Will Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master show in 70mm in Chicago?
"Is that…a 70mm print of The Master?"
Friday brought the news that Paul Thomas Anderson's much-buzzed The Master, the director's first film since 2007's There Will Be Blood and possibly a thinly disguised portrait of Scientology, would move up its release date to September—September 21 in Chicago, according to our Weinstein Company rep. But that (amazing) announcement raises a corollary question: Will any theater in the city be able to show the film in its intended format?
Anderson, bless him, is said to have shot The Master entirely in 70mm. That would make it the first fiction feature since 1996's Hamlet to use the format for a complete film. Reports indicate that the Weinstein Company and PTA are "eager" to show the picture in 70mm prints; I'm waiting for confirmation from TWC on exactly how many prints they'll make available.
But let's assume getting a print is no problem. The use of the wide-gauge format began to decline years before the digital onslaught; it's unclear how many projectors capable of showing 70mm remain. The McClurg Court Cinemas, once the go-to venue locally for 70mm, has been closed for nearly a decade. Talking to Full Aperture Systems' James Bond (not that one), I guesstimated that there might be 100 working 70mm projectors left in the country. He was skeptical that there were that many.
I asked Bond, Lake Street Screening Room's Steve Kraus and the Northwest Chicago Film Society's Julian Antos—together, a walking encyclopedia of projection in Chicago and beyond—if there was any theater in the city that still had the equipment to show 70mm. All three could come up with only one answer…
The Music Box.
Music Box projectionist Doug Mclaren confirms that the theater is, indeed, still 70mm-capable. "Our 35mm projectors can be converted to run 70mm, for which we have all the components," he tells me in an e-mail. "It requires a full day setup to get it all calibrated."
Hooray! Except that Brian Andreotti, who's in charge of programming for the theater, says that as of this afternoon, no one had contacted him about showing The Master, and that the window for getting it shown there is narrowing. "Among other things, we've committed to a rental on September 21," he says, which, sadly, may be enough to rule out that week, since distributors often insist on having a full day's screenings for a new feature. But now that Andreotti is aware a 70mm option may exist? "I would do everything I can," he says, to program The Master in that format.
How good is 70mm? I still shiver when I think about the image quality—the sharpness, the color—at my 1996 viewing of Hamlet. I'd go to bat for 70mm screenings of Spartacus and 2001: A Space Odyssey as among the indelible viewings of my life. Most viewers of The Master will, sadly, have to put up with digital projection, and even the latest top-of-the-line 4K presentations won't cut it as an equivalent. Bond cautions that resolution is "only one of ten factors in a much larger equation" regarding the quality of a film's presentation. That said, if you had to reduce it to that, 70mm's "potential resolution would be equal to 8 or 10K." He agrees that the prospect of getting a 70mm print to Chicago is an exciting one.
So, resolved: Whatever needs to happen for this thing to happen, let's make it happen. Leave suggestions. PTA: Get in touch. Have your people call my people. We both love 70mm, and Chicago is still (barely) capable of presenting the format. The publicist tells me that TWC doesn't yet have theaters for The Master, but is "aware that Music Box is capable of playing 70mm." That's a good sign! Don't look for your flock elsewhere, Mr. Anderson. They're right here.