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Paradox of Digital Restoration


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#1 of 19 OFFLINE   DeeF

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Posted October 30 2002 - 08:34 AM

I've been reading many of these threads concerning restoration of our favorite films -- what has been done, what needs to be done, how they look on DVD vs. how they look in the theater, etc. And I see sides being taken up, seemingly based on our experience with film and our insecurity about the future of the medium and what technology may bring, bad and good.

I don't know if there are answers, but I thought I would start a thread and ask some questions. Perhaps our mentor here, Mr. Harris, will chime in with his own views.

Why do we need our films to look like videos? Conversely...
Why do we need our films on DVD to look like films? Isn't it a different medium? We don't really expect a photograph of the Mona Lisa to be perfectly representative of the real thing.
Isn't the lack of real definition on our DVDs coloring our opinion of film "grain"? (meaning, the details aren't always clear, which we blame on too much grain, rather than lack of resolution).
Should a film always represent its original self, even if its creator has changed his mind? (eh, Steven?)
If a film is cleaned up digitally for a large and new audience, isn't this a worthy enough cause? Why must we castigate those who cleaned up "Citizen Kane" even though it doesn't look like film anymore? Would we have preferred it NOT cleaned up?
When a film is restored, what percent of the future audience will see it on film, and what percent on a monitor?
What is the future of film? Isn't it really, digital?

Just some questions to be pondered.

#2 of 19 OFFLINE   Damin J Toell

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Posted October 30 2002 - 08:44 AM

Quote:
Why do we need our films on DVD to look like films? Isn't it a different medium?


Video is a different medium, to be sure, but when transferring from film to video, it would seem to me that the goal would be to represent the original film elements as best possible.

Quote:
We don't really expect a photograph of the Mona Lisa to be perfectly representative of the real thing.


I would think that we do expect a photograph of a painting to be as representative as possible of the original painting. Otherwise, of what value is the photograph?

Quote:
Should a film always represent its original self, even if its creator has changed his mind?


I'm not sure that that element has much relevance to the film/video discussion.

Quote:
Why must we castigate those who cleaned up "Citizen Kane" even though it doesn't look like film anymore? Would we have preferred it NOT cleaned up?


You're missing another question: would it have been possible to clean up the film for video while better retaining the proper look of the film? If so, then a improper digital clean-up does indeed deserve to be criticized when something better could've been accomplished. It seems to me a cop-out to simply state that video is different than film when there's clearly room for improvement.

Quote:
When a film is restored, what percent of the future audience will see it on film, and what percent on a monitor?

All the more reason to attempt to replicate the film as accurately as possible on video.

Quote:
What is the future of film? Isn't it really, digital?

Without psychic powers, I doubt anyone is capable of providing that answer for you. Either way, what does it matter with regard to those works already done on film?

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#3 of 19 OFFLINE   DeeF

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Posted October 30 2002 - 08:48 AM

I guess I need to give examples.

I recently bought two DVDs on the same day: To Catch A Thief, a Hitchcock/Paramount picture shot in VistaVision, from 1955 (to be released this month) and The Garden of Allah, a David Selznick production in Technicolor, from 1936 (the DVD is from Anchor Bay, circa 2000 or 2001).

The Garden of Allah is simply splendid, as a presentation. The colors are lush, but realistic, the sound focused. Every detail is present, and most importantly, nothing distracts from the movie (except a fairly excreble script). It is my idea of a great DVD, although it has no extras. Obviously, I have no way of knowing what the original movie looked like, but I don't really care -- I like it this way.

To Catch A Thief is brand new, although the transfer is apparently from 1999. It is grainy, oversaturated, and unstable, and the sound is simply atrocious, filled with noise and wobble. Let's just say -- the quality of the DVD distracts you from the movie. But maybe I'm being overly critical -- maybe this is the way the movie really looked and sounded, although I don't really care, because I don't like it this way.

You see the paradox? We want things perfect, and we want them the way they were. Maybe they weren't perfect. Will we ever be happy?

#4 of 19 OFFLINE   Damin J Toell

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Posted October 30 2002 - 08:55 AM

Quote:
You see the paradox? We want things perfect, and we want them the way they were. Maybe they weren't perfect. Will we ever be happy?


You're saying "we" when you should be saying "I". If transferring a film to video in a way that properly represents what it originally looked like gives a result that you find displeasing, then it seems to me that the problem lies in you and not in some paradox inherent in restoration. Personally, I am happy with the results of a video transfer when the filmmakers (or, in their absence, competent experts) are happy.

DJ

#5 of 19 OFFLINE   DeeF

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Posted October 30 2002 - 08:58 AM

Quote:
Should a film always represent its original self, even if its creator has changed his mind?

