31 Mar 2011

MoMA Film Preservation Center: Tour

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"A Fair(y) Use Tale" Short film by Prof. Eric Faden

Dolby History

A History of Audio Innovation

1965: Dolby introduces A-type® noise reduction for the professional market.

1968: Dolby introduces Dolby B-type® noise reduction for consumer products.

1970: Advent, Fisher, and Harman Kardon begin offering cassette tape recorders with Dolby B-type noise reduction.

1971: Dolby and Signetics create a simplified Dolby B-type integrated circuit, widening the range of products in which the technology could be used.

1975: Dolby introduces Dolby Stereo®, a highly practical 35 mm stereo optical release print format.

1977: Dolby receives acclaim with the release of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, both in Dolby Stereo.

1981: First product with Dolby C-type noise reduction reaches market.

1982: Dolby introduces Dolby Surround, which encodes the two tracks of any stereo source with four-channel surround sound.

1984: Dolby releases Dolby AC-1, our first digital coding system.

1986: Dolby SR (spectral recording) improves analogue recorder performance to equal, and in some respects surpass, costly digital recorders.

1987: Dolby Pro Logic® surround elevates the home cinema experience with four-channel surround sound.

1989: Dolby introduces Dolby AC-2, allowing separate facilities to do full professional-quality audio monitoring and dubbing remotely via ISDN lines.

1991: New multichannel audio coding system, Dolby AC-3, announced. Now known as Dolby Digital, its first application is as a sound format for films.

1995: First consumer products with Dolby Digital playback compatibility announced.

1998: First video game with interactive Dolby Digital 5.1 audio launched. Dolby Headphone technology announced.

1999: Codecs featuring new Dolby E for DTV multichannel audio production and distribution debut.

2000: Dolby Pro Logic II technology announced.

2002: Dolby Virtual Speaker technology introduced for consumers lacking the space for a dedicated 5.1-channel playback system.

2005: Dolby TrueHD lossless coding for high-definition video discs debuts.

2007: Dolby 3D Digital Cinema demonstrated to film industry.

2009: Dolby Axon brings 3D voice communication to online games.

2010: First public demonstration of 5.1-channel surround sound on a mobile phone using Dolby Mobile technology.

A more detailed Chronology available here.

29 Mar 2011


"TOUCH OF EVIL" (1958) Original Trailer

I´ve been catching up with Universal International´s neglected jewels. First I´ve started with this one, which, apart from the opening shot, I´ve never watched complete.

Differing versions (extracted from Wikipedia´s article)

1.- The original 1958 release version
2.- A longer version, released in 1976
3.- A 1998 restored version that attempted to follow Welles's 1958 memo as closely as possible.

Welles's rough cut as submitted to Universal no longer exists. This was worked on and trimmed down by Universal staff, and in late 1957 Universal decided to perform some reshoots. Welles claimed these were done without his knowledge, but Universal claimed that Welles ignored their requests to return and undertake further work. This was when Keller came aboard: some of his material was entirely new, some replaced Welles scenes. Welles viewed the new cut and wrote a 58-page memo to Universal's head of production, Edward Muhl, detailing what he thought needed to be done to make the film work. However, many of his suggestions went unheeded and Touch of Evil was eventually released in a version running 93 minutes.

In the mid-1970s, Universal discovered that it held a 108-minute print of Touch of Evil in its archives. Aware that there was a growing audience of cineastes with a strong interest in Welles' work, the studio released this version to cinemas in 1976 and later issued it on video, billing it as 'complete, uncut and restored'. In fact, this print was not a restoration at all, but a preview version which post-dated the Welles memo but pre-dated the release version. While it did feature some vital Welles scenes which had been cut from the release version, it also featured more Keller material: the new footage had been cut into the film, but much of it ended up being cut out again, resulting in pointless expense for Universal.

