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Restored Movie Prints Sharper Than Originals


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Source: http://us.imdb.com/news/sb/2007-01-03/

 

Restored Movie Prints Sharper Than Originals

Ultra Resolution, a digital process used to restore old Technicolor movies, has succeeded in making the newer prints sharper and more realistic than the originals, the Hollywood Reporter observed today (Wednesday). The process, which has been nominated for a Scientific and Technical Academy Award this year, can correct registration glitches that occurred in making the original prints, the trade paper noted. Technicolor used a printing process -- rather than a chemical-developing process -- similar to the one used by magazines and newspapers to produce color prints; three separate rolls of film were exposed in the huge Technicolor cameras to produce the color-separation negatives that were used to make the prints, with one color laid over the other. Ultra Resolution, devised by sisters Keren and Sharon Perlmutter, lines up the images of each frame precisely, something that was not always possible when the original prints were produced.

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Anybody's who's seen the most recent DVD of THE WIZARD OF OZ might think that the sisters succeeded too well: the image is noisy and distracting, with the film's grain practically jumping off the screen into one's eyes.

 

It's something akin to Warner's decision to digitially remove grain from their DVD of CITIZEN KANE, resulting in a picture that looks quite unnatural. I think that Warner's probably learned their lesson from this: they've not since attacked a film's natural grain with the ferocity they did on KANE, and the same may be true with their use of "Ultra Resolution" (which utilizes computers to align digital records of the film's original black and white color separations, rather than physically aligning them using three passes through an optical printer, or with three physical matrices as used in Technicolor's imbibition dye-transfer printing process).

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I haven't seen either of those DVDs, but in general I have a problem with this. There's obviously not a clear demarcation between restoring a movie and tampering with it, but I tend to think this goes over the line. I don't want movies to look "better than the original." I want them to look as close to the original as it is possible to go, and that includes preserving whatever technical flaws they may have had.

 

Film restoration, in my view, is about keeping a historical record. No one suggests painting over 12th century illuminated manuscripts to make the colors brighter, and this seems to me to be the equivalent.

 

Film preservation is about preserving the original, not "improving" it.

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Jon, I agree with you about going overboard on these things, but this might prove a useful tool for restorers. One of the problems with three strip technicolor is that they need to be in perfect alignment and in some cases one or more of the film elements has shrunk. If it's just minor it could cause edges to be less sharper than the director intended if it's major shrinkage it can be a real problem. Perhaps that's what they intended when they invented this.

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Well yeah, that's why I qualified my comment by saying that there isn't really a clear line. I'm not a film preservationist, but I lurk around listening to them a lot.

 

I do have concern when a film can be restored to be "better" than it was originally. On the one hand, digital tools have lowered the cost of restoration to a point where it's possible to preserve films that otherwise might not have been saved. On the other, I worry about keeping them true to the originals. This is compounded by the fact that a film may have deteriorated to the point where we don't really know what it looked like originally.

 

This kind of technology is like booze -- very beneficial when used properly and in moderation, but very bad when used too much.

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Strange that you mentioned the WIZARD OF OZ. I purchaced the DVD last year and over the Christmas holiday played it for the first time. I was wondering if I may have gotton a bad DVD or something. The color was vibrant but along edges where two colors met there was a fuzzy rainbow effect very noticible on my 55" big screen. It may not be noticable on a regular TV, but the big TV hides nothing.

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> Strange that you mentioned the WIZARD OF OZ. I

> purchaced the DVD last year and over the Christmas

> holiday played it for the first time. I was

> wondering if I may have gotton a bad DVD or

> something. The color was vibrant but along edges

> where two colors met there was a fuzzy rainbow effect

> very noticible on my 55" big screen. It may not be

> noticable on a regular TV, but the big TV hides

> nothing.

 

The whole process of restoring movies is going to have to get a lot more careful especially as we gradually start the conversion to HD format (hoping it will eventually become the normal standard).

 

I see where we could wind up with debates on the proper "restoration" given a movie, just like we've had discussions on letterboxing vs. pan-and-scan. Hopefully the studios will try to err on the side of caution.

