As an archival matter, color prints tend to fad differently depending on
their projection history. Some deterioration takes place each time a
print is run through a projector. How this all turns out depends on
the characteristics of the various projection lamps in the particular
sets of projectors that a print has been exposed to.
Archiving printing masters is another matter. In principle, Technicolor
masters should last as long as any other black and white master. However,
the last lab capable of printing from Technicolor masters closed years ago.
Everything was transferred to color neg -- which has the same problems
of deterioration that color prints have.
Since archival quality film stock would have a relatively small market
Eastman has not been anxious to develop color stocks that might be
more permanent. Some years ago Scorcese tried to lead a campaign on this
topic. I haven't heard much about it recently.
While on the topic of archival quality motion picture prints, it's worth
pointing out that few archives have prints that even approximate the
originals. In addition to the problem of color fading, black and white
prints on acetate (current technology) look drab compared to prints on
(earlier technology) nitrate base. Nitrate base is dangerous, though:
it's the same stuff that makes dynamite.
Further: 16mm prints are always degraded versions of 35mm prints.
Prints of popular films -- BIRTH OF A NATION, CASABLANCA, CITIZEN KANE,
for instance -- are likely N-th generation prints, bootleg or legal --
with increasing degradation each time a print is made from a previous
All one can get out of a videotape copy is a rough approximation of the
shape of the composition and dialog. The print quality of a videotape
can best be compared to a variety store version of "Mona Lisa." Something
is there, but what?
As I write this, it occurs to me that perhaps some of the trends in
film scholarship derive from the paucity of experience with archival
quality exhibition. One writes and analyzes what is available, shaping
the theories to fit the degraded evidence. What would art history
scholarship be like if all that were available were variety store copies?
Cal Pryluck, Radio-Television-Film, Temple University, Philadelphia
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