In 1998, the film was re-released in a re-edited form, which was based on the Welles memo and edited by Walter Murch, working from all available material, with Bob O'Neil (Universal's director of film restoration) and Bill Varney (sound engineer) participating in the restoration.[6] As Welles' rough cut no longer exists, no true 'Welles cut' is possible, but Murch was able to assemble a version incorporating most of the existing material, omitting some of the Keller scenes (though some were retained, either because they had replaced Welles scenes which no longer existed and were necessary to the plot, or because Welles had approved of their inclusion). In addition, some of Welles's complaints were concerned with subtle sound and editing choices, and Murch was able to re-edit the material accordingly.[7] Notable changes include the removal of the credits and music from the three-minute opening shot, crosscutting between the main story and Janet Leigh's subplot and the removal of Harry Keller's hotel lobby scene. Rick Schmidlin was the producer on the 1998 edit, which had a limited but successful theatrical release (again by Universal) and was subsequently made available on DVD. The DVD includes a reproduction of the 58-page memo.

AMC on Film Restoration - from 1993!

28 Mar 2011


Disclaimer: This is not an earthquake related post.

Time-wise, it doesn´t get any further away than this. Buenos Aires being GMT -3:00 and Auckland being GMT +12:00, nobody can say that I haven´t searched the earth for those elusive parts I am missing. Straight from New Zeland and from a person I consider a friend (even though I have no idea what he looks like), comes one of the most meaningful parts missing: the film speed dial that is (was) missing from my Ernemann (see picture below).

Thanks, Dave!

RESTORATION (DATE March 27th, 2011)

What´s new? Trap/Gate assembly are finished and in place. So are top and bottom pad rollers. The José Reyes Soundhead is coming along nicely too. As you can see it is completely bare of paint. The idea is to get it finished and working, then I´ll dissasemble it again and send it to be painted in the same shop that did the projector. Oh, and, just for fun, I slapped a DTS timecode reader on top of it.


27 Mar 2011


A working Ernemann II in someone´s house. How cool is that?!

94-year-old ex-projectionist shares movie memories


The Herald-Mail

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) - George Wagner doesn't see very well anymore, but as he runs his hands over The Maryland Theatre's 1930s-era projection machines, his fingers know every knob and clamp.

He knows that the original screen was 90 feet away, 24 feet long and 18 feet high. He knows that there were about 1,300 seats and, like a dwindling number of local residents, he remembers when they were filled nearly every night with patrons eager to see the news reels and catch the latest feature.

It was in this room that Wagner, 94, eagerly learned the art of movie projection as a boy in the 1920s. He continued to show films there off and on for more than 60 years.

He returned just before Thanksgiving to share his memories on camera for a historical documentary about the theater being produced by After Five Productions.

"I'm 94 and I'm getting older by the minute," he quipped. "You've got any questions, you'd better let me have them now."

Wagner got his first movie projector when he was 8 years old and living in Emmitsburg, Va., as a prize for selling a dozen bottles of salve for 25 cents each.

"I think my mother bought most of them," he said.

Wagner became an amateur projectionist, showing films for the neighborhood children on a screen he built in his yard.

After he moved to the Hagerstown area at the age of 10, he began hanging around The Maryland Theatre, where he would climb up the fire escape and beat on the door of the projection room to watch the projectionists work.

Wagner was not as interested in watching movies as he was in watching the machinery.

"I liked the idea of what they could do with the piece of film," he said.

He also knew projecting was where the money was, because the theater's projectionists drove convertibles.

"It's not what you know, it's who you know, and I made a point to know them pretty well," Wagner said.

Wagner didn't attend high school, and on the last day of eighth grade, his mother warned him not to come home until he had found a job. He got one that very day in a projection booth for $7 a week.

As an apprentice, Wagner gradually was entrusted with the responsibilities of putting film in the machine, trimming the lamp and adjusting the volume, and he took those responsibilities very seriously.

"I'm the guy who came up to the booth 20 minutes early to oil the machines, to clean the lenses, make sure everything's OK," he said.

He remembers the importance of movies in those days, when children came to school every day talking about the movies they had seen the night before. He remembers looking out from the projection booth and seeing the entire theater packed, and knowing that if he got caught up reading a newspaper or daydreaming and forgot to trim the lamp, he would have to face their wrath when the picture disappeared five minutes before the end of the film.

"That's embarrassing, and that's when you catch hell from the manager," he said. "It's inexcusable, it seems to me, but it does happen."

When Wagner learned at age 16 that he had high blood pressure and could not do anything too strenuous, he decided to turn movie projection into a career. At that time, there were about nine movie theaters in the Tri-State area, and Wagner worked at most of them at one time or another, including the Colonial and Academy theaters in Hagerstown.

