About Those Horizontal lines in some silent/early talkie movies...

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Dick, May 23, 2002.

  1. Dick

    Dick Producer
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    Probably this has been discussed before, but I can't find a thread about it. A number of silent films (notably CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI) and early talkies (specifically M) have in certain scenes (but oddly, not all) a thin, semi-translucent horizontal line near the top of the frame. The postion of this line changes and is often not visible at all. It is not entirely transparent, though - within the line there is a refraction of the picture image below it. I have never found a satisfactory explanation for this. Were earlier prints on film and video cropped at the top (as I don't ever remember seeing these lines before laser and DVD), or are these different prints/negatives? Cropping these lines out would eliminate important information such as faces, so I can't imagine these were intended. Were these lines an error at the time of filming, or were they the result of later duplication? Any experts out there? I still enjoy watching these films and the lines are not a deal-breaker for me, but they are a curio. Thanks for any info.
     
  2. RobertCharlotte

    RobertCharlotte Supporting Actor

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    M was a talkie? Boy, I need to watch that again with the stereo off.
     
  3. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    These lines are most likely phantom frame lines, produced during intergenerational optical dupes of slightly disparate formats, ie. extra frame lines created in a format change.

    RAH
     
  4. Dick

    Dick Producer
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    Thanks for your response, Robert. I can understand how a multi-generational duplication could produce this false frame line, and that makes sense, but why would it often fall directly across actors' foreheads and other important information? Was there a bozo doing the copying who would have ignored this while framing for his newest generation dupe? (Enjoyed your History of Home Theater essay, BTW)
     
  5. Mark Zimmer

    Mark Zimmer Producer

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    My understanding is that the prints that have this horizontal line, like Caligari, came from a particular Russian film archive. I don't know if their equipment was defective or what, but their preservation dupes, which often are the best or only material for some films, have this line on them. Most of the time in video presentations the picture gets zoomed to crop it off, but with Caligari in particular that really does damage to the presentation. I'd rather live through the line. Compare the Image Caligari to the Elite version on the dreaded Masterworks of German Horror and you'll see that Elite thought nothing of cropping off huge chunks of acreage to eliminate the line. In other cases, there may be a marriage of the Russian print to another print that doesn't have the line, but which was in poor condition for part of the running time (which I suspect was the case with M).

    It's too bad, but with old nitrate film you have to appreciate that there's ANY print to see and accept oddities like these lines.
     
  6. Mark Zimmer

    Mark Zimmer Producer

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    To follow up on my previous post, here is the official word from Image regarding Caligari in particular:

    Image Entertainment AlertDear Caligari Fan,
    During certain scenes in this Special Edition presentation of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI you will notice a horizontal line present at the top your screen. (sic)

    This transfer was mastered from a 35mm print made in Russia from either the original negative or a very early generation nitrate duplicatenegative. In the early days of cinema, there was no standard position of the "frame line." Some cameras were designed to position the frame line on
    the center of a 35mm perforation (or sprocket hole), others placed the frame line midway between the perforations. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI was photographed with a camera which placed the frame line at the center of the perforation; the modern standard today is for a frame
    line centered between two perforations.

    When the source 35mm print was made, it was created from a old and shrunken negative one frame at a time on a so-called "step" printer. Unfortunately, the machine used in this instance was most likely operated by a bored Russian technician working for a few worthless rubles a week. In failing to adjust the printer, the frame line was not positioned to coincide with the one from the original camera - thus there is a double frame line throughout the film.

    The easiest way to adjust for this would have been simply to crop the picture to avoid the mysterious line. If you look at other versions of CALIGARI, you will see that this has been done, resulting in far less picture area shown on the screen.

    In looking at the film shot by shot, it appears that most of the film is best represented with the full picture area shown, even though this would introduce the double frame line. We feel that this is a small price to pay so that tops of heads, windows, arches and other important visual elements are not obliterated from the film. There are, in addition, some shots that were deemed suitable for cropping in order to lose the double frame line.

    Silent film authority David Shepard, producer of this disc, went through the film and basically determined scene-by scene whether or not to show the full aperture. In the instances where the full aperture is shown, the effect is even more pronounced because he has "window-boxed"
    the entire film so that consumer monitors would not crop off an excessive image area.

    If so inclined, one could now go back and enlarge many of these shots to create a video version that no one would question, but the way it is done here is the absolute best that could be managed with respect to the director's original vision.

    We feel confident that you will be delighted with the overall quality of this transfer, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI has not looked this fresh in over 70 years.

    Image Entertainment/Film Preservation Society
     
  7. Dick

    Dick Producer
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    Thanks, Mark. I feel educated. This makes perfect sense. Evidently the very same Russian transferred the German film M, which has a similar anomaly.
     
  8. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    He is now working in Siberia.[​IMG]
     

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