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Faded images on screen


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This is something I do not like. I noticed several films aired by TCM recently have had not-so-good image or picture quality. STRIKE ME PINK was very faded; PLAY GIRL this morning (the Loretta Young film, not the Kay Francis film) was faded. Also, ALLOTMENT WIVES which screened yesterday was in fine shape until the last ten to fifteen minutes. It was like someone had forgotten to finish restoring it. This particular film used to be available as a Netflix instant selection, and when I would watch it on my computer, I don't remember it being faded or washed out.

 

Another print I think is in less than stellar condition is FRENCH LINE, which is so bad I really can't watch more than a few minutes of it without reaching for a more powerful pair of eyewear. And also YOUNG WIDOW, another Jane Russell picture that TCM shows has scratches, hairs and extensive fading.

 

Then there's JOY OF LIVING from RKO in the late 30s. With stars like Irene Dunne and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., you would think it might merit a restoration. Instead it airs on TCM, and has been issued as a disc through the Warner Archives, in anything but pristine condition.

 

I know there are more. But this is where TCM loses me a little, when we get a lot of poor quality prints. I would rather do two things when this happens: (clears throat) I'd rather turn the video off and listen to it like an old time radio show; or-- heaven forbid-- not watch it and watch SEVEN DAYS IN MAY for the 18th gazillionth time.

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That IS rather unsettling. Sometimes I'll sit still and watch some old "classic" on TCM, even though I have a clean, clear print of it among my DVDs or old VHS tapes, just because it's already showing on TCM and I don't have to root around my shelves looking for it. And it surprises ME, who has far less the revenue one would suppose a network like TCM has, that THEIR print is far inferior to mine!

 

I can only sit there, with shoulders in a shrugged position and wonder why...

 

Sepiatone

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Yes, and there were some more since I started this thread. GASLIGHT's opening credits were great, but then the film itself was faded. I know I have seen a much better print on TCM in the past year.

 

Back in 2009 I was still recording TCM films on VHS. I did not switch over to DVD entirely until mid-2010 maybe. Sometimes when I see an inferior quality print on TCM, I dig up my old VHS tapes to see if the quality always looked this poorly, and to my surprise, some of the films I recorded six years ago from TCM are clearer, sharper and crisper than the same movie TCM is showing now in 2014. It astounds me.

 

I wonder if they are cutting corners and ordering cheaper prints? Maybe lzcutter can come on and explain what she knows.

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>I wonder if they are cutting corners and ordering cheaper prints?

 

It probably has more to do with the studios and piracy. The studios may be sending less than optimal digital prints in hopes of cutting down on Youtube uploads and bootlegging.

 

Studios can spend major $$$ to preserve and restore a film. They want to recoup as much of that as possible when the film goes to DVD or Blu.

 

If a good print airs on TCM, it soon after is often uploaded to Youtube and/or DVR copies are sold through various websites.

 

This cuts into the money the studio can make from the DVD or Blu release.

 

It is one of the reasons that Warner Archives (and others) have a moratorium on their recent releases being made available to TCM until at least a year has passed.

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> I know a few guys who were( stiil are) big into buying "bootlegs".

 

A lot of the bootleg copies of rare classic films are made from old VHS tapes. Usually, the picture rolls or the audio is lousy in the transfer process over to DVD. Not to mention, it is illegal duplication without consent from the original studio, unless the copyright has fallen into the public domain. But this is a separate issue from faded or washed out images showing up on TCM.

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I have found a strange thing relating to washed-out prints. We have splitters on the cable so that lines run to the cable box and to two DVRs.

 

At least twice in the past year I have happened to switch from the cable box to one of the DVRs set to the same channel and found the picture surprisingly better. It was washed-out by the cable box but crisp on the DVR,

 

It is usual that the difference is slight. The contrast is a tiny bit higher on the DVRs. The greatest difference is often on silent movies when the cable box renders as slightly sepia and one DVR renders as black and white.

 

It is digital signal but I would expect more problems with the DVRs than the cable box because the signal to the DVRs runs through two splitters while the signal to the cable box goes through only the one.

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TCM can't really do anything about any of this because it's out of their hands.

 

A lot of these are RKO films - RKO films are in the worst condition of any of the major studios' films. Even big stuff like Astaire & Rogers suffers from comparatively lesser surviving materials.

 

The last fifteen minutes of Allotment Wives wouldn't look like that because they didn't finish restoring it; it's because part of the print was lost so whoever owns that film (looks like Warner) was forced to use something inferior to fill in the gap. This is just like the most recent restoration of Metropolis - the newly restored material is all from worn out 16 mm reduction prints and it shows. There's nothing you can do about that, restoration is only as good as the material that exists. I don't want to say you're misremembering what you saw on Netflix but that might just be it...or the master they used was owned by someone else (is Allotment Wives in the public domain?) and Warner can't use it (or won't use it.)

