Long Live The Queen

Tuesday, June 8 2010
Long Live The Queen

The day The Raygun speaks to ITV Studios global arm’s director of  operations Fiona Maxwell sees her relaxed and happy – and she has every right to be. The previous night had been the culmination of more than seven years’ worth of hard work – the fully restored version of The African Queen that she had overseen had received its high profile UK debut, hot on the heels of its world premiere at Cannes, in front of an appreciative audience that included, among others, Angelica Huston, daughter of director John.

“It’s like having a baby with a gestation period of seven years,” she laughed.

The screening had confirmed ITV Studios’ belief in the project, which is likely to be further vindicated come its June 14 DVD and September Blu-ray release.

“It was really well received,” said Maxwell. “It was a completely full house, it was packed and we were turning people away. It was wonderful.”

ITV Studios has made a name for itself with what seems like its annual forays into its vast film library – the company now boasts one of the finest and biggest catalogues of classic British film in the business – with the successive releases following a well-worn path to market; this involves extensive work on the restoration itself, a world premiere at the Cannes film festival and an eventual DVD and Blu-ray release supported by an extensive theatrical re-release.

But The African Queen brought its own unique set of problems, given the complex global rights being held by ITV Studios (via the Romulus Films catalogue) and Paramount. With the vast cost involved, neither side understandably wanted to take on the full financial responsibility and there was also the matter of where the film would be restored. In the end, the fact that both sides wanted the project to happen – and it was needed to make it suitable for the high definition age – helped it come to fruition. “Existing asters were not up to the quality expected today and the film elements were not suitable for transfer to high definition,” said Maxwell. “Standards are very high now for Blu-ray. It was also about the deterioration of the original assets and [for us] it was also a matter of preserving the film as well as taking it to HD and Blu-ray.”

The original negatives had shrunk, colours were disappearing, the image was fading and, on one instance, one sequence flashed to black and white, clearly something was needed.

Once the project had been agreed, a team of experts were assembled to pull together the original film and found the best resource for each reel of Huston’s tale of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn’s odyssey in a far away continent.

The film was scanned into a high resolution digital copy and then the files were shipped to the US, where the bespoke software was available to combine the various elements, regrade the film and, as Maxwell noted, “bring it back to true life”.

Guidance was provided, in spirit after his death in 2009, by director of photography Jack Cardiff.

“I first met Jack Cardiff in 2003,” explained Maxwell. He was filmed at Pinewood giving his own commentary on the film, how it should look and so on. This film provided the crib sheet and framework from which the film was fully restored. “He gave us all the advice, his instructions on how it should be graded. He’s passed away, but his vision is very much there. He had pin sharp memories of some of the stuff.”

Of course, Maxwell and ITV Studios’ love of the film shines through the process. “It stands up as a film and a heart-warming story. You have to always keep that in mind. It came alive last night really. The restored images, the. colours are very rich.

You’re there [in Africa], it really stands up as a film for today.”

The work didn’t begin and end with the restoration, however. To make it a genuine collector’s piece, the company put together a wealth of extras, involving the likes of Martin Scorsese.

“We were involved up to the point of delivering the HD master, making sure we’ve got beautiful extras, we helped to license and make the documentary, researching.”

Now it’s on to the next project – with Richard III being among the next projects worked on, and ITV Studios is also closely involved with the aforementioned Scorsese and his Film Foundation looking at Powell and Pressburger films (The Red Shoes has already been given a new lease of life for the digital era).

“Blu-ray has a lot more demands on the technical side, it’s about how many hours you spend cleaning up that picture, and getting rid of the scratches and getting rid of the dirt.”

And, in the case of the African Queen, it appears as if all the hard work has been worthwhile.

Tags: ,