Thursday, October 23, 2014

“We Are Doing God’s Work!”

This comment is no mere whimsy. It reflects the attitudes of those dedicated and stalwart film and sound preservationists currently laboring in the trenches to bring “lost” and deteriorating materials back to the public’s eyes and ears. To quote preservationist Seth Berkowitzs of the Cineric Company, speaking in August 2014 at the annual Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), “I love all digital restoration tools; they are doing God’s work!”

Indeed, in the face of the imminent disappearance of celluloid film in the next decade or so, our primary access to our motion picture legacy will be through digital scanning devices, whether in theaters, mobile devices, or home viewing. The importance of the development and funding of these technologies, particularly the 4K High-Resolution processes, to extract all the significant data in a frame of film cannot be underestimated. What some are calling “The Future Is 4K” is nothing short of a “last-minute rescue” in the time-honored Hollywood tradition, perhaps the most significant technical transformation of movies since the coming of sound in the late 1920s. The last few years have literally seen and heard 4K digital restorations in theaters and on Blu Ray/DVD of such classic titles as THE WIZARD OF OZ, DR. NO, CASABLANCA, GONE WITH THE WIND, PINOCCHIO, THE GODFATHER and soon, for you film buffs and scholars out there, the CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, the classic all-black Fox musical, STORMY WEATHER, and the legendary APU TRILOGY of the Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray.

This summer I attended AMIA’s three-day conference , THE REEL THING XXXIII, 21-23 August 2014, at the Mary Pickford Center in Hollywood. This annual event brings together archivists and preservation/restoration specialists from all over the world to discuss and present their latest findings in film and sound preservation. The entire conference was a revelation. Granted, at times, things got very technical as engineers and technicians talked about current developments in 4K digital scanning. But for the most part, each of the presentations had great relevance to students of film/media history, not to mention the public at large. For example, there were presentations/screenings on “Archiving 65mm Titles on Film,” “Audio Restoration in a 4K World,” the “Bing Crosby Project” (the restoration of Crosby’s Dictabelt Recordings), “The Speed of Cinema” (a history of pre-digital alternatives in frame rates and shutters for silent and sound film production and projection), “Recovery of the sound discs for Fairbanks’s The Iron Mask,” and “Stormy Weather: A Case Study in Sound Restoration.” Of special interest to me were programs on the 4K restorations of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Spielberg’s Duel, Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, and an early Hungarian silent film by Michael Curtiz, The Exile (1915). There was even a real-life “last-minute-rescue” in the best Hollywood tradition—“The Satyajit Ray Restoration Project” is an ongoing global initiative sponsored by the Academy Film Archives, Criterion, the L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, and the Indian Archives that is saving Ray’s original negatives from the ravages of a lab fire.

Among the participants in the conference were two Jayhawks, graduates of the Film and Media Studies Depart. MICHELLE WINN and BRIAN BARTELT. Michelle is working at Disney in the Restoration and Preservation Department. She is pictured here with the director of the department, Theo Gluck. She graduated with an FMS degree in 2003. Brian graduated in 2001 with a BGS degree in Film Studies and is working at Post Haste Sound, which is currently working on the Bing Crosby Sound Restoration Project . Brian participated in hosting FMS seniors as part of the @4hollywoodhawks 2014 ‪#‎CareerWeek. He is pictured here with the original Dictaphone equipment used by Bing Crosby.

The screenings throughout the three days brought us dazzling images and crystal-clear sounds that would have been otherwise lost forever. Projects like these are a testament to the vital importance of current digital restorations. To be sure, there are those who linger nostalgically over the good old days of pre-digital restoration processes, where image grain and sound blips were accepted and taken for granted. What the 4K restorations provide, by contrast, are sights and sounds so clean and clear they look better than what was originally shown in theater. The same die-hards who privilege vinyl records lament this sanitization. “When you do the 4K transfer and cleanup of my films,” says film director Jim Jarmusch, “please leave some of the blemishes so I can remember that I shot them on film!”

1 comment:

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