 

(Aside: This makes me think of the TCM Movie News reports where new Blu-ray releases are mentioned. Every time, the same "Newly Restored" bit pops up showing an artificially faded version of the film with a wipe passing over it to show its "Newly Restored" form. That's not what restoration typically looks like and it's certainly not what something like East of Eden looks like via a raw scan of the film element used for the Blu-ray.)

 

Most of the time, what gets called "restoration" is really just taking the best available print and transferring that to digital, quite often without any digital restoration. In other words, there is no restoration. That's all most films get and usually that works just fine (a lot of the differences don't come down to restoration but from simply making a new master to replace a decades old analog master from the 1980s.) Then, higher profile releases get varying degrees of digital restoration but mostly that's some scratch removal and image stability. Few get (or need) the kind of makeover that The Red Shoes received. After that, it's piecing together a film from multiple sources (which is what happens with many silent films.) Very few films get major photochemical restoration work done to them which is only cost efficient for certain big name films and only beneficial for certain types of films - special color, large format, etc.

 

I would like Morocco, one of my all time favorites, to look better than it does but restoration isn't going to do it - Universal would have to unearth a better print and it just doesn't exist.

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Some months ago, I was watching the "restored" Metropolis on TCM and was taken aback at the poor quality. This was the worst version I have seen. I pulled out the German restoration print and it was spectacular! I ran this simultaneously with TCM's version and couldn't believe the difference. Most notably the flooding scenes.. the streaks and scratches nearly blotted out entire scenes.

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Yes, some of the so-called 'restoration' seems like a marketing gimmick. Unless it is clearly an improvement over what has been seen before, it's not worth buying again.

 

The Criterion restorations are more in line with what should be expected, and delivered to consumers. The Kino restorations are questionable in my opinion.

 

Incidentally, I would say that sometimes reconstructions are regarded as restorations, and to me, those are separate things.

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There's a segment in the movie AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON called "Video Pirates" that begins with a tall ship rolling on the ocean. The shipload of "pirates" overtakes the good ship MCA and puts in a tape from among the "booty". When the FBI warning comes on screen, the pirate captain( John Ryan) sarcastically utters, "Oh, I'm so SCARED!" and the other pirates laugh derisively.

 

In the past, I've known people who lived in questionable neighborhoods, and in the early "video store" days, when there was one on every corner, one guy rented a movie and when he was watching it, noticed that in the middle of one scene, the picture faded out and a local TV station logo showed for just a second before the tape jumped to a continuing scene.

 

The store was renting tapes recorded off a TV broadcast!

 

This has nothing to do with TCM's faded prints, but my point is that if the use of bad prints by TCM was intended to foil bootleggers, it won't work.

 

Sepiatone

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The version of Metropolis TCM shows is the newer, nearly complete German restoration. Like the last official DVD before it, it's mostly from the negative, which looks amazing, but parts of it are from a 16 mm reduction print because that's all that's left behind of that material.

 

You're not seeing what had previously been pristine footage turned bad in the new version, you're seeing new stuff from those scenes that just happens to only survive in irreversibly bad shape. The restoration that TCM shows is the most complete version of the film and absolutely the preferred version.

 

As for Criterion and Kino - Kino usually doesn't do any restoration work of their own, they just get the restored master from the people overseas and release that, which is how most non-Criterion boutique labels do things That's not what causes the quality gap though - Kino was unfortunate enough up until just a few years ago to deal in films from sources that would greatly limit the quality of their releases. They didn't have HD masters to work from. HD masters are typically set at 24 frames per second and allows for a simple fit into our NTSC video format. European rights holders like the F.W. Murnau Stiftung didn't produce HD masters regularly until late in the last decade. So a company like Kino, whose bread and butter was heavily based on European silents and contemporary (but more obscure) international cinema - all heavily PAL - was forced to work mostly from native PAL masters, which is what produces the frame "ghosting" and blurriness you see on some, but not all, of their old DVDs. But their Blu-rays of those same films, like Metropolis and Die Nibelungen and The Blue Angel, are fine; they look just like their counterparts from overseas and Criterion wouldn't improve much, if at all, on any of them.

 

Criterion avoided releasing a whole lot of that stuff in the 1990s and 2000s for that very reason. Most of their European releases are held by major European studios like Studio Canal, Gaumont, etc., who have been making HD masters, or were capable of doing so if necessary, since the 1990s.

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The current prints of STRIKE ME PINK date back to the reissue materials. THE FRENCH LINE - it looks like TCM is running an old transfer from a 16mm Eastman print (I think this was used for the Turner VHS). I have a 16mm Technicolor print and it is spectacular. I'm sure Warners has 35mm materials; they just haven't gotten to this title yet. The most important thing about THE FRENCH LINE is Jane's final dance routine, which was rejected by the censors and replaced with a shorter version using mostly long shots. A friend of mine has the original dance in 35mm Technicolor. It is....incredible.

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I'll need an explanation from the "techies" out there.

