Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sid Kay's Fellows - Music in Pandora's Box

If you have seen Pandora's Box, especially the notorious wedding reception scene where the Countess Geschwitz (reportedly the first lesbian character in film history) dances with Lulu . . . then you may have noticed the musical group playing in the background. The name of the group, at times cut off by the camera or somewhat obscured by the movements of various dancers, can be spotted on the group's drum kit. They are a six member outfit called Sid Kay's Fellows. And, as it turns out, they were a real musical act of the time.

Founded in 1926 and led by Sigmund Petruschka ("Sid" - pictured center) and Kurt Kaiser ("Kay"), Sid Kay's Fellows were a popular ten member Jewish dance band based in Berlin. The group's depiction in Pandora's Box (filmed in late 1928) predates their career as recording artists. Sid Kay's Fellows, in fact, were most famous as a live act, the houseband  who performed at the Haus Vaterland (a leading Berlin night-spot) between 1930 and 1932. In early 1933, they even accompanied the great American jazz musician Sidney Bechet during his recitals in the German capitol. Sid Kay's Fellows also accompanied theatrical performances and played around Germany and Europe, including those in Munich, Dresden, Frankfurt, Vienna, Budapest, Barcelona and elsewhere.

In 1933, at the height of their popularity, Sid Kay's Fellows were forbidden to perform in public by  Nazi Party, which had just come to power.  The group disbanded, and transformed themselves into a studio orchestra which recorded for the Jewish label Lukraphon. Many of their recordings seem to date from around this time. [Some of these scattered recordings, issued on 78rpm records, can now be found on an out-of-print multi-disc CD set called Beyond Recall: A Record of Jewish Musical Life in Nazi Berlin, 1933-1938 (Bear Family Records, 2001).]

Here is a representative recording by Sid Kay's Fellows. It dates from 1930, and would, I guess, have been similar to the kind of dance music played during the wedding reception scene in Pandora's Box.

Not all that much is known about Sid Kay's Fellows. Under the name "John Kay," band leader Kurt Kaiser had also, at one time, been a member of the famous Weintraubs Syncopators (founded 1924), whose members included Friedrich Holländer. That group appeared in The Blue Angel (1930), starring Marlene Dietrich, a film for which Holländer wrote the music including its famous hit, "Falling in Love Again." I don't know if Kaiser was still playing with the group when they appeared in The Blue Angel. His fate from the 1930s onward is not known.

Sigmund Petrushka (1903-1997) was born Sigmund Leo Friedmann in Leipzig, Germany and grew up in a Jewish orthodox family. In 1933, Sid Kay's Fellows disbanded and he, under the name Shabtai Petrushka, founded a new musical group, while playing with The Orchestra of the Jewish Cultural Society and composing music for various plays. Using pseudonyms to disguise his being Jewish (as noted, there was a ban on Jewish musicians), Petrushka worked as a music arranger for Deutsche Gramophone and UFA films. In 1934, his fox-trot titled "Flying Hamburger" was recorded by James Kok for the Deutsche Gramophone label. In 1938, Petrushka was allowed to immigrate to Palestine, where his sister had been living since the 1920s.

Petrushka went on to a distinguished career: he joined the Palestine Broadcasting Service as composer, conductor and arranger of its orchestra. And in the first decade of the independent State of Israel, Petrushka served as Deputy director of the Music Programs Department of “Kol Yerushalaym” (“Voice of Jerusalem”). In 1958, he was appointed the Director of Music Section in “Kol Israel” ("Voice of Israel”), a post he held until his retirement. Some of Petrushka's recordings from the mid-1930's can be heard on this webpage devoted to Yiddish music.

If you are interested in finding out more, be sure and check out Michael H. Kater's Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany (Oxford University Press, 1992). There are also a few CDs of music from the time, including Berlin By Night (EMI, 1991), TanzSzene Berlin 1930 (Bob's Music, 2004), and German Tango Bands 1925-1939 (Harlequin, 1999).

When Pandora's Box debuted in Berlin in February of 1929, an orchestra playing a musical score accompanied the film. That score was reviewed in at least one Berlin newspaper. The score, however, does not survive. What is also not known is if the music of Sid Kay's Fellows, or any sort of jazz, played a part in the music of Pandora's Box.