For 3 1/2 years during World War II, Wagner showed films for soldiers overseas, then returned to Hagerstown and continued as a projectionist until he was laid off and went to work at Fairchild, a hardware store and Mack Trucks.

"I've never done anything, except process inspecting, that I liked to do any better than being in a theater," Wagner said. "It broke my heart when they decided that at The Maryland Theatre they weren't going to have any more movies."

19 Mar 2011

14 Mar 2011


What follows is the transcription of a fragment of an article intitled "Universal Upbeat in Studio Fire Aftermath" by Robert Marich for Broadcasting and Cable, published on June 20th. You can read the original here.

In February, 1993, a symposium was held by the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. to discuss the problem of the decay of motion pictures. Excerpted from the transcript of the February 26 testimony is this submission by film preservationist and restorer Robert A. Harris. Few people in the world have the ability to judge the condition of our film heritage as does Bob Harris. Working with David Lean, he gave us what is arguably the best presentation of Lawrence of Arabia ever seen, even after the original negatives and sound were considered to be virtually lost. With his equally fastidious partner, James C. Katz, Bob has worked miracles on the deteriorated likes of My Fair Lady, Spartacus, Vertigo, and Rear Window, not only saving these films from loss, but providing vivid new prints that rival the originals in many ways. Before placing this transcript in the American WideScreen Museum web site I asked Bob to review and update his statements. He altered one sentence. And that, boys and girls, says a lot about the condition of the films, good and bad, that many of us grew up with.


Robert A. Harris' Statement at the Film Preservation Study:
Washington, D.C. Public Hearing, February 1993
We have all heard many times that we have already lost some 50% of the films made before 1950, that our nitrate heritage is slowly turning to powder before our eyes while budgets and time are running out. This is all true. However, with little mention of our post-1950s film this perpetuates the myth that film preservation is dedicated to our remote past, something that belongs more in museums than on theater screens.

Robert Harris and David Lean during the restoration of Lawrence of Arabia
Further, it gives the impression that all of these nitrate films simply decomposed while attempts were being made to preserve them. This is untrue. Most of the early films did not survive because of wholesale junking by the studios. There was no thought of ever saving these films. They simply needed vault space and the materials were expensive to house. There also seems to be a feeling that we must save it all. Like art and the written word, there was as much junk film produced during the first half of the century as is being produced currently. I made one of those in 1987, a junk film, which we can add to the pile of junk. It simply is not all worth saving with today's limited funding.

If our greatest problem were nitrate, then my chosen work in the archival field would be incomparably simple. But it is not. In 1988, while completing work on David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, I was asked to look into Tom Jones, the 1963 Academy Award-winning Best Picture, newer than Lawrence by only one year. Try as I did searching vaults worldwide, the best I could come up with was a single dye-transfer Technicolor print with an Italian soundtrack. It was so worn that it could not be used for duplication.

I was told that the feeling when Tom Jones was in post-production was that it would not amount to anything. A judgment call. UA never made protection separations to back up the original negative. Today, a proper print of Tom Jones cannot be produced.

Although I do not necessarily have the answers to our preservation problems, I can at least raise or help reevaluate some of the questions.

Since the early fifties, we have been dealing with the Eastmancolor negative. There is nothing inherently wrong with this material except that it fades. We have lost the original negatives to many important films of the fifties, and we are now going into the sixties; films of the seventies are now showing signs of fading.

Lawrence, a 1961-62 production photographed in Eastmancolor and processed by Technicolor London was fortunate. For some reason, the work done at that particular laboratory seems to survive years longer than film processed elsewhere, possibly the water from the Thames, I am not sure. Lawrence was still in good enough shape, although the negative was cracked and falling to pieces, that new color protection materials could be produced. We could not produce new black-and-white protection material, because the negatives would not run three times to produce separations.

The camera negative on Universal's 1960 Spartacus was totally faded, totally unusable. Nothing could be done to produce any printing material from that element. We worked from black-and-white separations and had to create the equipment to manufacture a 65mm preservation internegative on the film. We worked from the seps but those seps had been produced defectively. They had been vaulted 30 years before and never tested. I will not go into the problems that were encountered, but the lesson learned was simple and dramatic: black-and-white master separations, when produced, were routinely vaulted and forgotten, assuming they would yield beautiful results when needed. We now know that this simply is not accurate in all cases.

