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April 2002, Week 1


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Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 3 Apr 2002 21:32:07 +0100
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William Lingle asks:

>Your request for a review of the restored print of Pepe Le Moko raises a
>question that your association may have already examined throughly:  What
>is a restoration?

You can (and I did) study for a master's degree in film archiving which is
90% devoted to addressing this question, and nothing I can write here will
do it justice.  You might like to try reading the following:  Henry Wilhelm
and Carol Brower, 'The Restoration of Color Photographs, Negatives and
Films' (I might not have got that title quite right, but the authors are
accurate), Read & Mayer, 'The Restoration of Motion Picture Film', Anthony
Slide, 'Nitrate Won't Wait', Penolope Houston, 'Keepers of the Frame' and
Brian Winston, 'Technologies of Seeing'.  Sorry those aren't the complete
references, but a brief search on Amazon or whatever will quickly identify
the books.

For what it's worth, my take on this is that restoration is what is
necessary when preservation has failed.  In an ideal world, the camera
negative of a given film will be taken into the care of a recognised film
archive the minute it's commercial purpose has been served, and then stored
in ideal atmospheric conditions.  From that camera negative an intermediate
positive, printing negative and release print will be made and the print
will serve as the access copy.  In the appropriate climate-controlled
conditions the master status elements will last in almost perfect condition
for centuries, and new release prints can be made as and when needed.

That's in an ideal world.  Sometimes the original negative gets lost.  If
it's nitrate (as with 'Pepe Le Moko') it will eventually decompose and
become unusable.  Acetate will too, but over a much longer
timescale.  Sometimes the camera negative gets cut or altered after the
original release version either due to censorship or because the first
version proved commercially unsuccessful and the studio wants to try making
it shorter (as happened with 'Lawrence of Arabia').  Sometimes footage from
a film is deliberately destroyed or concealed for political or commercial
reasons. Sometimes the Spanish dub of a Hollywood feature may survive but
not the English one.  And so on.

'Restoration', therefore, is the process of sorting out this mess and
reconstructing a version which existed at some predetermined point in the
past but which is not available now.  First off, you need to be clear what
it is you are trying to restore - put in crude terms, how you define
'original'.  The recent 'Apocalypse Now Redux' is extremely problematic in
this regard because the new prints were made by recutting (and inserting
new sections into) the original camera negative.  For those of us who
believe that the version released in 1979 has some claim to originality,
that's too bad because the process of recutting the camera negative has
made the chances very remote that we can ever produce new 35mm prints of
the version released in 1979 again.  Coppola says that the 1979 version did
not conform to his artistic vision and that he's now seizing a chance that
he didn't have 23 years ago.  Question - how do you define the
'originality' here, and what are you trying to 'restore'?  You have to be
clear about that.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of restoration.  The first is the
type described above, where you are reconstructing footage to form a
sequence of shots (and in some cases, sound recordings) which, from some
extant and verifiable empirical evidence, is known to have existed in the
past.  The other type is where you are trying to restore the (subjective)
quality of the images and sounds themselves, as distinct from their running
order (e.g. the 1997 rerelease of 'Vertigo', which corrected Eastmancolor
fading and restored the VistaVision aspect ratio).  Sometimes you're going
at both, as with the 1988 restoration of 'Lawrence of Arabia'. Even with
the latter there are points of contention - cinema projection and sound
equipment worked very differently in the past, and that had a subjective
effect on how films looked and sounded.  Does your 'restoration' attempt to
allow for that?

BTW, referring to 'Pepe Le Moko', I saw a 35mm print at the Exeter Arts
Centre about 3 years ago: apart from a thin s/n ratio on the soundtrack (an
occpuational hazard with the early RCA variable area unilateral tracks) I
was very impressed with it - the picture was sharp, contrasty and had no
sign of the grain or fuzziness which indicates duping through several
generations.  Unless that version was incomplete, I'd be pleasantly
surprised if you could achieve much more than the negative from which the
print I saw was struck.


Dr. Leo Enticknap
Director, Northern Region Film and Television Archive
School of Arts and Media
University of Teesside
Middlesbrough  TS1 3BA
United Kingdom
Tel. +44-(0)1642 384022
Fax. +44-(0)1642 384099
Brainfryer: +44-(0)7710 417383

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