Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

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oldposterho

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Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostTue Nov 04, 2014 9:38 am

Not sure if this belongs here or in Tech Talk, mods feel free to move...

Anyway, was wondering if anybody knows what the correct FPS speed for a Regular 8mm Blackhawk condensed film of a 1926 silent would be? That is, if one were to contemplate (as an intellectual exercise) doing a film to digital transfer of said 8mm film, would it be more 'correct' at 18 or 24 FPS. Did they just transfer what they had (seems most likely) or did they do frame manipulations to adjust the projection rate (seems way less likely). If the former case it would seem best in this instance to use 24 FPS, in the latter 18 FPS, given that by '26 films were shot originally much closer to 24 than 16 or 18 FPS.

To derail the obvious, I don't have 8mm projection equipment anymore so I can't just run it to see what looks best, that's why I'm asking the pros here. This is for a film that only exists (at the moment) on these 8 and 16mm home versions, otherwise it is lost.

Many thanks for any insights.

--Peter
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BenModel

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Re: Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostTue Nov 04, 2014 9:50 am

24 fps. Just ask silent era movie star Milton Sills.

(let the fps fistfights begin!)

Ben
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Re: Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostTue Nov 04, 2014 10:58 am

BenModel wrote:24 fps. Just ask silent era movie star Milton Sills.

(let the fps fistfights begin!)

Ben


But, Ben, who will play the accompanyment?

Bob
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oldposterho

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Re: Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostTue Nov 04, 2014 12:16 pm

Thanks, Ben. That's what I thought, just wanted to make sure. Great link too.

Was treading lightly so as not to (re)ignite any of the great FPS wars.

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BenModel

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Re: Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostTue Nov 04, 2014 1:58 pm

You might also want to check out my silentfilmspeed YouTube channel.

Am giving my 'illustrated lecture' on the subject at MoMA on Nov 22.

Ben
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Christopher Jacobs

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Re: Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostTue Nov 04, 2014 2:20 pm

I'd also suggest starting with 24fps, not knowing the title or production company, but it could still depend on the individual film. While the Hollywood studios were averaging around 24 fps by the mid-20s, independent and foreign productions might be more likely to look best between 20-22 fps (possibly even slower), even by 1926.
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oldposterho

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Re: Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostTue Nov 04, 2014 3:06 pm

It's a Pathe Harry Carey western - The Frontier Trail, (I'd still prefer to use a Super 8 or 16mm copy if anybody has one. See: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=18879 ). At this point it's just a personal experiment, not trying to bust anybody's copyright, assuming one exists or they care...

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LouieD

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Re: Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostTue Nov 04, 2014 5:13 pm

BenModel wrote:You might also want to check out my silentfilmspeed YouTube channel.

Am giving my 'illustrated lecture' on the subject at MoMA on Nov 22.

Ben


I have to say I caught Ben's lecture at Cinefest this year and it was terrific! A must for all silent film fans!
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Bob Birchard

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Re: Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostTue Nov 04, 2014 5:14 pm

boblipton wrote:
BenModel wrote:24 fps. Just ask silent era movie star Milton Sills.

(let the fps fistfights begin!)

Ben


But, Ben, who will play the accompanyment?

Bob


Ben's quoting Milton Sills to the contrary nothwithstanding, it is too simple to say that everything should be projected at 24fps, or that everything was photographed at 16fps in the silent era.

The SMPE standard, adopted in 1924 I believe, was to photograph at 20 fps and project at 24fps. So, yes, it is true that enhanced speed was an intended feature of American silent film presentation, but not anything like the 1/3 faster projecting speed Sills (or his ghost writer) refer to.

The reason that the SMPE selected 24fps for projection speed is that it was found to be the average speed used by projectionists in the Los Angeles area circa 1924, which does not necessarily indicate that this was he correct speed, but only that it was the predominating projection speed.

It is certainly true that filmmakers and actors attempted to compensate for excessive projection speeds by slowing their performances somewhat (primarily in dramas), and this is one of the reasons why early talkies are so deadly slow. Actors are moving at the pace they used for silent acting, but they are suddenly thrust into a world where performance and projection were (for the first time) locked into real time.

But just because the SMPE standards said to shoot at 20fps does not mean that filmmakers followed the recommendation. Fox, for example, continued to shoot at 16fps for many of their pictures (The Great K & A Train Robbery is a good example), but that film was not intended to be shown at 24 fps (although it almost certainly was shown at that speed on a number of occasions).

I think the best analogy can be seen in the theory and practice of the time. Bread and Butter silent Western features were generally released at 5 reels in length (a reel being defined as roughly 1,000 feet of 35mm film, The Great K & A Train Robbery at 4,800 feet serves as an example here, as well). However, when sound came in, what had been a five-reel average, suddenly jumped to a six-reel average. In other words, the running time goal was roughly 60 minutes. That time frame could be achieved via projection in the silent era by slowing the cranking speed, but with sound the film would have needed to be released at roughly 5,400 feet (on 6 reels) to maintain the intended running time.

