famed Apu Trilogy, Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) .
We are honored to also have the author of “The New Cinephilia”
Girish Shambu in attendance to introduce the film.
Ticket Information: $10.50 online; $9.50 at the door
• Discounted drinks available after the screening at Més Que with your ticket. •
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courtesy of Janus Films:
The release in 1955 of Satyajit Ray’s debut, Pather Panchali, introduced to the world an eloquent and important new cinematic voice. A depiction of rural Bengali life in a style inspired by Italian neorealism, this naturalistic but poetic evocation of a number of years in the life of a family introduces us to both little Apu and, just as essentially, the women who will help shape him: his independent older sister, Durga; his harried mother, Sarbajaya, who, with her husband often away, must hold the family together; and his kindly and mischievous elderly “auntie,“ Indir—vivid, multifaceted characters all. With resplendent photography informed by its young protagonist’s perpetual sense of discovery, the Cannes-awarded Pather Panchali is an immersive cinematic experience and a film of elemental power.
In 1992, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar to director Satyajit Ray. When sourcing material from Ray’s films for the Academy Awards ceremony, telecast producers were dismayed by the poor condition of the existing prints. The following year, after Ray’s death, a project was initiated to restore many of Ray’s films, including those in The Apu Trilogy.
In 1993, several of the filmmaker’s original negatives were shipped to Henderson’s Film Laboratories in London. In July, a massive nitrate fire at the lab spread to the film vaults, destroying more than twenty-five original negatives of important British classics—and burning several Ray films, including the original negatives of The Apu Trilogy. Any ashes, fragments, or film cans that could be identified as belonging to Ray’s films were sent to the Academy Film Archive, but the trilogy negatives were deemed unprintable—there were no technologies available at the time that were capable of fully restoring such badly damaged film elements.
When the Criterion Collection began working on this restoration with the Academy Film Archive in 2013, the negatives were in storage and hadn’t been seen in twenty years. Many portions were indeed burned to ash, and what remained was startlingly fragile, thanks to deterioration and the heat and contaminants the elements had been exposed to. Head and tail leaders were often missing from reels. Yet significant portions survived, from which high-quality images might be rendered.
No commercial laboratory would handle this material, so it was entrusted to L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, one of the world’s premier restoration facilities. There, technicians successfully rehydrated the brittle film using a special solution (one part glycerol, one part acetone, three parts water). Scanning tests determined that pin-registered wet-gate scans yielded the best results. Technicians then set about physically repairing the elements. This meant almost a thousand hours of meticulous hand labor, which even included rebuilding the perforation holes on the sides of the film and removing melted tape and glue. Using fine-grain masters and duplicate negatives preserved by Janus Films, the Academy, the Harvard Film Archive, and the British Film Institute, the technicians found excellent replacements for the unusable or missing sections of the original negatives. In the end, 40 percent of Pather Panchali and over 60 percent of Aparajito were restored directly from the original negatives. The two surviving reels of Apur Sansar were too damaged to be used in the restoration, so all of that film was restored from a fine-grain master and a duplicate negative.
Over the course of nearly six months of steady work, the Criterion Collection restoration lab handled the digital restoration, including eliminating dirt, debris, warps, and cracks. Emphasis was placed on retaining the look and character of the original material, preferring when necessary to leave damage rather than overprocess digital images that might lose the grain and feel of film.
All in all, the restoration of The Apu Trilogy has been years in the making. The return of these films to theaters marks a triumph for the archivists and members of the preservation community who had the foresight and faith to protect these vital treasures of world cinema—even when all seemed lost.
New 4K restorations made by the Criterion Collection in collaboration with the Academy Film Archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
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1 Satyajit Ray worked a twenty-hour-a-day schedule to complete the editing of Pather Panchali in time for its premiere at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on May 3, 1955, in a print without subtitles. The New York opening of this restoration falls sixty years, almost to the day, after that premiere.
2 Pather Panchali was such a smash in New York that it played for eight months at the Fifth Avenue Playhouse in 1958.
3 Aparajito won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, making it the only sequel to have ever won the grand prize at one of the world’s three major festivals (Berlin, Cannes, and Venice).
4 Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, is a big fan of The Apu Trilogy, and he named the show’s convenience store owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon after its protagonist.
5 Ray started out as a graphic designer and book illustrator, and his creations included woodcut art for a children’s edition of Bibhutibhusan Banerjee’s novel Pather Panchali. As a filmmaker, he designed all of his own publicity materials, and usually his opening credits.
6 In 1951, while Ray was trying to raise money for Pather Panchali, he drew thirtyone pages of storyboards for a documentary about Indian classical musician Ravi Shankar. The film was never made, though the storyboards have been preserved by the Satyajit Ray Society.
7 Cinematographer Subrata Mitra was only twenty-one years old when he began work on Pather Panchali, and had never handled a movie camera before.
8 Ray and Mitra pioneered the use of bounced light. For Aparajito, they had to build a studio set that would replicate the living conditions of Apu’s family in Varanasi (then known as Benares), a structure that had a central courtyard and a skylight opening at the top, and that was essentially without shadows. Mitra came up with the idea to stretch a sheet of cloth above the studio-built courtyard and bounce artificial light from below, creating more depth and natural-looking shadows in the courtyard space.
9 Chunibala Devi, who plays “Auntie” in Pather Panchali, was a stage actor at the turn of the century, worked in silent cinema, and then retired from entertainment. She was about eighty years old when Ray met her, and aside from being one of the few actors who received a small salary, she also required a daily dose of opium.
10 Apur Sansar was the first film Ray made with actors Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore, who would become major stars. Each went on to appear in many more Ray films.
