technicolor process evolved since its inception nearly 100 years ago?

BH: From the mid-1920s through the late 1990’s, Technicolor’s IB printing processes went through 4 distinct “evolutions.”  In the 1950s, the company created a new laboratory model that successfully addressed the challenges of Kodak’s first successful 35mm color- negative stock while at the same time preparing to fully embrace and engage the growing demand for color television and the emerging “home entertainment” market.  In the 1970s, the company led the motion picture industry model for wider theatrical releases, production and distribution of 700-800 prints day-in-date.  The company’s theatrical release printing capability reached its zenith a decade ago for the global releases of the last Harry Potter films, with print runs in the range of 18,000 prints, day-in-date.  Fifteen or so years ago Technicolor led the industry in the transition to digital services.  And at the same time Technicolor was acquired by Thomson, marrying together global leaders in post-production and electronics manufacturing.  But through it all, there have remained certain core facets to Technicolor’s business: being responsive to the creative needs of filmmakers; continued innovation in color-science; and a commitment to industry-leading standards and technology.

DV: Could the old methods of making and developing prints been able to keep up in today’s high volume movie world or was the shift to digital prints essentially a practical necessity?

BH: Technicolor, and I believe Deluxe too, could have continued to address the “demands” of the expanded global marketplace for theatrical printing had the studios not elected to move to digital theatrical distribution and projection as a means of cost-savings.  That decision was not creatively-driven, and didn’t account for certain unintended consequences.  But now the genie is out of the bottle.

DV: When restoring and maintaining older films, how much of the work is based on the older techniques that were developed when some of these films were shot and made and how much is based around the newer advantages that we have today?

BH: Anyone worth their salt in the realm of film preservation and restoration will endeavor to first understand the initial creative intent of the filmmakers on those projects being addressed.  I would use The Red Shoes as the best example of this point.  The Film Foundation, along with Martin Scorsese and his incomparable editor, Thelma Schoomaker, working with the UCLA Film Archive’s Bob Gitt, and Warner Bros’ imaging group produced what I believe to be the best full restoration in the last dozen years.  They were able to restore the film from severely compromised original camera elements by using the latest digital tools and techniques.  The grading of the color was informed by Marty and Thelma’s close relationship to Michael Powell, and cinematographer Jack Cardiff – Jack was very engaged in many of the restorations of his films right up until the end of his life.

DV: Is there a single film out there that you feel exemplifies the magic of the Technicolor process?  If so which one and why?

BH: I don’t think it’s really possible to single out one film.  There would likely be some consensus about The Wizard of Oz as the great Technicolor epiphany – for obvious reasons, going from sepia-toned Kansas to Munchkin-land.  But what about John Ford’s The Quiet Man, or She Wore a Yellow Ribbon; or Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo? I believe that Francis Coppola’s The Godfather and Apocalypse Now Redux have to be included in this discussion too. I would suggest that Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator and Hugo are both recent examples of best practices of Technicolor “process” in a contemporary (digital) sense.  And I would offer-up cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s recent Oscar-winning film Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as the state-of-the-art in how digital “process” (and our finishing talent) can still facilitate movie magic.

DV: What is your personal favorite film of the Technicolor era? 

BH: Probably Apocalypse Now…the Redux version that we produced IB dye-transfer prints for in the late 1990s.  The Vietnam War left a lot of scars on many of us.  Francis, and screenwriter John Milius, tapped-into the cultural zeitgeist in a way few other filmmakers have ever achieved.  I remember seeing the Redux version on opening day in Los Angeles, sitting in the theatre crying my eyes out at the sheer beauty of Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography.  It’s the most beautiful film print I’ve ever experienced.

DV: Is there a particular film that inspired you to get into this business?

BH: Possibly director Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up.  I was a sophomore in college at that time, and the film got me thinking about still photography, something I studied thereafter and which led directly to my interest in filmmaking and doing graduate work in.  But more than one single film inspiring me, I’d say it was those British dramas of early to mid-1960s that most inspired me.  I recall that Karel Reisz’s Morgan! a Suitable Case For Treatment made a lasting impression.

DV: How important do you feel that the restoration of seminal films from across the globe is to our global cultural landscape?

BH: It’s incredibly important!  And not only for the seminal films, but many other films too.  It’s a total tragedy that so few films exist from the early days of filmmaking, Hollywood or otherwise.  And I fear we’re (as a culture) not facing the realities of just how precarious digital “archiving” is.

To learn more about the “Dreaming In Technicolor” retrospective currently running at the TIFF Bell Lightbox you can visit their website right here.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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