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As a kid, I remember seeing "Showboat" in 1951, and I was astounded at the vivid color and sharpness of the image on the giant screen. There was more color in this movie than in real life, but that's often what made us like Technicolor movies. Kodachrome slides were like that. Wow, what color.

 

The TCM copies of "The Red Shoes" has been very excellent and much like the early theater versions I saw in the past.

 

For years I had a bad print of "The Third Man" taped off of TCM. I taped showings year after year, but the print had too much contrast and the sound was muffled. Finally, one year I taped it and the print was outstanding and the sound was perfect, and that seems to be the print they've re-aired many times.

 

I don't recall any bad registration of Technicolor prints as a kid. But I did read in American Cinematographer magazine in the mid-'70s that the new theatrical release print of "Gone With the Wind" would be made from the original negatives and they would have to be re-registered since the various rolls of three strips had shrunk to different degrees. So the new internegative had to be copied with an optical printer and each roll of original film had to be carefully re-registered. This involved some very slight enlarging or reducing of some of the original camera negs.

 

The modern TCM pints of Gone with the Wind remind me of the very good print I first saw of the film around 1953. But Gone with the Wind (seems to me) has always had less color saturation (i.e. less vivid color) than "Showboat", and GWTW color seems more natural.

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But Gone with the Wind (seems to me) has always had less color saturation (i.e. less vivid color) than "Showboat", and GWTW color seems more natural.

 

And I remember a discussion "somewhere" several years ago (maybe it was on NPR) about one of the newest restorations (to film) of GWTW - something to the effect that Selznick wanted a very particular look to the film. Not the "Technicolor Standard," but darker, etc. Supposedly (I think I remember hearing), they got out "his" print to make a match; possibly this was even after having printed it up and the heirs saying something like, "No, No, NO!!!"

 

Anybody remember that? Am I close?

 

Speaking of "Show Boat" and its history on video (not in the theater): What we see now of that one and MMIStL (and Camelot, too) is light-years ahead of early VHS issues from what one presumes were the best prints MGM/UA could provide at the time for transfer! '

 

My "Wizard" is from 5 or so years ago; don't know if the newest one out is a new transfer (sounds like) or just repackaging. Comment?

Bill

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Your right about GWTW, Bill, I read or heard the same thing, but can't remember where. I think when it came to "Showboat" they really wanted to "punch" the color to show that movies where still far better than what folks were now getting for free on TV.

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One place where an incredible job of restoration has been done is for the box sets that WB has done of the Looney Tunes cartoons - to the point where some of the shorts had been released in Cinecolor are now fully fleshed out! It is worth one or two of your Netflix slots to check these out!

 

Message was edited by:

exapno

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One place where an incredible job of restoration has been done is for the box sets that WB has done of the Looney Tunes cartoons....

 

Yes, but...... Some of them have been "oversharpened," to the point where they don't look like movies anymore, rather video. They certainly have snapped the color to max, and one or two that looked (almost?) b/w on their most recent showings (the BBunny baseball one where he is up against the "bully," has to chase the ball all over NYC to catch it and get it back to the park to have the fellow "out") now have color back like I saw them (and taped) back in the '80s.

 

So far, a LARGE percentage of the ones on Laserdisc have not been in the new boxes -- good for those of us who invested in the lasers. There was nothing on those after 1948-49, and the new boxes have lots of the newer ones.

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This is a subject I was thinking of bringing up a while back myself.

 

Am I alone in noticing some odd effects from digital restoration to black and white films? I first noticed something strange to faces of actors that left an effect that I can only describe as a bad make-up job to the actors. I think the first instance that jumped out at me was in Dark Victory. Near the end, when the blind Bette Davis sends George Brent off in the car, there are what appear to be demarcation lines near her neck and ears that I took to be where the pancake make-up ended. It looks like the make-up wasn't correctly applied so it would fade into the natural skin tone in an unnoticed manner. But then I saw the same effect on the faces of other actors in other B & W films. Many Times!