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“What is attempted in these films is of course a synthesis. But it can be seen by someone who has his feet in both cultures. Someone who will bring to bear on the films involvement and detachment in equal measure.”
Satyajit Ray was an only child, born in 1921 into a creative, intellectual family of Brahmos—members of a Christian-influenced Hindu movement—in Kolkata. His grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray, was a renowned writer, composer, and children’s magazine founder, and his father, Sukumar Ray, was a writer and illustrator, a household name for his nonsense verse. Satyajit had an unsurprising early facility with the arts, both musical and visual. His father died when he was not yet three, and he lived with his mother and an uncle in the southern part of Kolkata, where he taught himself to read Western classical music and discovered Hollywood movies.
After finishing college, beginning in 1940, Ray studied art for two and a half years in Santiniketan, at the university founded by the great Bengali intellectual, writer, and artist Rabindranath Tagore, who would become one of the most important influences in his life. Returning to Kolkata, Ray found work as a graphic artist at a British-run advertising agency and a Bengali-run publishing house, and cofounded the Calcutta Film Society, where he and other film lovers watched mostly European and Hollywood movies and engaged in lengthy addas (coffeehouse conversations) about what was missing from Indian cinema, which was still primarily a Bollywood landscape. While working full-time, Ray began writing screenplays on the side, for his own enjoyment and occasionally for pay, deepening his understanding of cinematic storytelling.
In 1949, Ray met the great French director Jean Renoir, who was location scouting in Kolkata for The River. When Renoir asked if he had a film idea of his own, Ray described the story of Pather Panchali, a novel by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee for which Ray had once designed woodcut illustrations and that struck him as being highly cinematic in nature. Renoir encouraged Ray’s love of film and his pursuit of the project.
In 1950, Ray and his wife, Bijoya, moved to England, where he would work at his advertising agency’s London office. During those six months, the couple saw ninety-nine films, including Vittorio De Sica’s recent neorealist masterpiece Bicycle Thieves. It was this film that had the strongest impact on Ray, as it led him to the discovery that one could make a film with nonprofessionals, on location, largely outdoors, and on a shoestring budget. In late 1950, on the boat back to Kolkata, he wrote a first treatment for Pather Panchali.
In 1955, after three years of shooting and editing that was intermittent due to a lack of financing, Ray completed his debut film, which, after legendary screenings in New York and Cannes, officially put him on the map during the golden age of art-house cinema; with Pather Panchali, Ray took his place alongside Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa as one of the most important international filmmakers. He went on to close out the 1950s with a string of masterpieces, including the two films that rounded out The Apu Trilogy, Aparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959), and The Music Room (1958).
Over the course of his thirty-six-year career, Ray would direct twenty-eight features. He also designed posters and composed musical scores for many of his own films. He won awards at the world’s major film festivals, including Cannes, Venice, and Berlin. In 1992, thanks to a campaign led by several Hollywood heavyweights, including Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar, which he accepted from a hospital bed in Kolkata, where he had been admitted for a heart condition. Less than a month later, Ray died at the age of seventy. His work remains an inspiration to filmmakers around the world.
Here is a curated selection of links shared on our Facebook page for additional insight/information:
5/31/15 – How film restorers brought The Apu Trilogy back to life via A.V. Club – link
6/1/15 – Bilal Qureshi speaks about Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, the Apu Trilogy and the incredible story behind its new restoration on NPR All Things Considered! – link
6/8/15 – I thought I’d share Richard Brody’s wonderful chronicling of the miraculous The Apu Trilogy restoration from The New Yorker! – link
6/9/15 – “To live without seeing the films of the Indian director Satyajit Ray, said Akira Kurosawa in 1975, ‘means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon,’…In that same 1975 speech, Kurosawa marveled at the plenitude of the cinematic minicosmos Ray created in The Apu Trilogy: ‘People are born, live out their lives, and accept their deaths.’ Don’t accept yours until you’ve seen these sublime restorations of the Apu movies on the big screen.” – link
6/15/15 – In 1993, a nitrate explosion in a London film lab severely damaged The Apu Trilogy‘s original negatives. Thursday night’s PRISTINE new restoration of Pather Panchali pulls largely from these original negatives, treated and miraculously restored by The Criterion Collection. – link
6/16/15 – Published just last week: “Ray, who received a lifetime achievement Oscar soon before he died in 1992, never enjoyed great commercial success. But he remains incredibly relevant. Martin Scorsese has said Ray’s influence on him was “incalculable.” In a speech at the Smithsonian in 2002, Mr. Scorsese said that watching the first movie of the trilogy, Pather Panchali, which is set in a small Bengali village, helped him interpret the Lower East Side, where he grew up and which he described as a little Italian village.” Vikas Bajaj, The New York Times – link
6/17/15 – “One of the most important works of world cinema…” Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian – link
6/18/15 – “I love his movies…His (Ray’s) first films are quiet and gentle and very humane” Wes Anderson via The A.V. Club – link
9/20/15 – “I watched The Apu Trilogy recently over a period of three nights, and found my thoughts returning to it during the days. It is about a time, place and culture far removed from our own, and yet it connects directly and deeply with our human feelings. It is like a prayer, affirming that this is what the cinema can be, no matter how far in our cynicism we may stray.” Roger Ebert, 2001 – link
11/19/15 – Having Girish Shambu in attendance to introduce the Apu Trilogy at the North Park Theatre was an honor. Now you can read his new essay on the series over at The Criterion Collection – link
11/23/15 – We stumbled upon this wonderful archive of classic Satyajit Ray posters & wanted to share! – link
5/14/17 – Did you know Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali is one of Wes Anderson’s greatest influences for The Darjeeling Limited? – link