No one knows what materials can be produced from separation masters unless they have been printed, not selectively tested or reviewed on a Rank [film-to-tape transfer machine], but printed. This should be done before the negatives that they protect are no longer viable printing elements. If the protection is defective and the negatives have gone, nothing further can be done. Without doing so, we may have no protection for the last 40 years of color film history. Every film worth saving which has not been backed up should be looked into with immediacy.

The large format films, 70mm, Technirama, etc., are in the highest risk group. Since most 70mm prints were made directly from the camera negatives, many are extremely worn. Most large format masters are untested. They probably will not register very well and they generally are not backed up by large format color interpositives of any vintage no less recent.

My single hard and fast rule is do not rejuvenate original negatives; and this keeps happening continuously in laboratories around the world. Do not put chemicals on preservation materials. This will go against everything that you will hear if there are people coming here representing rejuvenation and scratch-removal vendors. They will tell you that the panacea for saving our film heritage is to coat it with chemicals.

There is a problem right now with the original camera negative of a very well-known 1968 film. Someone allowed the negative to be chemically treated and a lab wetgated the footage. That film is now a solid block. We are trying to ease it apart and remove the coating without the emulsion coming off.

Rejuvenation causes film to shrink, warp and shed its emulsion. Particles of dust and dirt are caught under the coatings and become a part of the picture never envisioned by the director of photography.

The overall quality of preservation work done by some vendors is a joke. What they produce is generally in the "good enough to get us paid" category. Once materials are delivered, they are generally accepted. Although much preservation material was produced before the advent of wetgate printing and therefore wear was more apparent, there were still materials produced after this process was available, which just was not done professionally.

If someone 15 or 20 years ago had made decent materials on pictures like Casablanca, they would look a lot better than they do today, and they would not have to be constantly redone. There are not adequate materials produced on hundreds of films; but there are materials. You can generalize that the more popular the film, the worse shape it is going to be in. Quality is a problem that has been with us for decades.

Nitrate is preserved once, then again and then possibly a third time, hopefully the right way. Original negatives are sometimes pulled to create non-preservation elements to be used for a video transfer. This places wear and fade on the negative without accomplishing anything.

One final point on this subject. Once materials are preserved properly, that does not then mean that the original nitrate should be junked. I have to assume that today's technology will be constantly supplanted in the future with new means of creating even higher quality preservation materials. You never want your finest surviving asset to be a dupe when you can have the luxury of going back to an original element.

If someone asked what I would do if I could selectively control all film preservation except that being done by the few studios and archives who are doing it correctly, my initial answer would be very simple: nothing. I would shut it down completely. Vendors should be checked for quality and accredited to do preservation work rather than just offering it on rate cards. Preservation work should not be synonymous with lab work. Simply producing a set of separation masters does not mean that a film is preserved. Producing a finegrain from a nitrate original does not mean that it is preserved. All these materials have to be produced correctly not just produced, shipped and billed.

There are too many situations in which the wrong material is produced from the wrong material. This does nothing more than spend preservation dollars for masturbatory or "voodoo" preservation. All this junk has to be stored, placed on databases and occasionally checked but it will always be junk. Years from now, someone will come along and wonder why it was produced but the good materials will already be gone. Once all these problems were solved, then I would start the wheels turning again.

Some people who work in preservation do not know what a preserved or restored film should look and sound like. This is exacerbated by the fact that few titles have an original print. Without a reference print, you have no idea what the intentions of the filmmakers were regarding color, density, contrast or even major points like "day for night" scenes. When a reference print is available, it may not be an approved print. It could well be left over from a reissue or have survived as a lab reject.

Work is accepted which should be rejected because some people are either too lazy or just not knowledgeable enough to know what to do. People with a background in business as well as film history, film elements and lab techniques should be running motion picture asset protection programs.

Studios and rental vaults are now placing inventory on computer. Sometimes, as in the case of Universal, people actually open cans, inspect and listen to material. However, all too often these inventories are simply perpetuated error. An element is incorrectly listed on a label, insecurely attached to a can, then transferred to a card, and then years later, from the card to computer by someone who cannot quite decipher the original handwriting. All of this with never a look back at the actual materials, especially if they are in another country or vaulted underground.

