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A few words about... the image and audio restoration of "Vertigo" and DVD


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#1 of 55 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted October 08 2005 - 06:03 AM

Working within the studio system can alternately be both an extremely satisfying, as well as a frustrating experience, especially when one wishes to place art over commerce. When we perform restorations, we are able to control them and take them as far as possible, within the limitations of that system. Considering the alternatives, which no one but a few people ever heard, the new mix for "Vertigo" is as close as we were permitted to get to the original intent. It must be understood that "the studio" is not the bad guy here. This was simply a matter of everyone's needs being met to a certain extent. To that accord, our needs were fairly met, as were there's. A few comments regarding image and audio: The image: Photographed in VistaVision on a later example of Eastman Color 5248, and optically reduction printed to Technicolor matrices for dye transfer printing, the dye transfer prints of “Vertigo” look little like the original negatives from which they were derived. The overall look of the prints tended toward “grainless,” with high contrast, which served to hide what was, in reality, a slightly soft image structure. Contrast yields “apparent” sharpness. Color was hyped, especially in the reds to give it the Technicolor look. The original negative of “Vertigo” as it now exists, has a totally collapsed yellow layer. Yellow controls contrast and blue, which means that reproduction of black is impossible, shadows go blue, blacks and grays go varying shades of blue, and facial highlights can take on a beautiful “crustacean-like” appearance, especially nice if the viewers are lobsters. The separation masters, although well produced, are on acetate base stock, and no longer register. If we were to restore “Vertigo” today, we would use methodology that we have been using only for the past few years, and working totally within the digital realm. With these newer processes, the film could now look more accurate to the original. The majority of “Vertigo” was created via the production of new interpositives struck from the camera originals with very specific modifications to exposure and processing in an attempt to bring back as much of the color as possible. At all times, the battle was a question of more proper color vs. poor registration of color layers. One could never have both. Dupes began with fifth generation elements and got worse from there. The audio: The tracks for “Vertigo” were quite different from those of Rear Window in one very basic arena. They contained what is considered by some to be one of the finest symphonic scores ever created for a motion picture, and we concur. The original magnetic tracks for “Vertigo” were junked by order of Mr. Hitchcock’s company on February 6, 1967. The only domestic audio element delivered to Universal by virtue of their agreement with the estate in 1983 was the original 35mm optical sound track negative, which at that time was no longer printable. This meant that the only audio source for “Vertigo” were a handful of used 35mm release prints, with worn track areas. A number of prints were assembled in order to create one complete audio track for the film. Dependant upon the date of production, and the amount of physical wear on the original track negatives, they also contained built-in scratches, nicks and positive dirt. About 1994, Mr. Katz and I located, with the cooperation of Paramount Pictures, the original orchestral floor recordings for the four Hitchcock Paramount titles. These recordings were in short sections and in an advanced state of decay due to Vinegar Syndrome. Dubs of these sections had been built into music stems for the final mix. This meant that the final magnetic master, which included music, was a third generation magnetic element. The optical sound track negative was a fourth generation element and that 35mm prints were fifth generation (optical) audio. The music recordings were transferred as precisely as possible to new full coat magnetic stock. The resultant master dubs, which became the source of a new CD of the score, were played at the Hitchcock Theatre at Universal Studios for a number of people inclusive of critics, studio executives and members of Mr. Hitchcock’s team. Mr. Hitchcock’s producer, Herbert Coleman, was on our team. A comparison of these recordings with what had survived as optical dupes led every individual involved to concur that a new stereo element should be created to replace the earlier recordings specifically for a new 70mm 6 track stereo re-issue of the film. Because there were no surviving magnetic elements, there were no separate tracks for effects or dialogue. This meant that the dialogue for the film had to be carefully culled from its optical source. Because music was sometimes a background factor, the new score had to be reproduced at slightly higher levels. During our research we were able to locate Mr. Hitchcock’s personal notes regarding the handling of the audio for the film, inclusive of specific notes for daily dubbing sessions. It was our intent to not only follow these notes, but also to play, contrast and compare the new Foley and effects tracks with what had survived of the optical on a scene by scene basis to stay absolutely true to the original intent of the filmmakers, acknowledging that (from research culled from foreign tracks) that more information was held within the magnetic originals than ever reached the optical negative stage. This varied from version to version, and the various mixes of foreign elements. One piece of music, which did not survive the ravages of vineger syndrome, and which had a great deal of wow and flutter in the U.S. optical recording, was found without the problem in a Spanish dubbbed version and replaced. Our efforts, which tended more toward a methodical archival bent in reproducing the wishes of the filmmakers was not, however, in synchronization with the desires of the studio, which decided toward the creation of an entirely new mix for the re-issue. This is their right. And it must be noted that the studio sound department went far out of their way to newly record the full gamut of effects and Foley necessary for the film. In the final analysis, the monaural track that we would have liked to have used as reference “went missing” at the time of our dub sessions. The new tracks are quite toned down from what they were originally, as with the help of interested filmmakers, we were able to get the studio to pull back somewhat on their wish for wall to wall modern effects, and the sound of a more modern entertainment. The final resultant tracks, while not what we would have desired as a reference standard are far and away closer to the original than we would have had, had we not continuously requested a lessoning in the effects area. The point here is that neither Mr. Katz nor I work in a vacuum. We attempt to bring things as close to perfection as we can, based upon two things: the state of the art at the time that the work is performed, and the desires of the studio for whom the work is being performed, and who control the property. Do we approve of the new mix and do we personally like it? Absolutely! Like the recent DVDs from Disney of their animated classics, the new stereo tracks for "Vertigo" neither replace the ghost which remains of the original, nor has caused them further damage or decay. While not perfectly in the spirit of the original, they work well, especially when the film is seen on a huge screen and in 70mm, not as an artifact from half a century ago, but as a new piece of entertainment for a new audience. In many ways the new tracks take the film further than it was ever able to go, especially when re-creating the magical sound of Mr. Herrmann's score as it was originally played and recorded in 1958. Along with the studio, we take great pride in this track. The fact that it does not perfectly replicate what is left of the original is a totally different affair. The creative process is very much a matter of give and take. Beginning with slightly different final concepts, and with incredible help from the studio, a new set of tracks were created, which meet our various needs and desires squarely in the middle -- a modern track, making full use of the original music recordings, and with a mix of old and new technology, sometimes keeping with the old, and sometimes moving off into new directions. RAH

