A restored version of William Wyler‘s The Big Country, a liberal-minded western about the pointlessness of dumb machismo and turf wars (and perhaps even a metaphor about the mentality behind the Cold War of the 1950s), is playing at the Academy on Friday night at 7:30 pm. This is a photo-chemical restoration funded by the Motion Picture Academy and the Film Foundation, with the hard work and heavy lifting done entirely by AMPAS preservationist Josef Lindner.
Country was shot in 35mm Technirama, which was an 8-perf process in which the negative went through the gate horizontally and was then optimized for 2.35 to 1 anamorphic. “It looks very nice, but it still has fading issues,” says Lindner. Fading issues? “Not generally but now and then, here and there,” he says. The restoration budget was the restoration budget, and apparently the cost of delivering a version that would look as full-out colorful and 100% dead perfect as the film did in 1958 was a little beyond the Academy’s means.
If you go by a description in the Technirama section of Widescreen Museum, Country‘s dp Franz Planer “gave the image a slightly desaturated look that conveyed the parched countryside in this film about a feud over water rights.” So maybe “slightly faded” is another way of describing the intended look of the thing.
In any event, protection masters have now been made and MGM/UA, which holds the video rights, can now create a much better looking DVD than the nickle-and- dime cheapie version they have on the market right now.