I'm not sure that that element has much relevance to the film/video discussion.


It does when you realize how many of these things really are different. I'm not just talking about adding digital E.T. to the picture. Amadeus is an example of a "director's cut" which is strikingly different from the original movie. I don't think anyone is complaining about this, but there is now nudity in the movie that wasn't there before. Which is the right version of the movie? Unlike E.T., I don't get to choose.

#6 of 19 OFFLINE   Damin J Toell

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Posted October 30 2002 - 09:03 AM

Quote:
It does when you realize how many of these things really are different. I'm not just talking about adding digital E.T. to the picture. Amadeus is an example of a "director's cut" which is strikingly different from the original movie. I don't think anyone is complaining about this, but there is now nudity in the movie that wasn't there before. Which is the right version of the movie? Unlike E.T., I don't get to choose.


Again, I fail to see what that has to do with video and the problem of transferring from film.

DJ

#7 of 19 OFFLINE   DeeF

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Posted October 30 2002 - 09:04 AM

Quote:
You're saying "we" when you should be saying "I".


I'm just trying to start a dialogue here. I've noted that some people are unhappy with "Citizen Kane" and "North by Northwest" DVDs because they are too nice, too smooth, too "videoesque." Others are unhappy with "Spiderman" because it is too grainy. And, the opposite also holds true -- people are happy with the transfers of these films. I prefer watching "North by Northwest" on my monitor, because I'm not distracted by technology, I can enjoy the movie. But I don't know what the original looked like, I wasn't yet born.

#8 of 19 OFFLINE   DeeF

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Posted October 30 2002 - 09:29 AM

I've thought some more about this.

The odd thing about the current "film restoration" movement, is that it is fueled by DVDs, a different medium, and now we've got all these movies, "restored for DVD," but the films aren't restored at all. It used to be, when a film was restored, like the admirable Napoleon (Abel Gance) and Lawrence of Arabia projects, they were restored for a film revival, basically to be shown in theaters. I was never so excited in my life, and so enthralled with the experience, as I was when I saw the restored version of Lawrence of Arabia (in the summer of 1989).

But now films are being "restored" (if you can call it that) for DVDs, movies like Singin' in the Rain. They're being restored to a different medium, with different problems, and amazingly variable solutions. This is really what I wanted to address in this forum. Thank goodness, some filmmakers, like Spielberg, have chosen to restore their movies, and show them in the theaters, before going to DVD -- at least the medium is the same.

Singin' in the Rain even tried a run with DLP, again with quite variable results. Some people thought it was really great this way, but apparently digital artifacts could be seen from the audience.


#9 of 19 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted October 30 2002 - 02:50 PM

Marketing and semantics.

I believe the problem here is less reality and more simple linguistics.

Video "restoration" of a motion picture is a delicate, etherial thing.

In reality it doesn't exist.

Much like one of my personal favorites when it made its debut on laserdisc some years ago...

Disney's The Little Mermaid -- now "fully restored."

Why?

I was screening some film at Technicolor in LA not long after the release and queried if they had cracked up Disney's original negative?

They looked at me as if I had three heads.

The problem here is simply that there is no such thing as video "restoration."

It does sound nice, however.

While video images, be they analogue or digital, may be cleaned up in various ways, they are in no way restored.

While viewing The West Wing this evening, one of the few shows that I attempt not to miss, there was a scene which took place during a presidential debate.

At a certain point the image shifted (cut) abruptly from one created on 35mm film to a video image of the debate.

Two totally different and disparate means of capture.

While it is very possible (and many people work very hard) to capture the essense of film within a video image, others feel that they can freely -- for payment in gold -- take that image and make it "prettier," "cleaner" or whatever some video executive happens to like at the moment.

And these things change the very essence or landscape of the most important cultural heritage of the 20th century -- the motion picture.

Although Citizen Kane on dvd is pretty, it has no relevance to the film which was created by Welles and Toland.

Neither do High Noon, Rio Grande or The Quiet Man.

North by Northwest, although a bit too degrained, is a superb attempt, which I feel is successful, at trying to reproduce a Vista image. Although created from faded elements, it does a superb job of replicating the film.

Disney's new Snow White has absolutely nothing in common with that animated feature released in 1937 from a technical standpoint, but as an animated work, I can accept it as a new version of that work, beautifully rendered.

The studios owe the dvd purchasing public a presentation which as best as possible replicates the experience as meant to be viewed by a FILM's creators.

I do not believe that dvds should, out of some odd necessity, be purchased more than once -- although I certainly make allowances for those released either ported over from earlier transfers in the first years of dvd, and for releases of less than perfect quality necessitated by a lack of high qualiity transfer elements.