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#2 of 55 OFFLINE   Mark Lucas

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Posted October 08 2005 - 06:31 AM

Wait a minute, the new Vertigo dvd in the Hitchcock boxset has a new 5.1 mix or are you referring to the infamous '96 rerelease 5.1 mix that disgusted just about everyone here?

#3 of 55 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted October 08 2005 - 06:43 AM

Thanks, Mr. Harris, for the detailed insight. Regards, Steve

#4 of 55 OFFLINE   m.cellophane

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Posted October 08 2005 - 06:46 AM

Thank you, Mr. Harris, for your efforts to restore Vertigo. It was the first disc from The Masterpiece Collection that I viewed. Your restoration of Vertigo, Rear Window, and others are much appreciated by this viewer.

#5 of 55 OFFLINE   Iain Quinn

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Posted October 08 2005 - 07:13 AM

Can you imagine if Universal’s ideal version of the audio (pre-‘toning down’) was released? The New Times Rambo Version comment might not have been much of an exaggeration then. It just highlights the necessity of fan criticism.

#6 of 55 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted October 08 2005 - 09:35 AM

I think one of the most important aspects of keeping a classic film fresh for newer audiences is high quality. Stereotypes get built into impressionable minds of today. Seeing a faded, dirty, and ugly print of a film will just further the stereotype of it just being an old movie. If the illusion of a classic looking and sounding "new" is maintained, you'd automatically gain audiences. When you see a properly restored motion picture, you forget that you're watching some antique, but rather just the film itself. I regret missing the re-release, but I'd imagine the recent digitally restored Metropolis amazed people... just think, a 1927 film that looks almost new and has a full orchestral score in 5.1 surround! On the other hand, I was fortunate to see a 35mm print of Casablanca in a real theater... but it was grainy, dupey looking, scratched... and matted to 1.85:1. The audience still responded well, but it could further that "old movie" stereotype. What really scares me is how close films are to being beyond repair. What if those 35mm Vertigo prints didn't exist for the audio? I just think that it's not only important to save a film from being lost, but also to get it into the public view again. For 18 years, Michael Todd's Around the World in 80 Days was available to American viewers only in a poor quality pan & scan/mono video master. If you saw it on TV, you'd lose the intermission and exit music, as well as Warner Bros. slapping their logo onto the head of the film that should start with Edward R. Murrow. After years of waiting, Turner Classic Movies had the first-ever American broadcast of "80 Days" in widescreen (despite being the edited 1983 cut), followed by the 2004 Warner 2-disc SE. As expected, people finally rediscovered a poorly presented film thanks to the proper aspect ratio, correct color timing, preservation of the 70mm framing, as well as the obvious benifits of DVD resolution. The 5.1 mix preserving the directional dialogue and effects didn't hurt either. This is why it's sad that re-releases are becoming rare. I had to go to an arthouse theater to see the restored Safety Last and The Freshman (both Harold Lloyd silents). The former was fully restored, shown in Academy Ratio, and presented with an orchestral Carl Davis score. I can safely assume that everyone left the theater thinking about how great silent comedy was. Now, if they were old beat-up 35mm prints with canned piano music, how much of an impact could they make?

