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Filmmaker Stanley Kramer's Legacy to be Remembered with Centennial Celebration

Stanley Kramer - H 2013
Stanley Kramer on the set of Death of a Salesman with Fredric March

UPDATED: The series showcasing 15 movies kicks off Friday with the premiere of a restored version of "Death of a Salesman."

A newly restored version of Death of a Salesman will be the first in a series of films shown as part of a centennial celebration of the life and work of postwar American cinema director-producer Stanley Kramer, who would have been 100 years old on Sept. 29.

Kramer died in 2001 but many of his movies have survived the test of time. He was a champion of social issues and was oftentimes called "the moral compass of Hollywood." The series is fittingly named Champion: The Stanley Kramer Centennial.

Among the films being screened at the Billy Wilder Theater in the Hammer Museum in Westwood from Aug. 9 through Sept. 29 are The Defiant Ones, The Caine Mutiny, On the Beach and High Noon.

Shannon Kelley, UCLA’s head of public programs, selected the films that he believes summarize and highlight significant aspects of Kramer’s career. Though they may not be the films frequently associated with his legacy, Kelley calls the line-up “fresh.”

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For more info and a complete list of movies being shown click here.

The series is a joint effort by The UCLA Film & Television Archive, The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, The Film Foundation, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Kramer’s widow Karen Sharpe Kramer.

“I’ve done individual celebrations of Stanley’s films for many, many years, but with this celebration – the culmination of a hundred years – there will be different film festivals and tributes to Stanley all over the country,” said Sharpe Kramer, Kramer’s third wife.

Sharpe Kramer has screenings planned through November in New York, Kentucky, Palm Springs and Catalina Island, among other locations.

The UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program kick off the celebration Friday when Larry King joins to help host the evening featuring the newly restored version of Death of a Salesman. The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Arthur Miller who at the time of its release in 1951 was critical of Kramer's version, mainly because it cut some of his dialogue from the play.

Produced by Kramer in 1951, Death of a Salesman was released by Columbia Pictures and was considered a box office flop. That is one reason it never received a home video release. However, it was nominated for five Academy Awards and won four Golden Globe awards. 

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Columbia Pictures' distribution license expired in the 1960s and the rights reverted to Kramer and later his estate.

Five years ago HFPA member Philip Berk, a longtime fan of Kramer's work, approached Sharpe Kramer and discussions began about doing a restoration of his version of Death Of A Salesman. “It’s one of the great treasures of film,” Sharpe remembers Berk saying to her. “It needs to be restored.”

Berk spoke with The Film Foundation founder Martin Scorsese about the idea and he agreed that it deserved to be restored. While he was HFPA president, Berk advocated for the restoration and the HFPA gave a grant of $120,000, working on the project with The Film Foundation.

Grover Crisp, executive vp of asset management, film restoration and digital mastering at Sony Pictures Entertainment, oversaw the restoration of the film as an independent project. The work was done at Colorworks, a company owned by Sony.

Crisp did a 4k scan (ultra high definition) of the original camera negative, restoration work and color correction working closely with colorist David H. Bernstein to ensure that the proper density and contrast was achieved. Some of the image cleanup was done at Prasad Corporation, an outside vender selected by Colorworks.

The audio was restored from the original 35mm magnetic soundtrack at Chace Audio. Despite some scratches and tears on the film’s original camera negative, Crisp says Death of a Salesman was in average condition. The whole project took less than six months to complete. Over the last few years, Colorworks has also restored Lawrence of Arabia, Taxi Driver, The Big Chill and On the Waterfront.

During his lifetime, Kramer made 35 movies, which were nominated for 85 Academy Awards and won 16 in total. He is remembered as a filmmaker with a definite point of view who wasn’t afraid to ask serious moral questions about race, war, politics and other controversial issues through his films.

“Stanley was the among the first to do a lot of things with subject matter,” said Sharpe Kramer. “He was even given the first (permanent) star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.”

“Kramer made his films with such introspection and honesty that viewers could have a soul searching experience while being entertained,” said UCLA's Kelley.

Kramer attributed his passion for moral causes to his own hardships early on in his life. Born on September 29th, 1913 in Hell’s Kitchen, New York and abandoned by his father at a young age, Kramer suffered in poverty.

He entered New York University at age 15, where he won a writing contest that landed him an internship at 20th Century Fox in Hollywood. He then became a screenwriter and set builder at MGM, later graduating to editing. After producing training films in the Army, Kramer launched his own company.

“Some of the films that Stanley made 50 years ago are even more relevant today,” said Sharpe Kramer, who is a producer herself.

She is currently trying to launch a modern-day remake of the 1952 movie High Noon, Kramer’s last independent production.

Sharpe Kramer hopes to finally see ancillary market distribution for Kramer's Death of a Salesman, now that it has been restored. She says it will "resonate with an audience which is why the distribution is so important.”