 

Seeing as to how it looks possible to restore many old films back to "pristine" condition, and we now have the means to store that on a digitally mastered disc, IS it possible to transfer 16mm film stock onto a DVD type disc and have it LOOK as good as a movie shot in 35 or 70mm?

 

To clarify...if one had a 16mm print of one movie, and another had a 35mm print of the same movie, would there be a noted difference if both were transferred to a disc?

 

If not, then what would be the reason for any television station to have ANY faded print?

 

Sepiatone

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16mm has a lower resolution than 35mm. It isn't possible to do much to improve resolution. Restoration usually involves cleaning the film, digitally scanning it, and digitally correcting any defects. They do their best, funding permitting, to make the restoration look like the original, undamaged print. But, that can't make 16 look as good as 35.

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The Lum & Abner film aired this morning--THE BASHFUL BACHELOR-- was very faded, and the sound was quite muffled. I could not even watch it. I applaud TCM for trying to show these rare films, but when you can barely sit through five minutes of something with such poor audio and visual quality, then it might be better to schedule another airing of SEVEN DAYS IN MAY.

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Maybe it's just that my eyes are in better shape than my ears, but 99% of the problems I've had with the film quality on TCM has had to do with the sound, as opposed to the picture. The problem is worst in the movies in the early sound films, and it reaches its peak during movies that combine muffled voices with constantly playing background music. It only seems to affect about 2% of the films I watch, but at least for me it's many times bigger a problem than the picture quality.

 

And ironically, I have the same problem with some relatively current movies, especially certain scenes in mob movies where the gangsters all seem to be trying to channel their inner Don Corleone and see who can speak in the softest whisper.

 

But then there are some older movies that look as bright and clear as if we'd been transported backward in a time machine. Last night's Drums Along The Mohawk (1939) was one such film. I only watched it for a few minutes, but I can't recall ever seeing a better or clearer print from a Technicolor movie that old.

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> 16mm has a lower resolution than 35mm. It isn't possible to do much to improve resolution.

 

I was referring more to the look of a transfer to DVD. I had a friend who, back in the '70's, was a member of the Blackhawk film society. He brought over his projector, screen and many 16mm prints of Laurel and Hardy shorts one night, and they were all clean as a whistle! Of course, if shown on a movie house screen, they'd have looked ridiculous. I was just wondering if these clean looking 16mm prints were transferred onto a DVD disc for home viewing, would one be able to tell the difference between THEM, and a transferred 35mm print?

 

Sepiatone

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Well, the difference is still resolution. It would depend on how big your TV screen was. I can sometimes see 35mm film grain on my 56" HDTV, so I think I could see the grain in a 16mm > DVD transfer.

 

Film speed is also a factor in resolution. So, brightly lit scenes shot on fine grained 16mm would look better than more sensitive, coarser grained film used to shoot darker scenes. You can often see the difference between film speeds in 35mm films shown in a theater.

 

Another factor is how close are you to the screen? Closer, more likely to see the grain, if it is there. Further away, and you won't see it.

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>And ironically, I have the same problem with some relatively current movies, especially certain scenes in mob movies where the gangsters all seem to be trying to channel their inner Don Corleone and see who can speak in the softest whisper.

 

Uhh..... how old are you, Andy?

 

I started noticing that in film sound tracks about 40 years ago. :)

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16mm can look perfectly great when transferred to digital, there are many examples of Blu-rays and DVDs of 16mm films that are absolutely lovely, but just like 35mm it depends on just what the material is.

 

A 16mm reduction of a 35mm print is usually going to lose a decent amount of visual information but a lot of 16mm duplicate prints are also copies of already duplicated prints, not from the negative or, in the case of the silent days of Metropolis theatrical prints struck from the negative, but from copies of copies of copies. Those suffer additional visual degradation regardless of the wear and tear of age. None of that can be changed - the only solution is to find something better. That said, not all 16 mm reductions are in terrible condition and occasionally you'll come across some that hold up just fine.

 

(35mm similarly loses information, contrast, detail, etc. with excessive duplication.)

 

On the other hand, you have productions filmed natively with 16mm equipment and material, such as Everlasting Moments (http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film3/blu-ray_reviews51/everlasting_moments_blu-ray.htm) or Rainer Werner Fassbinder's TV films (or many TV shows from the 70s, 80s, and 90s,) that look just wonderful in digital form, as good as any 35mm counterpart. You usually have the negatives or master positives for these and wear is kept to a minimum.

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I DO know that in still photography, making a print from a larger negative results in a sharper image. For example, taking a portrait shot on an 11x14 negative and printing an 8x10 copy is going to be sharper than an 11x14 print. The smaller the print, the sharper the image. When I did wedding photography, the "old" belief was that only "medium format" cameras and film should be used, because the 8x10's would look better. The company I worked for used 35mm film. But it was because the then improvements in 35mm stock made the 8x10 enlargements look just as good as enlargements made from medium format stock.

 

I imagine some, or most, of that is true in the case of movie film.

 

Sepiatone

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