On Saturday, July 14th the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will screen Pandora's Box, director G.W. Pabst's once controversial adaption of Frank Wedekind's Lulu plays. Pandora's Box (1929) is the Festival's centerpiece film, and the print which will be shown is a recently restored version screened only twice before. The film will be accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble, who will debut their original score to the film.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pandora's Box and the Celluloid Closet

This weekend, as San Francisco celebrates gay pride, it's worth looking at one interesting LGBT connection with silent film.

On Saturday, July 14th the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is set to screen Pandora's Box, director G.W. Pabst's once controversial adaption of Frank Wedekind's Lulu plays. Pandora's Box (1929) is the Festival's centerpiece film, and the print which will be shown is a recently restored version screened only twice before.

Pandora's Box is notable as it contains what is "probably the first explicitly drawn lesbian character" in the history of the movies. That's according to Vito Russo's 1981 book, The Celluloid Closet.

In this groundbreaking work, Russo goes on to note, "The adaptation of Frank Wedekind's two-part drama about Lulu, a woman 'driven by insatiable lusts,' starred Louise Brooks as Lulu and Belgian actress Alice Roberts as her passionate lesbian admirer, the Countess Geschwitz. Pabst explores the personality of Geschwitz with great range, manipulating the performance of Alice Roberts to achieve a believable woman with a lesbian nature."

After further consideration of the character, Russo adds ". . . in the context of both the Wedekind drama and the film it [referring to Geschwitz's lesbianism] is a motivating force in the action and it makes the debut of Sapphic passion onscreen an exciting cinematic event."

However, not everyone was so accepting at the time of the film's release. In fact, nearly all aspects of sexuality (straight and gay) in Pandora's Box were cut or altered. The film was attacked in Germany, where it was made, as well as in France, where censors thought it indecent for a father and son to vie sexually for the same woman. And, according to Russo, "British censors deleted the character of Geschwitz from Pandora's Box, and she did not appear in the initial release version of the film in the United States."

Alice Roberts (left) as the Countess Geschwitz glares at the man who dares come
between her and Louise Brooks in a scene from G W. Pabst's Pandora's Box (1929).

In fact, by the time Pandora’s Box debuted in the United States in December of 1929, nearly a third of the film was missing. Photoplay, one of the leading American film magazines of the time, quipped “When the censors got through with this German-made picture featuring Louise Brooks, there was little left but a faint, musty odor.”

For whatever reason, society has long been more receptive to female homosexuality than male homosexuality. In the movies, however, gay male characters were depicted first, notably in earlier German films such as Different from the Others (1919) staring Conrad Veidt, Michael (1924) directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Sex in Chains (1928) directed by and staring William Dieterle. All three present a more sympathetic - if not wholly approving - look at homosexuality.

Was Geschwitz the first overtly lesbian character depicted in a film? The answer is likely yes. Check out Pandora's Box on July 14th in San Francisco to see for yourself. [History is always being written: if you know of an earlier (pre-1929) instance of a lesbian character in the movies, please post details in the comments field.]


Vito Russo (1946 – 1990) was an American LGBT activist, film historian and author who spent the last year of his life teaching at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was 44 when he died, and it is claimed that some of his ashes rest inside the walls of the Castro Theater (the venue of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival). A documentary film on the life of Russo, Vito, premiered at the 2011 New York Film Festival and is set to air on HBO on July 23 of this year.

A German newspaper caricature from 1929.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Archivist's Corner

First, apologies for a missed week in my "weekly" blog.  At times, the world throws a bit too much at you.  For me, that time was last week.  Now, onto this week's restoration!

Fueled by glamor and immense spectacle, The Loves of Pharaoh (dir. Lubitsch, Germany, 1921) was at once the most expensive and one of the most visually striking German films of its time.  It was director Ernst Lubitsch's final feature before beginning his directorial career in Hollywood and, enjoyed a profitable and lengthy run in cinemas both in Europe and the United States.  Why, then, have so few people today heard of or seen the film?  Like so many films of the silent era, The Loves of Pharaoh was all but forgotten about with the coming of sound, and it took nearly a century for enough film material to be located to reconstruct the film once again.  In the late 1990s and mid 2000s prints of the film were found--where else?--in the world's film archives.
An original German Poster for The Loves of Pharaoh
In true Lubitsch fashion, and with significant funding from Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, The Loves of Pharaoh displayed its grandeur with elaborate costumes and realistic sets.  The set designer Ernst Stern boasted that no miniatures were used for the film.  Instead, giant Egyptian palaces were built on the site of a sand mine in a suburb of Berlin.  To the unsuspecting viewer, it would have looked like the film was shot on location in northern Africa.
The most elaborate of the film's sets.
The restoration project was coordinated by Bundesarchiv in Berlin, but involved the cooperation of a number of different archives.  A Russian release print which had been screening in Germany for years acted as the seed for the restoration project.  With only Russian intertitles and a significant amount of the film missing, the first break came in the discovery of a large portion of the film's ending in a French film archive.  These fragments along with production stills, an original score composed by Eduard Künneke, and an original screenplay began to reveal the film's original construction.  Unfortunately, much of the film was still missing completely, and the project seemed like it might have been a lost cause.

