This week I will be traveling to Berlin Germany to attend the screenings of my 1988 short film, A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief. The film was selected to screen in the 40th edition of the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival, a section that has always included films with the intention to inspire, provoke, and challenge the audience. To celebrate the 40th anniversary, the festival will be screening 40 past films as a reflection program.
A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief is a fractured narrative featuring large anthropomorphic robots living in their own fictional world devoid of humankind, the machines act out scenarios of perpetual torment, exasperated consumption and tragic recognition. The film is a fast paced glimpse into the disturbing nightmare of machine psychology.
During the 1980’s I worked closely with Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) directing four documentaries of their live performances in addition to A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief. This film was an outgrowth of that relationship. The founder of SRL, Mark Pauline, and I wanted to create a fiction film using the machines to go beyond the restraints of documentation and the traditional utilization of non-human characters in narrative cinema.
For the original shooting we were able to get access to an enormous warehouse in San Francisco which enabled us to create the incredibly large sets (15 feet high – 30-60 feet wide) in order to have enough space to film the machines, some standing 10 feet tall.
In 1988-89, Bitter Message had a nice festival run, in addition to Berlin, it also screened at Sundance, New Directors New Films, San Francisco International, Chicago International, Seattle, Cleveland, Edinburgh, Sao Paolo and more.
I have had great fun these last few months restoring the original 16mm mono film to a beautifully remastered 4K DCP with a 5.1 mix. I had tried doing a conventional telecine from the interpositive but it didn’t look as good as I remembered. Ironically for those of you who remember 16mm finishing – I kept the interpositive IP and dup negative DN in pristine shape because back in the day – this is what you needed for telecine and reprints. However when I brought the IP and DN in for the restoration. The people at Roundabout said “this is ok – but don’t you have the original cut negative?” I started to freak a bit since I hadn’t seen the negative in some years. After much digging we found them in my office attic. I was a bit nervous about the potential for heat damage but when they put the negative on the scanner it looked exactly the same as 30 years ago. Bryan McMahan did an amazing job restoring the color at Roundabout.
For the sound – we had tried remixing the film a number of years ago but were not able to find all the original “voices” of the machines. Matt Heckert and Naut Humon from Rhythm & Noise did an amazing job with the original soundtrack – but it only existed as mono. We fortunately found a 2” multi-track tape that had all the original sounds from the original session. I teach part time at Cal Arts and I was able to get Judy Kim, a super talented Cal Arts grad student to not only reconstitute the complicated sound edit but to create a 5.1 mix as well. I was then lucky enough to have Aidan Reynolds who teaches sound at Cal Arts do the final mix on their stage.
I can’t wait to see the “new” A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief play in Berlin! The film will screen on February 13th at 11am and February 14th at 7:15pm. You can learn more about the Panorama 40 section on the festival’s website: https://www.berlinale.de/en/presse/pressemitteilungen/alle/Alle-Detail_46996.html
Film Restoration by
Post Services Provided by ROUNDABOUT ENTERTAINMENT INC.
Digital Intermediate Colorist BRYAN MCMAHAN
Digital Intermediate Editor VAHE GIRAGOL
Data Management RENE CLARK, STEPHEN HERNANDEZ, JOSHUA GOMEZ
Film Scanning JAMES ATKINS
Audio Restoration and 5.1 Mix
Re-recording Mixer and Additional Sound Editing: Judy Kim
Audio Restoration and Additional Sound Editing: Stephan Wunderlich
Additional Re-recording Mix: Aidan Reynolds
Mixed at California Institute of the Arts
COPYRIGHT. Reiss/S.R.L 1988-2018