Speaking in 2002, I can no longer make allowances for a studio placing forth into the marketplace a major release, be it classic or newly produced, which does not meet certain minimum standards of preservation, replication, transfer and compression.

FILM is not video.

FILM has a specific innate grain structure based upon the specific taking stock at the time of exposure and the means by which that stock was processed.

Video does not have the same grain structure, which makes it acceptable as video.

It should not be de-grained or homogenized any more or less than it should be panned and scanned or colorized.

FILM is FILM.

FILM can successfully be represented on video as FILM.

There is no reason to accept less.

Am I reasonably clear?

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


#10 of 19 ONLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted October 30 2002 - 04:08 PM

There is no reason to accept less.

What about cost, can the studios afford to do every title correctly within a budget that generates enough ROI to justify the costs of doing the restorations properly?



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#11 of 19 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted October 31 2002 - 02:01 AM

"What about cost, can the studios afford to do every title correctly within a budget that generates enough ROI to justify the costs of doing the restorations properly?"



Yes.

But for home video, we are not talking about restoring the titles, most of which do not need restoration, merely new printing elements.

Please keep in mind that we are only discussing the functionality of somehow getting a film element or elements transferred / copied / rendered, looking like film to a digital video master.

There is enough profit built into the releases of these older titles that the studios do have the ability to "clean it up" for home video.

Once the master has been produced, it will be accessed for broadcast television, cable, satellite and that other little market - foreign.

The cost to create an IP from on Oneg (color) is under $10,000. A black and white fine grain, $6,000.
This element can be transferred and corrected digitally.

The basis of a studio's film library can not and must not be measured in the number of units out the door in the first week.

Offset by profits from blockbuster titles new to the catalog, these classic or older titles must be looked upon as the foundation of a library for decades to come.

Now up in the 40 million area, DVD players are proliferating like cow droppings.

Even the most dense studio accountant must be able to see over the next ridge in the road to understand that catalog titles, brought out slowly, can all look as they should.

Look at the release pattern being taken by Warner Bros. or Universal.

We are not being deluged by catalog titles, although we may wish to be. As they are made available they generally look more than acceptable or much better.

The money is certainly there, especially with more popular titles helping to support the lesser known.

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


#12 of 19 OFFLINE   DeeF

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Posted October 31 2002 - 02:33 AM

I'm perfectly thrilled that these completely erudite professionals would weigh-in in my little dialogue, particularly Mr. Harris, with such insight, and lengthy! Bravo!

Some more questions.

Accidents have happened in the past. Original negatives lost, or burned in a fire, or destroyed beyond repair. Would the studios ever make a mistake, a la, cleaning up a film for digital viewing, but in the process destroying important original film materials?

Will there ever be a time (shudder the thought) that digital viewing will become the only medium, that film viewing and projection will go away?

Quote:
Disney's new Snow White has absolutely nothing in common with that animated feature released in 1937 from a technical standpoint, but as an animated work, I can accept it as a new version of that work, beautifully rendered.


Although I have little knowledge of the original movie, I'm sure you're right about this. And this movie is now owned by millions of people in this form. So, in essence, the original movie has become only a blueprint for this, the new standard.

This is what I find paradoxical in this current climate: we want movies, lots of movies, but not as movies, as digital presentations we watch at home, and therefore these movies are in danger of being altered for better home viewing. The original movies remain in danger of extinction, even though we still want their "image" and "story" but in a different medium.

As clear as mud, I know, I'm sorry.



#13 of 19 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted October 31 2002 - 02:44 AM

"Ever" is a long time.

Original negatives and their various preservation components are occasionally damaged, as anything can be damaged when being run through a piece of equipment.

But the high end facilities take their responsibility extremely seriously, and when problems / damage does occur, it is usually brought to the attention of those in charge.

Negatives have been lost in fires, floods and other natural disasters. The Oneg to one important film to all reports, rests at the bottom of an ocean.

But the studios -- all of them today -- take the survival of their libraries extremely seriously, each now having an appropriate asset protection executive in proper place.

One of the errors, unfortunately coming from Kodak, concerned the concept of junking nitrate originals once copied to safety.

This concept is no longer considered valid, and original elements are treated with veritable kid gloves.

Are mistakes made?

Certainly.

But the majority are short-lived.

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


#14 of 19 OFFLINE   DeeF

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Posted October 31 2002 - 02:56 AM

I have some fondness for my latter high-school, early college days in the 70s, when there seemed to be an enthusiasm and market for revival movie theaters, and old movies (I particularly liked to go see Buster Keaton), like Gance's Napoleon, and Chaplin's A Woman of Paris, were such critical hits, though 50 years old!

