Becket Back on the Big Screen


January 26
New York – Film Forum

Becket screenings

February 2
Los Angeles – Nuart
Minneapolis – Edina
Philadelphia – Ritz
Voorhees NJ – Ritz
Irvine CA – University
Santa Barbara – Playa D’Or

February 7
San Francisco – Castro

February 9
San Jose – Camera 12
Atlanta – Midtown
Santa Cruz – Nickolodeon

February 16
San Diego – Ken

February 23
Palm Springs – Cinema Palm D’Or
Boston – Kendall Square
Seattle – Varsity
Austin – Arbor

March 2
W. Newton ME – Newton
Charlotte NC – Manor
Scottsdale – Camelview
San Rafael – Rafael Film Center

March 9
San Luis Obispo – Palm 4
Boise – Flick

March 16
St. Louis – Tivoli
Pittsburgh – Manor 4
Little Rock – Market Street
Dallas – Inwood

March 23
Tallahassee – Miracle
N. Falmouth MA – Nickelodeon
Bend OR – Pilote Butte
Chicago – Music Box
Portland – Cinema 21

It’s a classic. It’s beloved, if for decades only on VHS.

It’s got big stars, terrific performances, witty dialogue. Its reverent and saucy blend of sex, spectacle and spirituality surpasses anything Cecil B. DeMille ever attempted.

So why has Becket never been restored and brought to DVD in the style it richly deserves?

According to a Hollywood Elsewhere article by Jeffrey Wells, rights issues with the family of French playwright Jean Anouilh, whose stage play the film is based on, are partly to blame.

An extensive restoration was carried out at last in 2003 by Academy Film Archive director Mike Pogorzelski with the support of Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation. The MPI Media Group, which owns video rights to the film, may be partly responsible for delays; plans for a 2005 DVD never materialized, and 2006 came and went.

This year, though, Becket finally gets its due. This week, from Friday, January 26 to Thursday, February 1, the restored print will be playing New York’s Film Forum. Additional screenings will follow in other cities. (See sidebar for dates and locations. Strangely, the official website doesn’t list screening information, though you can read about the restoration.)

I’ve seen the restored film on DVD, and of course it makes my old VHS copy look and sound as dingy and muffled as restorations tend to do. Watching the film again, I was newly struck by the subtlety, as well as the obvious force, of Peter O’Toole’s performance as Henry II. Burton’s titular performance, too, though far less showy than O’Toole’s, is responsible for the film’s weight and power; as zesty and flamboyant as O’Toole is, on its own the performance would quickly pall.

A DVD edition is surely not too far off now (no date has been announced). But Becket is the kind of movie that really benefits from the big-screen experience. Those who live in the New York area, or anywhere else the restored Becket may come to, shouldn’t miss this opportunity.