The Italian Almanac

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Claudia Cardinale

Italian News - December 14

Italian director Sergio Leone's 1968 Western classic "Once Upon a Time in the West," like so many films stashed away in storerooms for decades, has not aged well. The common signs: Scratches, fading colors and a reddish hue. But by next fall, the film starring Henry Fonda and Claudia Cardinale will be restored to its blazing glory, ready to be shown at the second Rome Film Festival.

It will be a fitting venue to unveil the rejuvenated movie, the first chosen for restoration under a three-year initiative started this year by the film festival and director Martin Scorsese to preserve Italian films. Organizers are still determining the project's scope and what films to restore, but festival executive Mario Sesti said the campaign was urgent. "There's a point of no return after which a film cannot be restored anymore," said Sesti.

Beyond threats like flood or fire, films often degenerate because they are stored in areas that are too humid or too dry. "It's a desperate battle, it's embarrassing to see in what conditions some movies are," Sesti said. "We spend lots of money for events and (to have the) stars, but less so to prevent cinema from vanishing. Movies are a cultural heritage that belong to everybody, just like the great and famous paintings."

Experts welcomed the project, saying not enough was being done to preserve cultural treasures. Giuseppe Rotunno, a leading film restorer, said a restoration generally takes months, costing an average $127,570, but they can run much higher. One of the most expensive works was 1962's "Lawrence of Arabia," which took 2 1/2 years to restore in the late 1980s at a cost of $600,000.