Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pinewood Studios Film Restoration Magic

Have you ever wondered what became of a favourite film from your childhood? One that you had loved at the time and then never saw again?  You might soon find out because at Pinewood Studios in Iver Heath England, the Film Restoration department is hard at work digitally restoring old films for redistribution to be seen again in all their original glory.
The film in question for me was a 1976 musical called The Slipper and the Rose, a live action re-imagining of Cinderella starring Richard Chamberlain with songs by the Sherman brothers (Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and a supporting cast packed with stars of British film and stage.  At the age of 12, I had seen it in a Hamilton Ontario movie theatre and then never again. In the days before video and DVD, if a film didn’t make it to television after its theatrical release, it just languished in a vault somewhere.
As the author of this film blog, I was fascinated to learn that a recent restoration of The Slipper and the Rose was done at Pinewood Studios, where the film was originally shot in 1975. I was able to stop by Pinewood on a recent trip to England to find out how the remastering and restoration of these old films are done.
The Day The Earth Caught Fire from 1961, recently restored at Pinewood Studios
In a quiet little building behind the giant sound stages of the James Bond and Star Wars films sits the Pinewood Media Preservation and Restoration Department. When I arrived, they were screening a little Sci-Fi gem from 1961 called The Day the Earth Caught Fire for some British Film Institute execs for their new Sci-Fi series Days of Fear and Wonder. Although it had the look of an old black and white American Sci-Fi classic from the 1950s, the accents and the snappy dialogue were unmistakably English.  
BFI Sci-Fi film series
After the screening, I was able to talk with Charles Fairall, Head of Conservation at the British Film Institute about their collaboration with Pinewood. The BFI has an incredible wealth of vintage films in its archives which it is gradually preserving and putting on the internet to be rediscovered and enjoyed via their BFI Player or on the BFI YouTube channel
Film being digitally photographed frame by frame
Although most of these old films (some dating back over a century) are just digitized for access by the public, some such as The Day The Earth Caught Fire are meticulously remastered and restored first. 
Pinewood technicians restoring film one frame at a time
After the film is transferred to digital frame by frame, it then proceeds to the technicians in the next room where each individual frame is cleaned using software called PFClean.  A few deft clicks of the mouse by these skilled techs and then on to the next frame they go. The sound can also be restored so that the audio does justice to the restored visual.
Rude Boy film from 1980, recently restored at Pinewood Studios
In another part of this beehive of activity, they were putting the finishing touches on the restoration of the 1980 film Rude Boy, a partly fictional rockumentary about a fan of The Clash who leaves his job in a Soho sex shop to be a roadie for the band.
Jon Mann, Technical Restoration Manager at Pinewood Studios
Although I was in high school in 1980 when Rude Boy was first released, my tastes even then tended more toward period drama than rockumentary. So I was delighted when Jon Mann, the Technical Restoration Manager at Pinewood told me he had found an old box of Slipper and The Rose miscellany which I was welcome to peruse for my research. 
Original film score for The Slipper and the Rose
Although mostly consisting of folders of correspondence and documents relating to the film's distribution worldwide, there were old posters, colour and black and white stills from the filming at Pinewood and on location in Austria and even huge sheets of original film score, written in pencil (with erasures) which I assume was in the hand of Angela Morley who scored and conducted the Sherman brothers’ brilliant songs.
The Slipper and the Rose still photo (the bridge behind Cinderella and The Fairy Godmother is still in the back lot of Pinewood!)
When Jon came back to find me poring over a filming schedule from 1975, he suggested I might like to wander out to the Pinewood gardens where the bridge and pond appearing in the film still exists. Pinewood Studios was built on a former country estate which gave them a huge garden and an old stately home as well as the land to build sound stages, offices and storage spaces. Sure enough the bridge and pond were there, surrounded by acres of garden and with only a few Pinewood employees having an informal meeting over a picnic lunch.

Japanese theatre poster for The Slipper and the Rose

After a last look at an amazing Japanese Slipper and The Rose poster, I thanked both Jon Mann and Patrick Wilbraham (Technical Operations Manager) who had graciously given me their time and access to their archive. I expect this part of Pinewood Studios will get ever busier as so many old and beloved films wait like Cinderella for their magical transformation.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella 1976

The Slipper and the Rose original film poster- leave a comment to win it!
The Slipper and the Rose, if you aren't already a fan, was basically the last of the big original musicals which was filmed at Pinewood Studios UK (and on location in Austria) in 1975 and released in 1976. It has been recently restored and remastered, mere steps away from where it was shot, at Pinewood's Media Preservation, Restoration and Archiving Facility. Having been gorgeously restored to it's original glory, the original UK edition is now available on Blu-ray, with extras including A Cinderella Story: The Making of Slipper and the Rose (narrated by executive producer David Frost) and I Can't Forget the Melody: The Sherman Brothers on the Making of Slipper and the Rose.
I first saw it in the theatre in 1976 and loved it, although I hadn't seen it since. What a thrill to see that it is just as wonderful as I remember. Possibly more so! So what is the story behind this under-appreciated film which is only starting to be rediscovered?

Richard Chamberlain as Prince Edward and Christopher Gable as John

Apparently the Sherman brothers (Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) were approached by David Frost and asked to write the songs for a live action Cinderella musical. Although they initially declined, they rethought the matter when they realized that they could put a new twist on the story by telling it from the prince's point of view. It certainly crossed my mind that Prince Charles was in the same fix as our Prince Edward of Euphrania at the time this was made, having to choose an aristocratic virgin bride. Well we all know how that turned out! No Camilla in this story however.

Richard Chamberlain and Gemma Craven

Richard Chamberlain was a wonderful choice for our Prince Edward as he is definitely a triple threat! We all knew he was a great actor but his singing and dancing are superb! Gemma Craven was an unknown plucked from the British stage in a Cinderella story of her own. She is quite adorable, especially when her eyes well up with tears. I have to admit, I was blinking back a few tears of my own. She is a true natural, considering this was her first film.

Michael Hordern, Annette Crosbie and Kenneth More

Michael Hordern as the King and Kenneth More as the Lord Chamberlain show the amazing talent available in Britain at the time. And Annette Crosbie rather steals the show as a hilarious new kind of fairy godmother. You may recognize Crosbie from her recent work in British TV, but I know her as the dog lady from the Calendar Girls film!

Dame Edith Evans with Julian Orchard and Polly Williams

Speaking of stealing the show, an 87 year old Dame Edith Evans sings, dances and throws out the odd hilarious line as the Dowager Queen. She looked like she was having a the ball...sorry about that one!
This film is a true English/American hybrid, although the wonderful funny bits thrown amongst the more serious scenes are so British and apparently were insisted on by Bryan Forbes. Bravo! And there is a twist at the end (not your usual Cinderella ending!)

If you love Mary Poppins you will very likely enjoy The Slipper and the Rose. Just don't judge it by today's standards. It was already dated in 1976, which is likely why it had only modest success in the UK and very little success in America. However if judged against the musicals of the 50s and the 60s, it holds up quite well. I still love it as much as I did when I was 12!

So by all means, grab a copy while you can. Share it with your sisters, your daughters and your grand-daughters. You will laugh and cry again and again. This Blu-ray won't languish in your DVD collection!

I will be adding an account of my trip to Pinewood Studios to visit their Archive, Preservation and Restoration facility soon, so stay tuned. In the meantime, please leave a comment below as well as your email address to win a copy of the cinema poster for The Slipper and the Rose pictured at the top of this post. I will draw a random name at the end of October.

Cheers and good luck!



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