What's new at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian and Aero Theaters
Saturday, March 10, 2018
WHAT EXACTLY IS NITRATE FILM? WHAT MAKES IT SO SPECIAL?
In Partnership with George Eastman Museum and the Academy Film Archive,
the American Cinematheque Will Exhibit Two Nitrate Film Prints to the Public
at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood in March
Presented in partnership with George Eastman Museum and the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Director Carol Reed gives young actor Bobby Henrey direction on the set of THE FALLEN IDOL. Photo: Getty
About Nitrate Film:
Film prints are no longer made on nitrate film stock and haven't been since the 1950s. It is a coveted format that cineastes enjoy seeing projected as it has a particular picture quality. Surviving nitrate films have to be kept in special storage conditions. Nitrate film will even continue burning underwater. In the first half of the 20th century, nitrate was a widely used film base, despite the danger of combustion. Nitrate was the first material that was flexible, strong and transparent enough to carry motion picture frames through the wheels and gates of a motion picture projector.
Eastman Kodak was the first to make that film and sell it to the public, in the 1880s. When projected onto a screen, it created luminous, sharp and subtle images, but at a price.
The extreme heat generated by movie projectors often ignited the nitrate film that ran through them, and several such incidents killed and injured movie patrons by fire, smoke, or the resulting stampede. The danger of the job actually forced projectionists to unionize. They were often trapped in unsafe conditions in the projection booth with no easy means of escape during a fire. Director Giuseppe Tornatore's Golden Globe and Academy Award winner for Best Foreign-Language Film, Cinema Paradiso (Italy, 1988) recreated such an incident, in the story of the friendship of a boy and a movie theatre projectionist in a small town in the era of nitrate film stock. Even after the movie industry switched to a safe, acetate-based film stock around 1950, the dangers of nitrate were not over. In 1978 the National Film Archives in Washington and the Kodak collection in the George Eastman Museum had their nitrate films auto-ignite, with a tremendous loss of irreplaceable movies.
The only way to show historical nitrate prints today, is to do so in a specially built, fire-and-explosion proof projection booth, which few film preservation and exhibition institutes can afford.
This is why the preservation-minded HFPA teamed with the American Cinematheque, headquartered in the historic Egyptian Theater (1922) in Hollywood, and donated the funds to build a modern, safe nitrate projection booth. Nitrate film is classified as "dangerous goods", which requires licenses for storage and transportation. Nitrate prints must be stored separately in a fireproof room, the movie theater has to pass rigorous safety standards and precautions before being certified to show nitrate films; this includes a fireproof projection booth, fire chambers surrounding the feed and take-up reels, and several fire extinguishers built into the projector and aimed at the projector's film gate.
Join our American Cinematheque Nitrate Screenings!
In 2016, the American Cinematheque was given a grant by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, in a partnership with Turner Classic Movies, The Film Foundation and the Academy Film Archive, to do the fire-proofing modifications necessary to exhibit highly flammable nitrate based films from the projection booth at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Due to the rarity of these prints, it is a special occasion when one is screened to the public. On Friday, March 16 at 7:30 PM, the American Cinematheque will show an archival 35mm nitrate print of THE FALLEN IDOL (1948), directed by Carol Reed, from the George Eastman Museum and on Sunday, March 18 at 7:30 PM, there will be a screening of the 1947 Technicolor film BLACK NARCISSUS, which is also an archival 35mm nitrate print, from the collection of, the Academy Film Archive.
To learn more about these screenings, please visit our website at: