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Nitrate Print of "Cover Girl" catches fire.


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I'm surprised this hasn't been posted here yet.

 

It appears there was a nitrate fire at the Stanford Theater last Thursday evening.

 

They were showing a nitrate print of *Cover Girl* and according to news reports:

 

"The 1944 film "Cover Girl," starring Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth,

caught fire Thursday night about 10 minutes into the film at Stanford

Theatre in downtown Palo Alto, forcing evacuation and temporary

closure of the 1920s theater."

 

The projector, the safety features in the booth as well as the sprinkler system worked the way they were supposed to, keeping damage contained to the booth and not the rest of the theater. The audience was evacuated quickly and calmly and there were no injuries or fatalities.

 

The theater, owned and operated by the Packard Foundation, is currently closed for repairs.

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*Interesting...and scary. How common an occurance was this when nitrate prints were the norm?*

 

Dougie,

 

I'm not sure of any numbers so I don't want to speculate but I'm hoping that some of the more knowledgeable posters here might chime in.

 

I learned about this from an image archive list that I belong to. According to one of the members, there was a nitrate fire at the Major Theater in Burbank back in the 1940s that was pretty bad.

 

When I was in film school at SC back in the mid-1970s, we were all told about the nitrate fire that had destroyed the main screening room back in the 1940s as well.

 

There was a nitrate fire in a theater in Los Angeles as late as the 1970s.

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*Wacky And Tragic to say the least! why on earth were they screening a Nitrate print in the first place?*

 

Jeffrey,

 

The Stanford is one of a handful of theaters around the country that is equipped to run nitrate. I would imagine they were running it *a)* because they had access to it and *B)* black and white nitrate prints have a projected quality to them that is lost on safety film and I'd hazard a guess that would be the same for color films as well.

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*1944 Gene Kelly film burns at Stanford Theatre*

 

*Gene Kelly, Rita Hayworth 'Cover Girl' film jams in projector, catches fire*

 

"The downtown Stanford Theatre caught fire tonight when the nitrate film jammed in the projector and burst into flames. We along with all other patrons safely evacuated, and it looked like the fire did not spread, but fire trucks were still rolling a half hour after the first alarm," he said.

 

http://www.almanacnews.com/news/show_story.php?id=3710

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> {quote:title=DougieB wrote:}{quote}

> Interesting...and scary. How common an occurance was this when nitrate prints were the norm?

 

I never heard of it before. As a kid I grew up seeing nitrate films from the mid-'40s until everyone went to safety film. I never noticed any difference between a nitrate print and a safety print.

 

What I did notice was the outstanding color of the old-type 3-strip Technicolor. It was fantastic. If you've ever seen any super-saturated Kodachrome slides, that's what it was like. Colors that were more vivid than real-life colors.

 

Rare old nitrate prints should never be projected. Every film showing causes new scratches on every film shown. They accumulate, no matter how clean the projector is. And old nitrate prints are too fragile to be run through projectors now.

 

This film print, now is gone forever. The other reels could have been damaged by the water sprinklers.

 

Kiss this one goodbye. Another lost nitrate print as a result of this very foolish showing for a few bucks profit.

 

This print could have been slowly and carefully scanned to video tape for decades or hundreds of years of future showings on large screen HD TV. But now its gone. Gone.

 

Add this to the lost of the very large Universal film warehouse last year. More films lost because of improper storage near flammable material like paint. Old radio show phonograph records gone too.

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I think we can rest easy. I was just thinking the print that was destroyed was only a copy. The MASTER negative is probually stored away an Columbias film vault. A film scan was already done otherwise how could "Cover Girl" be on DVD?

 

rita_hayworth_cover_girl_shop_dvd.jpg

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Fred,

 

All is not lost. It was a nitrate copy not the negative, not the master elements and not the only copy.

 

The Packard Foundation is one of the biggest supporters of film preservation in this country. They have helped build the new Library of Congress' Culpepper facility (complete with nitrate storage) and they are building a facility here in southern California for UCLA Film Archives.

 

The Stanford is one of the premiere revival/art houses not only in northern California but the entire state.

 

The good news in all of this is that the safety features in the booth worked the way they were supposed otherwise, this story would have had a very different ending.

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*Some were known to have burnt down warehouses where they were stored*

 

GG,

 

A number of films vital to the cinematic history of our culture have been lost in vault fires. Here is some information from a thread I do years ago: (Gotta love the archives when they work!):

 

1914: Lubin fire in Philadelphia destroys Oliver Hardy's film debut as well as footage of McKinley's ambulance leaving the Expo after he was shot. Also lost in this fire Hobart Bosworth's version of *The Sea Wolf*.