#7 of 55 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted October 08 2005 - 11:38 AM

You're talking about times before your birth here, Mark Lucas. Cees

#8 of 55 ONLINE   GerardoHP

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Posted October 08 2005 - 12:35 PM

This is a most comprehensive explanation for the restored VERTIGO sound. Robert Harris, I commend you for your dedication and the quality of your work. Most of us don't realize how much goes into the difficult decisions restorers have to make when working on a project of this magnitude, given the astounding limitations they are confronted with. I personally love the new soundtrack. I will never forget the experience of watching VERTIGO in 70mm at the Westwood Avco -- one of the greatest moments of my life as a moviegoer. It wouldn't have been the same with a plain monoural track, no matter how "original".
Gerardo

#9 of 55 OFFLINE   Craig Beam

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Posted October 08 2005 - 01:38 PM

The fact that we can now hear EITHER track with a simple touch of a button is cause for celebration. I prefer the original mono, but I certainly won't knock those who prefer the more modern surround mix.

Mr. Harris, thank you for a very detailed and satisfying account. As I've often stated here at the HTF, Vertigo is far and away my favorite film of all time, and I'm forever indebted to you (and Mr. Katz, of course) for saving it from oblivion.

On the subject of the music... As I type this, I'm listening to James Conlon's breathtaking recording of the entire score (1999), and it is truly a thing of beauty.

Posted Image

...that's the Vertigo shrine in my office. Posted Image Obsessed? Clearly!

#10 of 55 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted October 08 2005 - 02:44 PM

Isn't the re-recording by Joel McNeely? He's the conductor on the soundtrack album I have, which is an extremely accurate recording. I remember comparing the two on Amazon's sound clips (comparing the 1958 recording with the McNeely version) and I couldn't tell which was which on the "Prelude" piece.

#11 of 55 OFFLINE   RickER

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Posted October 08 2005 - 02:57 PM

Mr. Harris thank you for your posts. I do enjoy them, and love learning about the art, and business of film (and film restoration). Thanks again!

#12 of 55 OFFLINE   Damin J Toell

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Posted October 08 2005 - 03:30 PM

There is a recording of James Conlon conducting the Paris Opera Orchestra which is included as a one-track CD supplement with the book "Feature Film" by Douglas Gordon. DJ

#13 of 55 OFFLINE   Craig Beam

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Posted October 08 2005 - 04:15 PM

The Conlon recording blows McNeely's effort right off the playing field. Close-miked, proper tempi, pristine sound... just glorious. It's a shame it's not more widely available. It's also a shame that each cue isn't individually indexed (it's one long 75-minute track), but it was easy enough to make my own custom version with all 42 cues separate.

#14 of 55 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted October 08 2005 - 05:57 PM

I just finished Rear Window... may not look like a brand new movie, but it certainly looked like a film that was printed off a pristine negative. One question, though... the restoration credits feature music over them... but after the scroll ends, the music continues for a while. Did the original release have this as exit music?

#15 of 55 OFFLINE   Mark Lucas

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Posted October 08 2005 - 07:21 PM


I was very much alive in 1996, Cees. Posted Image

I was merely commenting that a lot of peopele just didn't care much for the remix obviously. The new dvd has a version of the original mono soundtrack though so everyone is happy now, I think.

#16 of 55 OFFLINE   MatthewLouwrens

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Posted October 08 2005 - 09:33 PM

Personally, I treasure my copy of the original score recordings released at the time of the 1996 restoration. I have heard the McNeely, and while it was okay, it's not quite there. (His recording of the Psycho score, on the other hand, I really liked.) This Conlon score sounds interesting. Shame it isn't easily available.

#17 of 55 OFFLINE   Ollie Gatehouse

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Posted October 09 2005 - 12:43 AM

My first experience of Vertigo was through the 96 restoration on DVD and I am very happy to own and have seen many times, what I feel is the greatest Hitchcock, I'm now contemplating buying the whole set, despite the fatc I nearly own all of Universals Hitchcock releases.

#18 of 55 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted October 09 2005 - 12:56 AM

Rear Window, in original theatrical release did not have exit music, which now covers the restoration credits.

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#19 of 55 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted October 11 2005 - 09:41 AM

In a roundabout way of replying to a thread posted to the Mobius DVD site, which is not currently accepting new members, I'd like to offer the following piece of information, which can be cross-posted by HTF members who also frequent that site. There was a query regarding why a stereo mix of "Vertigo" would be created at all. The answer is that the original mono track would have been commercially unsuitable for theatrical release in 1998 at major theatres, and in synchronization with a 70mm image. It was our intent to re-mix the original music tracks with, dialogue culled from the old mono, and new Foley and effects tracks, which were to have been created following Mr. Hitchcock's original notes. That was the intent. It is not what occurred, the studio having made the decision to re-invent the track anew.

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#20 of 55 OFFLINE   Mark Lucas

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Posted October 11 2005 - 10:37 AM

Robert, do you think the Universal of today would have pushed for the same kind of soundtrack or are they much more respectful of Hitchcock's original intentions?




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