Kornfeld buttonholed me in the lobby on my way into a recent House 1 repertory screening of The Spy Who Loved Me. Making conversation, I told him Roger Moore was my favorite Bond actor. He flipped me the bird, his fist flattened discreetly against his chest, middle finger slowly cranking up: his way of saying he was more of a Sean Connery fan. Honestly, he's probably right. The Spy Who Loved Me sucked.
But my friend and I stuck around after the showing as asked, sitting on the edge of the stage in the empty theater. Eventually Kornfeld came down from the booth and disappeared into the wings. We heard noises, then saw movement. He was bringing the black framing curtains in, changing the shape of the screen. It was like he was rolling time back — we'd gone from the conventional modern widescreen format to the old-style 4:3 format.
Emerging from the curtains, he told us he was about to show us the greatest Technicolor we'd ever seen.
He's asked me not to reveal what picture we saw, but I can say that it was a cartoon, a 20-minute fragment of a 50-year-old Technicolor print, and it blew my mind. Blazes of color, blinding whites, gorgeous organic grain, life boiling and jumping off the screen.
Technicolor is a major high point in the history of cinema technology for Kornfeld, one he mentions constantly. One evening, in a dressing room below the stage, I asked why it was so special for him. "It was a printing process, an actual printing process," he told me. "It was actually like printing a magazine. If you wanted a pure level, a pure yellow, you weren't, you know, where Kodak is, where it has to work in conjunction with all the other layers of the emulsion and maybe you can't get the organic dyes or the color couplers to give you that yellow. You could manufacture a brighter yellow or a duller yellow, or any other yellow you want. And then you would print it onto a blank strip of film and out it would go. And it looks incredible, and it doesn't fade."
Get to know Kornfeld and express an interest in presentation, as I have, and you may be invited to a private screening. He holds them regularly in House 1, in the morning, when the theater is closed. His taste in movies is wide-ranging, so the selection is guided by the availability of high-quality prints. A recent screening, for example, featured a gorgeous print of a '90s Hollywood blockbuster (again, he asked me not to reveal which). When I'd seen it originally, I considered it ho-hum. But in Kornfeld's hands it gained life, color, intensity. Skin tones in particular revealed subtlety, consistency, emotion. Colors were rock solid. It was a parade on a sunny day.
Kornfeld explained to me that this print looks so good at least in part because it predated the introduction of the dreaded "DI" — or Digital Intermediate. In Kornfeld's color wheel of film technologies, DI occupies the polar opposite position to Technicolor. In a DI film, every frame of the original is scanned, digitized, manipulated, and transferred back to negative for mass printing. "It screws up the color. It screws up shadow detail, contrast values, everything," he says. "It's junk. It looks terrible, it can't handle low-light scenes — so if you ever see a low-light scene, you'll see a lot of noise and digital error correction crap because it does not know what to do with it. It looks like doggie doo compared to what film can look like. So you're getting this extremely degraded image."