 

I have been assuming this is the result of some digital process - the one that can't process dissolves either - to sharpen the image but isn't sensitive enough to notice slight variations in skin tones and make-up. Or was the make-up originally applied in a manner that worked well enough for the cameras and film stock but is only now showing up in the digitally restored videos? I could accept both answers.

 

Anyone else notice what I am talking about?

 

Kyle In Hollywood

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Bill,

 

Regarding GWTW and Technicolor, a silent newsgroup that I am a member of, had a long discussion about this very matter awhile back. This group is made up of primarily archivists, film historians and such.

 

The gist I gathered from that conversation is that there are at least 7 different prints of GWTW that have been done over the years.

 

1 The original nitrate that had the color controlled by Natalie Kalmus at Technicolor. This print might appear with more saturated yellows if not projected on a carbon arc projector which was the norm for projecting back in the day.

 

2 A 1954 re-release where the color was much more saturated per Selznick's instructions and without Kalmus' input.

 

3 A 1961 re-release with saturated color and mag sound. The mag sound is now prone to vinegar syndrome. This was the 100th anniversary of the start of the Civil War and a reissue was done to commerate the date according to press releases from that time. Others say it was re-issued because The Ten Commandments had surpassed GWTW as the top box office film of all time and MGM put it back in circulation to maintain its #1 status. Is said to have been made from the 1954 re-issue master neg.

 

4 A 1967 re-issue in Eastman Color and blown up to 1:85. Was said to be nothing special. Others maintain that it was made from the 1954 re-issue master neg.

 

5 A circa 1974 reissue.

 

6 A 1989 50th anniversary reissue that many refer to as "infamous" and "toned down" in terms of color. Is said not to look like any of the other prints. Some say it was intentionally printed that way on orders from higher up the food chain.

 

7 A 1997 reissue which was Cinemascope and a dye-transferred Technicolor print. The master used for this reissue was the "infamous" 1989 master.

 

8 The recent WHV DVD boxed set (2005) is said to be the best of the transfers since 1954 but often what happens with artifacts and such are the legacy of previous printing and restoration.

 

Cinesage may have more in depth or up to date knowledge.

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Fascinating post regarding the various GWTW prints, Ms. Cutter. When you bring up the "Vinegar Syndrome" I'm tempted to link other threads on the subject as background for our compatriots. In fact, I think I'll give in to temptation now. Here's a thread from last year, when you linked an excellent article about Nitrate film that Leonard Maltin wrote:

 

http://forums.tcm.com/jive/tcm/thread.jspa?threadID=75491&start=0#7771430

 

Wouldn't it be great to have "stickies" for this kind of information? (Major hint to TCM Web Master.)

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I was lucky enough to see several dozen showings of nitrate prints back when this was routine, and I have to say that the digital colorists and transfer artists do a really great job emulating the nitrate look.

 

Much of the seeming artificiality or sheen of these transfers is really the way the nitrate prints are. I believe the Oz DVD came direct from the theatrical re-release restoration back in '99. I saw this down at Grauman's Chinese, and it struck me that the restoration looked very much like the nitrate print I saw of Oz back in the mid 70's at Filmex. The Kane releases I have seen on TCM look so much like the nitrate, it's amazing.

 

Because of this, I'm not troubled with most transfers. I do have a problem with the way the soundtracks have been pulled apart and restored-- or upgraded-- in many cases. I consider it the equivalent of colorization-- but that's another topic of discussion!

 

Also, you know of course that Natalie Kalmus had an overweening sense of her position, and that the real work was done by her assistants? I've heard great stories about her from oldtimers here in L.A.-- her constant limousine, her attendants, her manipulating the old man, and her affairs!

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In fact, I think I'll give in to temptation now. Here's a thread from last year, when you linked an excellent article about Nitrate film that Leonard Maltin wrote:>>

 

 

My Lord, Jack has it really been a year that I have been talking about all this????

 

I'm not sure whether to be be deeply chagrined or to keep fighting the good fight (as they say) :)

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