Then, in 2006, it was revealed that George Eastman House in Rochester, NY had received an Italian release print of the film as part of a large collection from Italian film collector Roberto Pallme.  While this print was also incomplete, it miraculously complemented the Russian print nearly shot for shot, leaving almost an entire film.

Thanks to digital technology, ALPHA-OMEGA digital was able to use the nitrate material and original score to re-introduce the film's original tinted colors, in addition to digitally repairing film damage.
An example of a new, digitally-tinted frame.
Also remarkable about the restoration of The Loves of Pharaoh is that for the first time, the original score by German opera composer Eduard Künneke, which was an instrumental element in restoring the film in the first place, is available for audiences to hear.  On the forthcoming Blu-Ray and DVD release of the restored film, the re-recorded soundtrack will be available for the first time ever on recorded media.  And audiences seeing the film live can have the opportunity to see the film with a full orchestra, as it was originally intended.
To see The Loves of Pharaoh in all its restored glory, come out to the 17th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  In addition to seeing a long-lost Lubitsch classic, audiences will also get to see the director's first use of key lighting, a technique he had discovered in Hollywood just before making The Loves of Pharaoh.  Key lighting is a technique whereby sets are lit from within, rather than just from the front.  At the time, lighting a set in this way was quite revolutionary.

The Loves of Pharaoh will screen Friday, July 13th at 4:00 PM.  See you at the Castro!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Only one month to go

SFSFF17 Announcement Party Invitation
Only one month to go until
the 17th SF Silent Film Festival --
time to make travel and hotel reservations! 
  .We encourage you to stay with our Hotel Sponsors, who are offering special rates for SFSFF attendees.
They, like you, make the Silent Film Festival possible!

Hotel Carlton  Hotel Rex
Orchard Hotel and Orchard Garden Hotel
Queen Anne Hotel
For full details, visit the hotels page on our website. 
___________________________________________________________________ . 
 Buy your Festival Pass in person at either McRoskey or Books Inc. Castro  
- no handling fees applied!  
Members get their discount by presenting their membership card.
Visit the Ticket Info page on our website for store hours and locations.
.*     *     * 
Tickets and passes are also available online - click here to purchase
Scott Williams, recent graduate of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, is this year's Silent Film Festival Fellow. You can find him every Friday in The Archivist's Corner of the SFSFF blog, posting excellent and beautifully illustrated articles about how "archives, production houses, studios, and laboratories are using digital technologies to revisit, reconstruct, and restore silent films in ways that weren't possible a decade ago."
Silent Film Festival Members get discounts on tickets and passes to SFSFF17  
and to Silent Film Festival events throughout the year.  
Member benefits at different levels can also include admission to the  
Opening Night Party, early entrance privilege, reserved seating, and access  
to the Spotlight Lounge on the Castro Mezzanine -- and more! 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

WINGS with sensational sound effects

Here is another newspaper advertisements for Wings, the 1927 William Wellman film which went on to win the first  "Best Picture" Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It comes from Newark, New Jersey and dates from November, 1928.

A restored print of Wellman’s World War One epic will be shown at this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival on Thursday, July 12 at 7 pm at the historic Castro Theater ion San Francisco. The film will be introduced by the director's son, William Wellman Jr., and will be accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra with Foley sound effects by Academy Award winner Ben Burtt. More info here. Prior to and following the film, Wellman Jr. will be signing copies of his outstanding book, The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

WINGS See it at popular prices

Here is another newspaper advertisements for Wings, the 1927 William Wellman film which went on to win the first  "Best Picture" Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It comes from Bradford, Pennsylvania and dates from January, 1929.