There have been too many occurrences in which I have called someone to see if they have protection on a long version or stereo tracks, only to be told that the film was monaural or that there was no long version. It is simply bad recordkeeping.

If we are going to really start taking all this seriously, now is probably a good time to begin. If we do not, here is what we can do. Make a list of films produced since 1953, then draw a line around 1965. That is the date before which it is safe to assume we will not be able to protect anything much longer unless it is already protected.

Take a look at the titles and then dismiss every great film that you would like to share with your children or grandchildren or possibly just see again. They are not going to be there when we want them. It is all as simple as that. Either we do something now and do it right or let's forget it all. It will soon be just so much junk.

8 Mar 2011


Almost all of the time that I have spent in my "workshop" this past weeks has been devoted to organizing it to make the most of the space. I did find time here and there to work on the E-III restoration. Progress has not been note worthy.
I have assembled, though, the trap/gate assembly (as you can see in the picture). It´s been 3 years since I had taken it apart. So, pictures of it in its original state were mandatory to make sense of all the bits and pieces. :(

Pic taken on January 2008

7 Mar 2011


6 Mar 2011


Vertigo - A Smash-Hit Down Under!

Was it worth the more than one million dollars that it cost to restore Alfred Hitchcock's classic film, Vertigo.

The answer has to be an unqualified yes if the crowds that turned up to see the 70mm release at The Astor Theatre in Melbourne, Australia, are any guide.

More than 2,000 people were there for the first three screenings on a Sunday in late September - there were close to 1,000 in the audience at the late show alone!

By the end of the three-week run the results were the best The Astor had achieved for any re-release. In fact, they were nearly as good as those for the 70mm version of Hamlet. And that screening at The Astor broke all national, season-average records for a first-run release.

Vertigo also played in Sydney. It did well there although the figures were not as good as those for Melbourne which did 50% better in half the time.

The audiences were almost as fascinating as the film. Some were Hitchcock aficionados while others were simply intrigued by the Hitchcock legend. Many had seen the film some 30 years ago and wanted to see it presented in 70mm - a close as possible to how Hitchcock had meant it to be seen.

The Astor is superbly equipped for doing just that (see the August, 1997, issue of Wide Gauge). And it is the only cinema in Melbourne capable of screening the Vertigo restoration with 70mm DTS sound.

There was an almost-palpable sense of expectation as the film started. The screen masks, fully-open at 2:1 for the Universal logo, closed to about 1.8:1 when the old VistaVision logo appeared. It was faded and washed-out with a slight colour-cast. It looked as though it might have been the original logo left unrestored as a contrast to what was to follow.

And the first scenes, with James Stewart running across the roof-tops, had many people catching their breath.

It was clear that it was a restoration, that it was not an original, Technicolor print. There was a certain softness and, sometimes, the colours seemed somewhat pastel in nature. But the superb quality of the restoration became blindingly obvious during those few sequences for which the colour separations had deteriorated too much - the restorers had been forced to resort to the camera negative. The sheer detail and apparent accuracy of the colour must leave one in awe of the work done by Robert Harris and James Katz.

The full, 70mm frame was being projected so nothing of the image on the film was lost. It was most-interesting to see the VistaVision framing marks.

The 70mm DTS sound was stunning and, clearly, vastly superior to the original. The use of the surround and screen-effects channels was particularly effective during the driving sequences when vehicles in the background crossed from one side of the screen to the other.

There was a sync problem during the first reel with the sound leading the picture but it corrected itself after a while. It happened at every screening and appears to have been caused by errors in the time-code on the print.

One particular thing about the sound that caught the attention was the fact that music sometimes continued uninterrupted as the reel-change cue-marks appeared.

At The Astor, film from the shipping reels is combined to make-up 4,000-foot reels so not every set of cue-marks is at the physical end of a projection reel. But there were some continuing effects and music at actual change-overs.

The owner, manager and chief-projectionist of The Astor, George Florence, had noted them while previewing the print. He found that it was possible to change projectors with no discernible jump in the sound if the film was cued-up accurately and the change-overs made exactly on cue.

