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February 2005, Week 4


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James Monaco <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 25 Feb 2005 14:18:24 -0500
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Leo Enticknap's eloquent essay on flicker reminded me of the  problem 
of 50 Hertz v. 60 Hertz and some unanswered questions.

I first became aware of the significance of the incompatibility thirty 
years ago when I was showing a Ken Loach film at the New School in New 
York. The film really dragged during the first screening. Then we 
realized it was a made-for-TV film shot at 25 fps instead of 24 fps. 
The 4 percent difference was not noticeable in terms of the action or 
dialogue but it really destroyed the rhythms. When we projected at 25 
fps the film came alive again. The difference was striking, most 
significantly because you couldn't perceive that the film was being 
projected at the wrong speed at 24 fps. (It wasn't like the rushed 
motions we are all familiar with when silent 16 fps is projected at 24 
fps.) Musicians would understand this phenomenon.

In that pre-digital age, as I understood it, the practice in the UK (at 
least) was to do a frame-for-frame transfer of 24 fps cinema to 25 fps 
PAL for TV. To my mind, based on the Loach experiment, this would have 
seriously altered the experience.

I have very little personal experience with non-NTSC TV. First, because 
when I'm outside the US about the last thing I want to do is watch TV. 
But also because for me PAL was painful to watch: it flickered! And the 
increased resolution only seemed to emphasize the flicker. Curiously, I 
don't have the same reaction to SECAM in France even though that also 
runs at 50 Hertz.

So here are my questions:
	1. Is it really possible that frame-for-frame transfers of 24 fps were 
the norm in 50 Hertz countries at one time?
	2. Has anyone written about the psychological or social effects of 
this practice? How does it relate to ADHD, for example?
	3. When did the practice stop?
	4. Do PAL cathode ray tubes still flicker? Or has the refresh rate 
been increased?
	5. Is there a technical difference  between PAL and SECAM that reduces 
the perception of flicker at 50 Hz?

There's an old anecdote about Ingmar Bergman suffering pangs of guilt 
because his audiences were watching a blank screen most of the time. He 
should have concentrated on video.

I'll buy your book, Leo!

One more thought: As Leo points out, 24 fps (doubled by the shutter to 
48 fps) is the least you can get away with--and we've been stuck with 
it for 75 years. (Showscan never took off, although IMAX HD might 
still.) I think this is the mosty salient example of what we might call 
the Lincoln Rule of Perception: you only have to fool most of the 
people most of the time. A more recent example is CD audio standards 
(significantly inferior to the vinyl it replaced). There has been a lot 
of interesting work done in perceptual psychology in the last 20 years, 
but it seems most of it has been devoted to extending the Lincoln Rule.


James Monaco
Harbor Electronic Publishing
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212 777 5463   sales: 800 269 6422

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