Over one glorious weekend in May, the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York, revived a theater-going experience otherwise lost to time. This was the second annual incarnation of the Nitrate Picture Show, a festival dedicated to screening a range of movies preserved on nitrate film—the highly flammable material that was replaced by acetate-based safety film in the early 1950s. The museum, which holds one of the world’s most treasured repositories of photography and cinema, continues to maintain a collection of this vintage film stock, and they also have the equipment and expertise to project it—another rarity.
This year, I had the pleasure of returning to attend the festival for the second time, once again experiencing the delight of seeing a selection of old favorites projected with new vibrancy in the museum’s Dryden Theatre. Among the films shown this year were Otto Preminger’s noir masterpiece Laura (1944), Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves(1948), and David Lean’s drawing-room ghost story Blithe Spirit (1945), all screened from stunning nitrate prints culled from archives around the world.