It’s Real Film (Not Digital) in Music Box’s 70MM Film Fest


The Music Box Theatre has hosted a number of different special screenings, Midnight movies and movie marathons during its illustrious history. I suggest film connoisseurs go to at least one Music Box of Horrors during their lifetime. A fairly new film series in the theater’s repertoire is the 70mm Film Festival. Dubbed “The Ultimate Edition” this year, the fest showcases a number of films projected on 70mm film. For these movies, the film stock is larger and needs a special projector and screen in order to show them. The results are absolutely beautiful and this year’s lineup is a murderers row of can’t miss features. Music Box Technical Director Julian Antos chatted with me about the history of the festival and what viewers can expect when it opens February 19.

Can you tell me how the fest came about?

The Music Box first started doing a 70mm festival in 2013, after we were selected by Paul Thomas Anderson as preview venue for The Master. We have been able to run 70mm since the early 2000s, but this was the first time we did an entire two-week festival, thanks in great part to PTA renewing public interest in the format.

How do you decide on the films you want to showcase? Besides the fact that these films are in 70mm print.

There’s a surprisingly small amount of films available in 70mm, so most of the work is actually sourcing the best prints available, rather than picking titles. If you’re talking about titles that were actually shot on 70mm, it’s really only a few dozen, then there are blowup prints of titles shot on 35mm (this was a very popular practice in the ’80s and early ’90s), but not many of those prints still exist. We try to stick to mainly films shot on 70mm, but this year we’re going to open it up a bit and show some blowup prints. Not only do they look and sound great, it’s also an important part of the format’s history.

How is the process of showing a 70mm film different than showing a standard 35mm print?

Both 35mm and 70mm require a lot of care to project properly, but 70mm is definitely a wilder animal. It’s a heavier, louder format, and there’s an increased potential for film damage. I can’t stress enough how careful you have to be, because all the prints are essentially irreplaceable.

Because all the prints have either Magnetic soundtracks or DTS (sound on a CD) soundtracks, we have to do complete run throughs of most of the titles. Mag tracks sound great, but it’s not uncommon to have a print with issues (one channel erased, unbalanced sound, etc), and with DTS, you have a digital format with no analog backup, so you need to confirm that everything runs ok.

The theater just got a new screen to show Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight roadshow edition. I’m not hugely familiar with how film projections work, but how will that change the fest?

The new screen is about 15’ x 41′ and the native aspect ratio (largest image) is 2.76:1, which is the aspect ratio of The Hateful Eight. Most 70mm films have an aspect ratio of 2.2:1 (and some are 1.85), so we will bring in the masking on the left and right sides of the screen.

Inherent Vice
Inherent Vice

For those that aren’t familiar with 70mm film, what makes the format so enticing?

On a basic level, 70mm looks beautiful and sounds great. It’s just a lovely way to see a movie. When the first image hits the screen your eyes sort of open up a little more and you say to yourself: “oh yeah, THAT is how a movie is supposed to look.”

It’s easy to forget how good film prints can look when you’ve been seeing movies on DCP (Digital Cinema Package) so long. Digital projection looks very nice (most of the time), but looking at a film in a good 35 or 70mm print, it’s easy to see that with the transition to digital, we’ve gone backwards.

Also, seeing 70mm projected is a rare experience. Very few venues around the world can still do it and the prints are very expensive, so seeing something like Lawrence of Arabia in a nice 70mm print is sort of a once-in-a-lifetime thing or at least not something that happens very often.

What film are you most excited to watch?

I’m excited for all of them, but the ones that stand out to me are Inherent Vice (a blowup from 35mm and one of only a handful of prints made), and the wonderfully lurid Cleopatra in a restored print from Fox.

The 70MM Film Festival: The Ultimate Edition, begins on February 19th and concludes on March 10 at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport. Tickets are still available for single screenings.

Chris Zois
Chris Zois

Chris has been roaming around the City of Chicago since graduating Roosevelt University in 2011. He has been a professional copywriter and reporter since donning his cap and gown, working for Fanatic and No Limit Agency. His ramblings usually generate to his gripes with recent viewings at the multiplex and interviewing some of his favorite bands from Chicago.