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.


  1. Funny, I've been reading about Pinewood studios because two films by my favorite filmmaking team, Powell and Pressburger, were filmed there--Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes. I've never seen The Slipper and Rose, but knowing that the Sherman Brothers did the music REALLY makes me want to see it! Will have to track down the restored version. What a neat place to tour!

    1. It was amazing. I had no idea how many famous films have been made at Pinewood or what was involved in restoring them. I think you will really like The Slipper and the Rose from the sound of it!
      Apparently there is a new live action Disney Cinderella starring Lily James (Lady Rose from Downton Abbey) and directed by Kenneth Branagh which is now in post production at Pinewood and will be out next year. So perhaps every generation needs their own Cinderella!

  2. This was really interesting. Thanks for delving into this, it sounds like a fascinating tour. I've never heard of The Slipper and the Rose, but I'm going to look for it.

    1. Hi Meredith. It was a truly wonderful day. Let me know what you think of TSATR.

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  4. Thank you for this post! I LOVE The Slipper and the Rose!! It is my favorite movie. I also saw it in the theater when it originally came out in the late 70's. Once in awhile it would be on late night TV. And then I was lucky enough to find it on DVD a dozen years ago! I also found a CD of the music. It has become a family favorite, especially because when my now husband and I were dating 30 years ago, we discussed favorite movies. I told him my favorite was one nobody had ever heard of, but didn't mention the name. He said his was also one nobody else knew and then said, "It's called The Slipper and the Rose." I knew then we were destined to be together! So thank you again for this post!.

    1. Hello Anonymous! You are a true Slipper and the Rose fan! What a great story about you and your husband. A match made in heaven (or at Pinewood!) You'll have to leave a comment on the post below with your contact info. I would love it if you won the poster! Cheers!

  5. Movies are a powerful medium; sometimes watching someone else go through something in a film can give you clues as to how you can handle it differently than you have so far.

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