A film festival in London is showing incredibly high quality, newly restored early films of the Victorians—in IMAX, no less, and more specifically the absolute biggest screen they could find. It’s being billed as “The Great Victorian Moving Picture Show” and frankly, it sounds fantastic.
“Sweeping away the veil of time, this Archive Gala will project Britain’s earliest films at their grandest scale (68mm, almost four times the image size of regular 35mm film) on the nation’s biggest screen, the BFI IMAX,” promised the announcement from the BMI London Film Festival, which has me so hyped I can barely sit still even though this is happening on the other side of the Atlantic and I definitely will not be able to see it. The Guardian went into even more tantalizing detail about these 120-year-old movies, restored from original nitrate prints:
At the Imax screenings, the films will be shown at their maximum size and, crucially, newly restored at 4K from the nitrate originals, which were scanned at 8K. It was only recently that the technology became available to get the most out of these images. “There was an opportunity to upgrade these in particular because they’re so spectacularly beautiful,” explains Dixon.
The films are the work of a man named William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson; “He was the guy who invented the movies for Thomas Edison,” Bryony Dixon, the BFI’s curator of silent film, told the Guardian. He was very well-connected and shot all manner of things; for instance, he was invited over by the Prince of Wales and filmed “all the royals in the garden, rather posed around a tea table with a parrot, a dog and a small child.” The effect of watching something so old and so perfectly restored sounds profoundly eerie:
The benefit of extracting all this detail and watching the films on such a giant screen is that they hardly look Victorian at all. “With nearly all of the people I’ve shown these films to there is an audible gasp when they see something from 120 years ago and they look new. That’s a very strange feeling,” says Dixon. “All of those things that tell you something is old have been stripped away.” These are films made before genres and cinematic conventions were established, before the idea of directors and stars. The images feel raw and immediate.