It is possible that Universal expected Vertigo to be shown using platters instead of reels - a view supported by the fact that some of the shipping reels had some very-odd film lengths. One, for example, had just eight minutes worth.

One thing that did give Florence some concern was the lack of audio back-up - there was only one set of discs and, of course, no fall-back sound-track on the film. However, he is certainly well aware of the huge financial and logistic benefits to be gained by producing in 70mm DTS instead of mag-stripe.

Leaving the technical aspects aside for a moment, how did the audiences react to the film?

Many people seeing Vertigo for the first time were expecting nail-biting suspense. But that's not what Vertigo is all about. It is a disturbing rather than a suspenseful movie - a story of obsession. Hitchcock meant to leave audiences with a feeling of disquiet. It certainly achieved that although there were several instances where the "dated" nature of some of the scenes gave rise to gentle, but not unkind, laughter.

Those who had seen Vertigo before were stunned - they felt that the 70mm restoration was much better than the 35mm screenings they had seen. Memories were sometimes a little hazy but everybody commented on the bigger screen-image and on the superb sound. As one member of the first-night audience put it, "I now feel that I had never really seen Vertigo until tonight."

It is noteworthy that most of the audience stayed to watch the closing credits which gave some insight into the work and the people involved in the restoration.

George Florence is obviously excited about the success of the Vertigo restoration. He hopes it will spur film-company executives to put up the money for the preservation or restoration of other wide-format films - there are undoubtedly enough of them in need of it!

He is certainly looking forward to the 1999 release in 70mm DTS of the Harris/Katz restoration of Rear Window. And he is looking at the possibility of getting new prints of some of the classics in 70mm DTS.

He also hopes that the digital system will encourage film makers to use the wide format. "The major cost with 70mm," Florence says, "has been adding the mag-striping and then recording the sound reel by reel. With DTS the cost of a 70mm print could be brought down to about three times that of a 35mm print instead of something like twelve times the cost."

As Scott Marshall, the Editor of Wide Gauge, put it, "That would be a nice side effect. I think that digital sound these days is so fine that it's starting to make the picture look bad in comparison. That's a surprise reason why digital sound may encourage large formats. It was previously thought to discourage them because it was assumed that mag tracks were 70mm's only advantage."

The Vertigo print went from The Astor to a, possibly-ambitious, five-week run in Adelaide, the capital city of the state of South Australia. It will then be screened in three other capital cities before returning to Melbourne and The Astor in February.

George Florence says he expects to get good houses at the second run of Vertigo as well. "Melbourne people seem to like nostalgia and classic films," he says. "And they are becoming increasingly aware of the advantages of wide-format presentations."

Apart from the return of Vertigo, The Astor's audiences can look forward to more screenings of the 70mm version of Hamlet, a new 70mm print of 2001 in December, the Harris/Katz 70mm restoration of Lawrence of Arabia at Christmas and a new 70mm mag-stripe print of Ben Hur next Easter.

"But," says Florence, "if I had known six months ago, when I was doing the deal, how successful 70mm DTS would be I would have ordered Ben Hur in that format instead of in mag-stripe and saved a bundle!"

© Copyright 1997 Ralphe Neill
Melbourne, Australia


(This article was first published in the October, 1997, issue of Wide Gauge Film and Video Monthly in the US)


The Castro dubbed San Francisco´s historic movie palace is located at 429 Castro Street (at Market), San Francisco, CA 94114. Telephone: (415) 621-6120.

The Castro Theatre was built in 1922 by pioneer San Francisco theatre entrepreneurs, the Nasser brothers, who started with a nickelodeon in 1908 in the Castro neighborhood.

The Castro was built at a cost of $300,000. The Castro's designer was Timothy L. Pflueger (1894-1946) who went on to become a famous Bay Area architect. Read more...

Sing-a-Long movies at the Castro Theatre give you an alternative way to enjoy campy old musicals. There aren't many places you can publicly sing along with a show without annoying everyone in the theater. Here, it's all about singing along. And the crowd participates to varying degrees, with some in full costume and others just along for the ride. Read more...

The Castro Theatre is truly an acre of seats in a palace of dreams!

5 Mar 2011

4 Mar 2011

IMAX Upgrade to 3D

2 Mar 2011


As far as I´m concerned, this is the end-all be-all projector to have.

All photos by the author.