A restored print of Wellman’s World War One epic will be shown at this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival on Thursday, July 12 at 7 pm at the historic Castro Theater ion San Francisco. The film will be introduced by the director's son, William Wellman Jr., and will be accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra with Foley sound effects by Academy Award winner Ben Burtt. More info here. Prior to and following the film, Wellman Jr. will be signing copies of his outstanding book, The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Newspaper advertisements for WINGS

Here are a couple of especially fine newspaper advertisements for Wings, the sensational 1927 William Wellman film which went on to win the first  "Best Picture" Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Wellman’s World War One epic is a rousing action film with extraordinary visual effects. A restored print from Paramount Pictures will be shown at this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival on Thursday, July 12 at 7 pm at the historic Castro Theater ion San Francisco. The film will be accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra with Foley sound effects by Academy Award winner Ben Burtt. More info here.

The above showing of Wings at the Solon Theatre in Spencer, Iowa was one of the earlier showings after its long New York City engagements. This advertisement from September 1928 appears to be for a regular screening, not the Road Show version of the film with touring orchestra and sound effects. The Syracuse, New York advertisement from November, 1928 notes the addition of sound effects.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Could WINGS have been a 3-D film?

Wings was the first film to be award the "Best Picture" Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But could it have been  one of the first 3-D feature films as well? This 1927 article seems to suggest as much. The article was published in a San Antonio newspaper shortly before Wings had its world premiere in that Texas town, near where much of the film was made.

To celebrate their centennial, Paramount Pictures has lovingly restored Wings - one of the studio's biggest films of the silent era. Director William A. Wellman’s epic is a rousing action film and a tender romance, with extraordinary visual effects. The breathtaking dogfight scenes exhibit spectacular aerial photography enhanced by the restoration of the film's original tinting. This restored print from Paramount Pictures will be accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra with Foley sound effects by Academy Award winner Ben Burtt.

When Wings debuted at the Criterion Theater in New York in August 1927, it was shorter than the version premiered in Texas. It was also presented with differing effects. Nevertheless, Wings is a singular accomplishment both technically and artistically. It will be shown (alas without 3-D effects) at this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival on Thursday, July 12 at 7 pm at the historic Castro Theater. More info here.

Here is a transcript of the article, "Wonder Film Inventor in City."


San Antonio on Tuesday became the center of startling experiments which may revolutionize the motion picture industry when Lorenzo del Rccio, Paramount - Famous - Lasky technical expert, announced that he was in the midst of research which may culminate in the long-sought goal "solid" or three-dimensional pictures.

Ultra-violet rays, projection of films in a lighted room, with "black" light and on a black screen by means of infra-red rays, parabolic screens four times larger than present-day flat screens, cooling of film temperature from 1400 degree centrigrade to 84 degrees, and the development of huge arc lights in a nitrogen atmosphere—these were some of the things that Mr. Eiccio revealed.


San Antonio will see the result of part of these experiments at the  showing of "Wings" at the Texas Theater on next Thursday night at 8:30 o'clock. Besides being the first city ever to break a precedent of a world premiere, San Antonio will also have the rare opportunity of witnessng the result of research which some day will turn the projection phase of the motion picture industry topsyturvy, Mr. Riccio predicts.

One instance will be the effect of depth in "Wings." On a curved screen four times the size of the usual flat screen, the spectators will see battle scenes in proper depth and proportion, with a perspective never before achieved.


At the same time, it was announced on Tuesday that Jesse L. Lasky, first vice president of the Paramount organization, has accepted Gen. Paul B. Malone's invitation to a dinner prior to the showing of 'Wings," Governor Pan Moody is also to attend this dinner, it was stated. Mr. Lasky will arrive on Thursday. Lucien Hnbbard, producer of "Wings"; Mrs. Hubbard, William Wellman, director, and Mrs. Wellman, John Monk Saunders, author and Carl Pierson will arrive on Wednesday with the film. Harry Reynolds, sound expert, arrived Tuesday afternoon with his equipment to reproduce the sound of airplane motors and the crackle of machine guns.


Work of installing the Magnascope equipment, of which Mr, Riccio is the inventor, was under way on Tuesday. As he worked, the inventor who a few years ao was laughed at by all motion picture producers because he declared that he could project films on screens four times the
size of usual ones, revealed to The Light some of the startling experiments of which he is pioneer. No one as yet has followed Mr. Riccio in this research, it was revealed.

"The problem of projecting motion pictures in three-dimension or with stereoscopic effect was first approached in the orthodox manner," he said. "Special projection machines with two separate sets of lenses, reproducing the effect of human vision were used. This was, of course, the principle of the stereoscope. But the machines are so fragile and so complicated that it would involve the scraping all film equipment used now - an impossible procedure.