 

1914- Los Angeles: The lab shared by Keystone and Ince Films has a fire destroying films.

 

1915- Edison's vault may have had a fire.

 

1924 Universal (East Coast)Vault Fire includes negatives to Universal films 1913-1924

 

1933 Warner Bros/First National Vault Fire destroys most of 1928-1930 Vitaphone talkies

 

1937- 20th Century-Fox (NJ)- Negatives for most of , if not all, pre-1935 Fox films destroyed. Big problem was that original negatives and fine grain masters were stored in the same vault.

*Cleopatra* starring Theda Bara is lost, so is *Way Down East* as well as films starring William Farnum, Harry Carey and Tom Mix are lost. Also companies such as Educational Pictures, World-Wide that Fox sub-distributed for are lost.

 

1940s- Museum of Modern Art suffers four major vault fires one which is said to have wiped out 2/3rds of the collection including Hans Richter's hand painted color animation *Rhythmus 25*.

 

1943- Harold Lloyd's personal vault has a fire. Losses include the *Lonesome Luke* series and the original camera negative of *Safety Last!*

 

c. 1950s- RKO has a major vault fire that results in the loss of *Citizen Kane*. Other RKO titles believed lost include *Case of the Sgt, Grischa, Freckles, Laddie,Leathernecking, The Monkey's Paw, West of the Pecos, White Shoulders, Hit the Deck* (soundtrack only survives) and *Runaround*.

 

1959 the Cinematheque Francaise has a vault fire that destroys films including Von Stroheims *The Honeymoon*.

 

1961: 20th Century Fox's New Jersey vault has a fire where the explosion could be heard for three miles. Lost films include most of Theda Bara's work.

 

1965: MGM has a vault explosion and fire that destroys the entire contents. Films include *A Blind Bargain, The Divine Woman* and *London After Midnight*.

 

1967 National Film Board of Canada Vault Fire

 

1993- Henderson Film Lab Fire in London. Destroys the original negatives of Satyajit Ray's *Apu Trilogy* as well as Ealing Studios Comedies.

 

Also at some point, George Eastman House had a vault fire that destroyed part of their collection.

 

Non fire destruction

1948: Universal decides to toss out all of its silent library that it still has vaulted. By this time only a few hundred titles remain from the 5,000 films the studio produced prior to converting to talkies. The films, as well as screen tests and trailers, are destroyed to recover their silver content.

 

Decomposition has destroyed many films.

 

Paramount produced some 1200 silents and by the late 1960s only about 250 survived.

 

Fox produced about 1200 silents and only about 120 are thought to still survive.

 

Warner Brothers silent library is just as depressing.

 

MGM silents from 1924-1929 seem to have had the best survival rate.

 

It is believed that less than 20 of 1917-1922 Goldwyn silents survive.

 

Frances Goldwyn ordered all of the post -1922 Goldwyn films destroyed (except the *Winning of Barbara Worth* because it starred Gary Cooper) because she believed they had no value. About that same amount of Metros pre-merge silents survive.

 

Roger Mayer went to work at MGM in the early 1960s and continued the preservation work begun by Louis Mayer of transferring their films to safety stock and insuring back up copies are being made. He couldn't work fast enough to stave off decomposition.

 

Only about 24% of silents are said to still survive.

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Yancey,

 

I know it's not a pleasant read but I think it is an important read if only to try and understand what has happened to so much of our cinematic history.

 

Unfortunately, the vault fires took their toll but there are still many, many films that can be saved through preservation if only the money can be found.

 

To often, people think that film is not important because all it is does is entertain us.

 

We owe to the generations who made those films possible and the generations ahead of us who will enjoy those films, to do all we can to help preserve one of our truly American art forms.

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> {quote:title=lzcutter wrote:}{quote}

> I'm surprised this hasn't been posted here yet.

>

>

> The projector, the safety features in the booth as well as the sprinkler system worked the way they were supposed to, keeping damage contained to the booth and not the rest of the theater. The audience was evacuated quickly and calmly and there were no injuries or fatalities.

>

> The theater, owned and operated by the Packard Foundation, is currently closed for repairs.

 

Geez, that's terrible... Didn't old projectors run on a gas flame? I hope they were not using an antique projector to show the film.

 

I remember in school it was common for film to get stuck in the projector transport... I've seen many films get destroyed that way... It is a wonder that Quentin Tarantino did not use the effect of melting film in his "Grindhouse" films, or maybe he did, but I didn't see it. I think that is a great effect, but not at the cost of the ruination of a classic film.