It is clear that The Great K & A Train Robbery was not intended to be projected at 16fps, that would have given it an 80 minute running time, rather it was meant to be projected at something like 80 feet per minute to maintain a 60 minute running time--faster than the average taking speed of 16fps, but slower than 24fps.

It should also be noted that many of the early sound Westerns also resorted to periodic undercranking for fight and chase scenes, just as they would have in the silent era, as ludicrous as that undercranking may seem when played against a real-time sound track.

M-G-M, on the other hand, often cranked their silent cameras at a speed well above 90 feet a minute, and these films actually play slower than intended on standard 24fps sound projectors

It is equally clear from Charlie Chaplin's reissues of A Dog’s Life, Shoulder Arms and The Pilgrim in THE CHAPLIN REVUE that he did not believe 24 fps was the proper speed at which to run his comedy films from the late 1910s. While the merits of step or stretch printing (duplicating each second frame to “create” an imaginary third frame, thereby converting 16fps shot footage to artificial 24fps footage) can be debated, Chaplin clearly felt it was preferable to running the films at what he perceived to be too fast. By the time of The Pilgrim (1922) Chaplin seemed to feel that camera cranking speeds could stand 24fps projection, for he limited the stretch-printed scenes in this film for THE CHAPLIN REVUE.

Test footage survives from The Iron Mask (1929) in which Douglas Fairbanks and his crew try different cranking speeds in order to achieve the most fluid on-screen action. This footage is fascinating, but it also demonstrates that filmmakers were well aware of the impact of taking vs. projecting speeds to achieve a desired on-screen flow of action.

Music cue sheets also often have scene or total running timings for films and offer clues. Often trade reviews of the time will give running times, and one can extrapolate the projection speed from the footage vs. the screen time.

Conversely, in the very early days, D. W. Griffith and Billy Bitzer seem to be cranking their cameras somewhere in the range of 10 to 12fps. Even at 16fps or 18fps projection speed, the Biograph films seem overly hasty.

So, the best answer is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of proper silent projection speed.
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Re: Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostTue Nov 04, 2014 8:51 pm

Blackhawk (and later Film Preservation Associates) actually recorded soundtracks at 18 fps for some of their teens silents with a music score. The titles that I have on 16mm are:

I'm On My Way (1919) Harold Lloyd short
The Non-Stop Kid (1918) Harold Lloyd short
Two-Gun Gussie (1918) Harold Lloyd short
The Noon Whistle (1923) Stan Laurel short
Love, Speed and Thrills (1915) Mack Sennett short
The Grocery Clerk (1920) Larry Semon short
The Thieving Hand (1908) Vitagraph short

My projector only runs at 24 fps, so I've screened all of these at the faster speed with the music speeded up.
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BenModel

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Re: Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostTue Nov 04, 2014 9:10 pm

Bob, thanks for posting all this. I'd love to see the Iron Mask test footage. Which archive has it? After I gave my talk at Cinefest earlier this year, David Shepard reminded me that Chaplin was doing the same thing on Modern Times, shooting sequences like the feeding machine at 16 or 18 and deciding later which looked best.

Projection or transfer speed is subjective to some degree, but it's usually faster than cranking speed.

Ben
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BenModel

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Re: Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostTue Nov 04, 2014 10:46 pm

Bob Birchard wrote:Music cue sheets also often have scene or total running timings for films and offer clues.


Ironically, the cue sheet for "Sunrise" lists a speed of 12 mins per reel (about 21 fps) and with completely different cues from the Movietone score; the sound release is at 24 fps (or 11 mins per reel or 90 feet per min), and K. Brownlow sent me an article from Variety in which Murnau complained to William Fox that the film should be running at 100 ft per min ( clsoer to 27 fps). Go figure.

Ben
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Re: Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostTue Nov 04, 2014 11:53 pm

Most (all?) of the Blackhawk Biographs had 18fps soundtracks, including THOSE AWFUL HATS and MUSKETEERS OF PIG ALLEY.
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Re: Correct Blackhawk Silents Projection Speed?

PostWed Nov 05, 2014 12:21 pm

Jack Theakston wrote:Most (all?) of the Blackhawk Biographs had 18fps soundtracks, including THOSE AWFUL HATS and MUSKETEERS OF PIG ALLEY.


Agreed, I have Those Awful Hats and forgot to include it above.

The Biographs with the Killiam narration, like What Drink Did are meant for 24 fps. I don't know if Paul Killiam stretch printed them or not.

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