"I went to work at it from the screen angle. A parabolic screen, many times larger than the  present-day flat screen, will show pictures in foreground, middle ground and background in a sort of perspective. This is what you will see in 'Wings."

"In working out the projection problem I was faced with the difficulty of proper light. No one, since Edison turned over the first motion picture machine to the public, had experimented with it. Light was and is produced by means of carbon rods heated to incandescence by electric current. The temperature here is 2000 degrees Centigrade, 'The effect of projection lenses focussing these rays and this heat on a highly inflammable film (composed of the same ingredients, celluloses, that make dynamite) is to heat the film terrifically. One pause as it slips through the reel, and it bursts into  flame; hence the fires in motion picture theaters. I needed more light and less heat—I had to cool the film to find "cold light."


'Now I cooled the film by means of carbon dioxide blowers—cooled it from 1400 degrees Centigrade to 34. That was one advance. But I needed more light. We have been trying projection, in a well-lighted room, of pictures on a black screen with 'black' light, using infra-red rays for the purpose. The screen was of a special substance so the figures fluoresced—came out glowing, a sort of steely color.

"I plan next to use ultra-violet rays, which will produce a bluegreen glow. I wished to use more current in the projection lamps, and devised holders of the hardest metal known. It melted like ice. These were some of the difficulties encountered. I plan to use carbons in a nitrogen atmosphere,' something not attempted hitherto. In other words, I have approached the problem of stereoscopic projection from the screen angle, and have had to go hack to lenses and lights as well—specially ground lenses and more powerful lights.

"I have no hesitancy in predicting, however, that movies will be solid."


Friday, June 8, 2012

The Archivist's Corner

Film restoration work is always a blend of archaeology, artistry, and a little bit of luck.  A perfect example of the balance of all three can be seen in the recent restoration of THE SPANISH DANCER (1923) by the EYE Film Institute in the Netherlands.

A lobby card from THE SPANISH DANCER
The film, directed by Herbert Brenon, is widely credited with launching the American movie career of Hollywood-newbie Pola Negri.  Negri was the first in a slew of European starts to be imported to Hollywood in the early and mid 1920s, and THE SPANISH DANCER was the first film which made audiences take notice to the young starlet.  Unfortunately, time was not kind to this film about a gypsy dancer and her love affair with a poor nobleman.  Over the years the film was edited, shortened, condensed, and reissued in versions which eliminated much of the original release's humor and charm, leaving behind a stuffy costume drama with a thin plot.  It was this false perception, and the availability of many of the film's original intertitles which was the impetus for the film's restoration.

Like many restoration projects, some of the more major concerns facing the archivists in charge of restoring THE SPANISH DANCER were missing footage, damage and deterioration of the existent footage, and a lack of reference for how the complete film should be constructed.  The latter problem was the first to be solved, when an original cutting continuity was located at the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  A cutting continuity, in addition to detailing the order in which shots and titles are to be cut together also provides the footage for each shot in the film, making continuities an archivist's best friend.

With the continuity located, the next step was to locate the film material in the best condition.  The majority of the restored film's footage came from four sources: a nitrate 35mm print from the EYE Institute, a nitrate 35mm print from the Belgian Film Archive in Brussels, a 16mm print from Lobster Films in Paris, and a 16mm Print from Photoplay Productions.

With the necessary material assembled to constitute a true restoration of the print, the dirty work of repairing, piecing together, and restoring the images commenced.  In order to properly restore the film's images and remove damage such as what's shown in the image below, all film elements were first scanned at 2K resolution to be worked on as a digital intermediate (DI).
Nitrate film deterioration in THE SPANISH DANCER
In order to repair the damage and deterioration in the film elements, the archivists used DIAMANT's film restoration software.  After the digital files were created from the 2K scan, the folks at EYE and Haghefilm, a specialized restoration laboratory in the Netherlands, set to work removing damage, deterioration, dirt, and excessive instability from the film.  Below are some before and after examples of their results.

This image shows severe nitrate decomposition at the left and right edges of the frame.
Before digital restoration...
...and after.

Restoration software can borrow information from similar images to restore a frame where information has been lost due to a poor splice, such as in this frame.  Notice the top of the man's head.
 Another example of digital restoration...
Once the painstaking process of removing the damage was complete, the restoration work began on reintroducing the film's original tinted color back into the restored film.  The cutting continuity also provided tinting instructions, and by using the tinted Dutch nitrate print for a color reference,  new Desmet prints were created.  Thanks of the nature of the Desmet printing process, a black and white negative, which won't fade the way a color negative will, was created for preservation purposes.
A picture showing an original, tinted nitrate print.
As Rob Byrne, one of the archivists who worked on the project, is quick to point out, the restoration software was only used to repair what has been done to the film since it's release.  Care was taken not to remove instability that was present in the original camera or film printers, eliminate frame lines which would have been visible in 1923, etc.  In this way, the archivists in charge of this project have not only restored a beautiful work of cinematic art, but also preserved the experience of seeing a silent film in 1923.