 

Anything old, you have to be careful with... I wonder why they were even showing an old print like that? The print should have been handed over for digital copying.

 

"Cover Girl" is a great film, but it deserves the "Rhino" restoration treatment like they did with "Meet Me In St Louis."

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The old projectors used carbon rods and worked pretty much like an arc welder - ever notice how much light welding puts out? All projectors today uses quartz bulbs.

 

There is a comedy "Amazon Women on the Moon" that pokes fun at film breakage. LOL! "There will be no further interruptions" - a quote from the movie. This happened a lot in my families old home movie projector and is the reason why we don't have many left!

 

This photo is showing a carbon rod lamphouse

 

peerless2.jpg

 

This is a modern quartz bulb

 

hlr-osram-3kw-a.jpg

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*Anything old, you have to be careful with... I wonder why they were even showing an old print like that? The print should have been handed over for digital copying.*

 

As has been posted here, the Stanford Theater is one of the few theaters in America authorized to run nitrate. The theater was equipped to do so and as one of the premiere revival/art houses on the West Coast, there was no reason for them not to run the print if they had access to it.

 

Black and white nitrate prints are said to be a thing of beauty when projected and it is a different viewing experience than from safety film. It would seem logical that the same would apply to nitrate color prints as well.

 

The master elements including the negative are stored properly and the film has been scanned and is available on DVD. The entire print was not lost. Due to the safety mechanisms working properly, it appears that only part of the first reel was damaged.

 

So, while it is terrible that this occurred, the Stanford Theater will hopefully only be closed for a short while as they repair the booth and hopefully will be back to running classic films on the big screen before too long.

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> {quote:title=lzcutter wrote:}{quote}

> So, while it is terrible that this occurred, the Stanford Theater will hopefully only be closed for a short while as they repair the booth and hopefully will be back to running classic films on the big screen before too long.

 

Indeed. Let's hope they're up and running soon! Hope that projectionist didn't suffer any burn wounds, either.

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As has been noted earlier in this thread, there were no reported injuries. I would imagine if the projectionist had been injured or any one in the audience trying to exit the theater had been injured, this story would have gotten much more coverage than it has.

 

If you want to see an example of a carbon arc being lit in a projector, there is a shot of that in the TCM Imports open and that image is also used in the now running 15th Anniversary interstitial that is airing this month.

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*As has been posted here, the Stanford Theater is one of the few theaters in America authorized to run nitrate. The theater was equipped to do so and as one of the premiere revival/art houses on the West Coast, there was no reason for them not to run the print if they had access to it.*

 

Yes, but I have only recently paid these boards any attention- But I should have asked directly, is that Theatre using an old-fashioned gas powered projector?

 

I am sure that the Theatre was as careful as possible, but physics sometimes supersedes care, no matter what procedures taken.

 

I work in a Recording Studio... And there is absolutely no situation where I would take an archive tape, a tape made over 10 years ago, and use it for public performance- As a matter of fact, there is protocol for even handling the tape, and the processes for preservation actually involve destroying the original tape.

 

It is what was done when Rhino restored the audio track for "Meet me in St Louis" - But once the data is recovered, you can process it any way you see fit.

 

Now I know part of what you are saying is that "Nothing is better than seeing a Nitrate Print" of a film in a large Theatre, but, basically in my opinion, to show that film in a public performance should never have been allowed.

 

So now we have one less nitrate print of Cover Girl because people wanted to "See a nitrate print" - Well, that print is no longer with us, due to that attitude.

 

What could have been done, and what should have been done, is Privately, the people responsible for film Restoration, should have access to small parts of a nitrate print in a large Theatre, to note the physical aspects of the print.

 

Then, they can digitally Duplicate the things in the Nitrate Print into a New Print and if done correctly, a digitally restored copy of Cover Girl, properly processed, should be indistinguishable from the original nitrate.

 

Gee, I just want to say, How selfish, and these people should be more responsible for archived film:

 

*...the premiere revival/art houses on the West Coast, there was no reason for them not to run the print if they had access to it*

 

-No reason at all except they destroyed it, now I know these people are highly qualified to handle the film, but we can't afford just one of these incidents.

 

Now, as I mentioned I work with Audio, and one of my jobs is to take music recorded digitally and make you believe that it was recorded on a 2" 24 Track Ampex.

 

and, I CAN and DO do this, and my work has stood up to very high scrutiny.

 

If I can do this with audio, especially with the limited and dated equipment I have access to, then a modern film restoration unit with state of the art equipment should be able to re-create that Nitrate experience.

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