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Celluloid and marble
The restorations of the Philip Morris Association Film Project within
Italian Cinema

by Sergio Toffetti

Should we refer to the renowned text in which Eric Rohmer outlines the ideal placement of Italian cinema within a modern taxonomy of the arts, it is instantly evident how private sponsorship in Italy is traditionally orientated towards the affirmed perennity of marble rather than towards the apparent volatility of celluloid. An expected consequence related to the responsabilities ad the 'weight' of history: The cross and the pleasure carried by a country on which a predominant part of the artistic patrimony of humanity falls. However, during this last century, an accelerating trend in a time in which the invention of 'the Lumières' is not an unrelated event, has projected us into a conceptual and sensory experience not in the least surprising compared to previous generations, transforming us into descendants of ourselves. The new metaphysics of time proves to be consubstantial with the speed with which light reinterprets the world, securing, in film, that truthfulness sensed by Jean-Luc Godard in the 24 photograms per second.
It is in fact mainly through films that we experiment 'feelings' of the passed within the modernity which has just elapsed, therefore not only films seen by our fathers and grandparents a s children, but those of our own youth, overburdened by tormented ancient values, being one of the most inexplicable paradoxes related to our contemporary films. The description on the page of Cocteau describing 'death at work' is even better portrayed in Augusto Genina's film when he shows, at the end of Prix de beautè, Louise brook's eternal beauty at the instant in which she dies. Therefore, cinema, with its fragility of backing combined with its historical-emotional resistance related to it's images, is today an art which requires intervention for preservation simultaneously united with the process of creation. The knowledge of preserving the greatest art of our time, goes together with the implicit presumptuousness in succeeding in preserving all of the historical-existential memories encapsulated in every single photogram, thus stirring the ardent passion of the film libraries, enlivening therefore professional enthusiasm and jealousies, superficial controversies and deep-rooted solidarity. During the last ten years, in this fascinating struggle against time so as to preserve this art of our times, the National School of Cinema has often worked hand in hand with the Philip Morris Association- Cinematographic project, the only institution established with the precise intention of investing in the persistence of images and of working in syntony with modern times. Founded in 1991, the Philip Morris Association Film Project, of the the Executive Responsible is Alessandra Giusti, began, in collaboration with the National Museum of Cinema in Turin, with the retrieval of Gustavo Serena's La Signora delle camelie, one of Francesca Bertini's most enchanting interpretations, found at the Nederland Film Museum in Amsterdam. Collaboration with the National Film Library began in 1993, evolving in less than ten years into the constitution of a kind of 'ideal 'Film Library' of restored masterpieces inaugurated with La terra trema, the restoration of which was followed by Giuseppe Rotunno, whose experience of Director of Photography alongside Luchino Visconti creates a careful philological reconstrction of this piece, following it up by supervising the laboratory work. Following Visconti's masterpiece are: Vittorio De Sica's Sciuscià (1994) and Il cappotto (1995) by Alberto Lattuada, recommencing to collaborate with the National Film Museum of Turin, whereas in 1996 a new project evolves allowing, with the attention of 12 authors, the re-examination of 12 short films by some of our most important film-makers: Antonioni, Comencini, Maselli, Mingozzi, Olmi, Petri, Pontecorvo, Questi, Risi, Vancini, Visconti and Zurlini. This series related to our greatest representatives of cinema, opens the doors to new interpretative potentiality within the works of the film-makers involved and continues with: Il bell'Antoni' by Mauro Bologninin (1997), Signore e Signori, by Pietro Germi and Gli sbandati by Francesco Maselli (1998), third stage of the collaboration with the National Film Museum of Turin. During that same year, the Italian National Association 'adopts' a film: one hundred films to be saved, restoring I Delfini, by Francesco Maselli.1999 is Antonio Pietrangeli's year with Io la conoscevo bene, whilst the millennium closes it's season with Una vita difficile by Dino Risi and Valerio Zurlini's La prima notte di quiete, re-opening with Ettore Scola's C'eravamo tanto amati the resoration having been done alongside Enzo Siciliano's book. In agreement with the National Film Library, the Philip Morris Film Project Association, takes on the restoration project following a rigorous schedule which foresees not only the printing of a copy tendentially consistent with the expressive deliberateness of the author, but also an intervention on the original negative film and the predisposition of preservation materials which will allow the re-print of the film within the parameters of the new restored version. But, above all, besides the desire to repropose to a 'new' public the masterpieces of the past, every film which is saved is an occasion to reflect on its productive progress and textual consistency. A reflection which is realized within the editorial office dealing with a series of books edited by Lino Miccichè, with a number of volumes dedicated to interventions by critics, witnesses and the transcription of the entire film, submiting as ideal completion of a laboratory's technical operations. In the preface realted to each volume of this series, The Philip Morris Film Project Association, highlights the fact that ' one of the main objectives is as always the intention of contributing to the formation of a new public for the future of Italian cinema'. A 'powerful' objective, no doubt shared by many, to which at least another two projects, already accomplished, must be added: to act as an incentive related to the work done by film-library institutions and the proposal of a pattern of a double 'critical job' on the text, capable of finding the essential links between the black of the restoration laboratory and the white of the written pages.