To see THE SPANISH DANCER (1923) in all its restored glory, come out to the 17th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, where the film will be screened on Saturday, July 14th at noon.  See you there!

Special thanks to Rob Byrne, president of the San Francisco Silent Festival, for providing me with the images and background to this fascinating project, and for helping to bring this wonderful film back to life.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Archivist's Corner

It's Friday, which means it's time to delve (briefly) into the world of film preservation!  So bring your loupe and a pair of white cotton gloves--and don't mind that vinegar smell, you'll get used to it after awhile.  Before turning to specific restorations which are scheduled to screen at this year's festival, I'd like to familiarize you with a few of the more common technologies available to restorationists and archivists today.  In addition to the many tools offered by photochemical preservation, the film restorers of today utilize a wide range of digital technology to make old films available to scholars, researchers, and the public.

Don't get me wrong, these folks still get their hands dirty.  We still dig through smelly, rusted piles of old film cans and wind through reels of decomposing celluloid in search of the missing footage from Greed.  But once the dirty work is done, there is a host of new technology available to aid preservationists in restoring classic films to their original brilliance.
You're doin' it wrong...
Datacine and Film Scanners
A datacine is a machine which captures film digitally with a CCD (charged-coupled device), and converts the original film information into a standardized video format so that the images can be manipulated further on a computer.  Film scanners, which are becoming more and more popular for their high resolution scanning capabilities, are devices which capture images one frame at a time and store the images individually, to be interpreted later by software as a moving image.
The ARRISCAN is one of the most popular film scanners in the world for restoration work.
Newer film scanners are capable of scanning and outputting at resolutions of up to 6K or 8K (with talk of scanners that can go up to 10K or 12K).  To put that into perspective, most modern Hollywood movies which are shown digitally in theaters are presented in 2K (or up-converted to 4K resolution).  Many in the archival field believe that even the most high quality film stock doesn't go much beyond the 4K or 6K range.  But with a 12K scanner, maybe we could zoom into each individual grain of film!

In addition to capturing high resolution images from our films, the latest film scanners and datacines are remarkably gentle on film.  Most have very few (or no) sprockets and use tension for transporting the film. All-in-all, these machines are helping preservationists work with and restore films which might otherwise be lost.

Restoration Software
Once our film has been digitized, it is commonly restored using a restoration software suite such as Blackmagic Davinci Resolve or Diamant.  These software packages are incredibly robust solutions for the manipulation of digital images.  They can perform in-depth color correction to return a film to its original look and feel.  Restoration software can reduce the instability that film inherits when it deteriorates, remove dirt and dust that even the best film cleaners will miss, and eliminate scratches or replace missing parts of an image.  These software packages are so sophisticated that the only real limitation is the creativity and training of the operator.  Unfortunately, their price tags (upwards of $20,000 in some cases) sometimes make them unavailable for many non-profit institutions.

Examples of the results from Diamant film restoration software.
The seemingly limitless potential applications of this type of software are a huge boon for those who wish to make old films available again.  But of course, with great power comes great responsibility.  It is up to the individuals using this software to ensure that films are not over-corrected.  By using the software's features too aggressively, its not difficult at all to go above and beyond the film's original look and feel, resulting in a sterile, flat image with none of the character of a classic film.  This is where a thorough knowledge of the technical and artistic history of film is the archivist's best friend.  Its imperative not remove "imperfections" in a film that may be limitations of the technology from the time period or even artistic choices.

After all of the hard work, the film can be printed back to film stock to be shown in its full glory in a theater, outputted to a Digital Cinema Package for a theater which no longer retains the ability to project film, or compressed and disseminated through the internet to reach audiences all over the world.  These technologies, along with tried-and-true methods of film conservation and preservation, are allowing a new generation of moving image archivists to share classic treasures of cinema.

Join me again next week, when I'll start to go in-depth about some of the fascinating restoration projects which will be on display at the 17th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival in July.  Each week from now on I'll highlight a different film and talk about the amazing people and methods behind its restoration.  See you next week!