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Q&A: 'Film restoration is about fixing up a film'
11 Aug 2008, 0006 hrs IST
Robert Gitt is the preservation officer at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Gitt's restoration of the dark 1955 classic, The Night of the Hunter, won him worldwide acclaim. In New Delhi recently, he spoke with Avijit Ghosh on the art of restoring films:
What is film restoration?
Film archives around the world are taking a number of steps to preserve films. One is conservation, which is simply taking care of old films, storing them in vaults with temperature and humidity control to make the celluloid last as long as possible. Then there is preservation that usually implies taking the reels on flammable nitrate film stock and transferring them to the more stable modern polyester film stock.
Film restoration is a more complicated form of preservation where you try to find missing scenes from a film because they were censored or because the studio went against the director's wishes and took some things out. You find them and put these things back in. It also involves fixing up a film. May be the colour has faded or the sound has become noisy because of scratches and wear and tear. One has to rid the film of all that. It takes a lot of time and effort.
Has digital technology improved the quality of film preservation?
Digital technology is wonderful in removing scratches and dirt particles. But you can also misuse the technology by changing the image in subtle and major ways. You can make certain colours appear brighter over others. You can bring details out of the shadows. It sounds like a good thing to do but it isn't supposed to happen. The scary thing about digital technology is it either works or doesn't. In the old analog film, you get warning signs. The film first begins to smell, then it begins to change colour. You know it is deteriorating and work on it. With digital everything is fine till one day it goes blank and you cannot play it anymore.
Is film restoration a costly exercise?
Yes. Using digital technology for restoration is even costlier. A black and white feature film that is about 90-120 minutes long will cost $30,000-$40,000 to restore. A technicolour film would cost between $1,00,000 and $1,50,000. Digital work could vary from $2,00,000 to a million dollars depending on the complications.
At the UCLA film archives, over the last 20 years, we have preserved about 350 feature films and hundreds of newsreels and animated films. My favourite is Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter . Laughton spent looking at D W Griffith's silent films before he made it. It is an unusual nightmarish film with beautiful dark cinematography. It is a very expressionist film that reminds you of the silent movies.
Copyright © 2008 Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd.
Talk about the work of collecting, restoring and preserving our film heritage here.