When I first came to New York, I went every week to the Thalia and the Regency, and the Film Forum, to see wonderful films, often in new prints. Lawrence of Arabia was a real highlight of my filmgoing life.

Of course, these revival houses were killed off by home video.

Now, there does seem to be a revived interest in old films, because of DVD and better quality presentations at home (widescreen, higher definition, etc.) and this is noteworthy. And because of better presentation, we are getting better copies of the films, new prints, color-corrected, etc. I'm just worried about the price this is costing old films, and about our perceptions, and the precedent being set -- perhaps old films will never be projected to an audience again. Which is sad to me, but I grew up in another time.

#15 of 19 OFFLINE   DeeF

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Posted October 31 2002 - 03:05 AM

Lawrence of Arabia was shown this summer, which was a splendid surprise.

We have been arguing at length about certain movies' original aspect ratio, as it appears on the DVD, like Ben-Hur. The aspect ratio should be 2.76:1, but apparently most projected presentations were really closer to 2.5:1. The DVD shows 2.76:1, but it has been cropped from a 35mm version of the film, cropped down from 2.5:1.

Anyway, will I ever get to see Ben-Hur in a real theater, 70mm, 2.76:1, "restored" and color-corrected?

Probably not. And so, I am sad, even though I own the DVD and have actually watched the movie many times. It isn't the same in my bedroom as it is with a huge, excited audience.

#16 of 19 OFFLINE   Rain

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Posted October 31 2002 - 05:31 AM

Well this is an interesting disucussion and one that I think is long overdue.

Quote:
Video is a different medium, to be sure, but when transferring from film to video, it would seem to me that the goal would be to represent the original film elements as best possible.
You would think so, wouldn't you?

As I mentioned in another thread, for a great example of what can be done with digital "restoration," while maintaining the look of film, check out Criterion's relase of The Third Man.

"Imagine all the people, living life in peace..." - Imagine by John Lennon

#17 of 19 OFFLINE   DeeF

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Posted October 31 2002 - 05:51 AM

When I went to the recent revival of E.T., I thought that the film was too dark -- I couldn't make out some of the details. I have/had no knowledge about whose fault this was, whether the projection itself was off, or the print of the film, or perhaps I was misremembering the original film (overall, it is a dark film).

I got the DVD last weekend, and rejoiced that it doesn't seem too dark. Then I realized how different it looks from what was projected (at my theater). Because this version is the one that will be owned and loved by millions, it is the one that will be the standard-bearer, and all future versions will not be judged in people's memories, but by what they know, having owned this DVD.

I'm afraid this will happen across the board. Citizen Kane has apparently been lightened up for the DVD (to the point of seeing details never meant to be seen originally). But now that we have this version, nobody will ever go back to the original, because this is the one we know and love. This will be the standard, the one where the rain was removed.

Also, does this current version of Citizen Kane exist on film at all? Isn't it just in the digital domain? That's a little scary too. I would insist that all digital cleanups to negatives and things, be printed back into film.

#18 of 19 OFFLINE   Rain

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Posted October 31 2002 - 06:00 AM

Quote:
But now that we have this version, nobody will ever go back to the original, because this is the one we know and love.
I don't agree with that.

While I doubt we'll see another film to video transfer of Citizen Kane until it's done for HD DVD (whenever that gets here), I am hopeful that it will eventually be returned to something closer to what it's supposed to look like.

"Imagine all the people, living life in peace..." - Imagine by John Lennon

#19 of 19 OFFLINE   DeeF

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Posted October 31 2002 - 06:20 AM

Yeah, we're lucky that some people have enough knowledge of these films in their original state, and can guide future "restorers" to make the right choice.

Here's another way the DVD revolution is different than the past: people are buying the disks, in huge numbers. The videos of the 80s were mostly rented (and they were poor copies anyway, often pan-and-scan, etc.) But now we are buying these disks, so we own a copy of the original movie, seen at a quality level of definition, with extras. And we can show it to our friends who don't own it. I think its an end to movie theatrical revivals, except for the occasional event.

It used to be Disney would re-release its most famous animated movies every 7 years, or so, so that a new generation of children would get to see the films (and bring in some cash to Disney). Now, the DVDs are owned, to the extent that they may never be able to revive the films at all. Everybody's already seen them, in an excellent presentation, many times.

The only way the studio will see more cash is to re-release the digital version of the movie, but with something new -- more definition, more "superbit," better sound, more extras. Movies like "Terminator" and "Die Hard" have already had several DVD releases, always bigger and better, so you've got to buy them. "Lord of the Rings" will have 3 different DVD versions by year's end (a movie only 1 year old). Lord...


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