Help Required: What happened at FOX in the 1970s?

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Dear fellow members,

I would like to ask some important questions regarding Fox catalog titles. During the last months, I have read several posts on this forum that hinted at the fact that something terrible happened to the original camera negatives of many classic movies at Fox in the 1970s.

I have tried to do some research on this topic, but it is hard to find adequate information.

What happened to those OCNs? Were all of the OCN of classic Fox movies (up to that point) "destroyed"? Why would anybody do something like that? Is that the reason why some Fox Technicolor BDs do not look as good as those released by Warners?

Any help would be very much appreciated.

Thank you in advance!
 

Robert Crawford

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Andreas Wagner said:
Dear fellow members,

I would like to ask some important questions regarding Fox catalog titles. During the last months, I have read several posts on this forum that hinted at the fact that something terrible happened to the original camera negatives of many classic movies at Fox in the 1970s.

I have tried to do some research on this topic, but it is hard to find adequate information.

What happened to those OCNs? Were all of the OCN of classic Fox movies (up to that point) "destroyed"? Why would anybody do something like that? Is that the reason why some Fox Technicolor BDs do not look as good as those released by Warners?

Any help would be very much appreciated.

Thank you in advance!
In 1978, George Eastman House had a fire that destroyed over 300 OCNs, I think many of them were Fox titles.
 

Bob Furmanek

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They also junked most of their nitrate Technicolor separation elements when they made new Color Reversal Internegatives in the early 1970's. Not only were the CRI's not very good quality, but they have since faded.
 

Robert Crawford

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Bob Furmanek said:
They also junked most of their nitrate Technicolor separation elements when they made new Color Reversal Internegatives in the early 1970's. Not only were the CRI's not very good quality, but they have since faded.
Right, that too as RAH has stated many times here that it was almost criminal what happened with certain film elements. I think such films as Jesse James and Leave Her to Heaven were among those type of Technicolor films.
 

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In 1978, George Eastman House had a fire that destroyed over 300 OCNs, I think many of them were Fox titles.

I think you will find they were MGM nitrate OCNs. The first reel to Show Boat(1951) was lost in that fire.
 

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moviepas said:
In 1978, George Eastman House had a fire that destroyed over 300 OCNs, I think many of them were Fox titles.

I think you will find they were MGM nitrate OCNs. The first reel to Show Boat(1951) was lost in that fire.
I know that MGM titles were lost in that fire, but I thought some Fox ones were too. Perhaps, I am wrong and that the reason why Fox film elements from yesteryear are lacking is due to that poor decision by Fox to destroy certain film elements.

I'm hoping RAH will stop in here to clarify what happened with Fox.
 

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I have heard stories (not specific to Fox or any particular studio) that filmelements were dumped into the Pacific Ocean.Whether those stories are actually true or not, I am not certain, but that hassomething that was told some time back and has stuck with me ever since.
 

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Robert Crawford said:
Right, that too as RAH has stated many times here that it was almost criminal what happened with certain film elements. I think such films as Jesse James and Leave Her to Heaven were among those type of Technicolor films.
Around 1976, with an apparent fear of nitrate stock, certain execs at Fox decided that it would be appropriate to "convert" to safety any and all nitrate holdings.There are two ways to perform this. The first, and least expensive, would be to create new safety fine grains from each of the original black & white nitrate Technicolor records, and then re-composite said records to a new color dupe negative. This would be performed after a test print had been produced, checking for dupes, alignment of records and other potential problems.The precise same methodology would deal with black & white productions, less the alignment tests.These actions would have preserved the library AT ITS ORIGINAL QUALITY.Once all elements would be produced, tested and answer printed, the original nitrate elements would go into archival storage, lest they be needed again. The LoC, UCLA, GEH, or MOMA would all have been perfect places to shepherd the elements.The other way to "preserve" an entire library would be the route taken by Fox, one of the most notoriously idiotic things ever done in the history of film, and IMHO worse than the great silent purge at Universal, c. 1948.What these knights of film preservation did, was to take original Technicolor negatives, and without testing, combine the records to a single safety color dupe negative stock called CRI, thus saving one generation of loss, and not going through an intermediate stage.CRI stock was not meant for archival printing, and generally has a shelf life of less than ten years, properly stored, before it quickly begins to fade.The fact that proper alignment was not done was error one.The fact that CRI stock was used was error two.Had proper testing been performed, there would have been nothing wrong using CRI as an immediate printing element, but not for archival use. While the resultant prints could potentially, if created from fully exposed negatives, be very pretty, there were registration errors printed in, and color timing generally did not replicate the original intent of the filmmakers.Once the CRIs were produced, the lab then made error three.New separation masters, from partially registered, improperly graded, and in many cases, overly dupey and contrasty CRIs were struck. These new "archival" elements, replicated in quick and dirty separated records, what had been improperly exposed to the CRI.Once all of these miracles were performed, every original nitrate Technicolor three-strip negative was junked. Every (I believe one survived) set of three-strip nitrate fine grains were junked.Every black & white nitrate negative was junked.Every black & white fine grain master was junked of Fox's holdings. A small number may have survived at archives.Fortunately, the Fox nitrate studio prints went to UCLA.Rumor has it, that the nitrate elements were taken out into the Pacific on barges, and dumped, but that may just be rumor.Today, because of the unprofessionalism of those who came before them, do the best that they can with what survives.None of the Techniciolor films have been restored, no matter what you may read. Films such as The Black Swan, which won the Academy Award for Best Color Cinematography, and Leave Her to Heaven, with its beautiful Technicolorish tones are digital clean-ups based upon the extant elements, with a good attempt at making them look nice. But far from original.While digital technology is helpful, it cannot repair the damage done to these films.Every time I think of this unfortunate situation, Henry Hull's words, as spoken in both Jesse James and The Return of Frank James come to mind.Fortunately, every other studio had the foresight and technical knowledge to take care of and properly store their libraries.Let's look to the bright side.RAH
 

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Robert Harris said:
Around 1976, with an apparent fear of nitrate stock, certain execs at Fox decided that it would be appropriate to "convert" to safety any and all nitrate holdings.There are two ways to perform this. The first, and least expensive, would be to create new safety fine grains from each of the original black & white nitrate Technicolor records, and then re-composite said records to a new color dupe negative. This would be performed after a test print had been produced, checking for dupes, alignment of records and other potential problems.The precise same methodology would deal with black & white productions, less the alignment tests.These actions would have preserved the library AT ITS ORIGINAL QUALITY.Once all elements would be produced, tested and answer printed, the original nitrate elements would go into archival storage, lest they be needed again. The LoC, UCLA, GEH, or MOMA would all have been perfect places to shepherd the elements.The other way to "preserve" an entire library would be the route taken by Fox, one of the most notoriously idiotic things ever done in the history of film, and IMHO worse than the great silent purge at Universal, c. 1948.What these knights of film preservation did, was to take original Technicolor negatives, and without testing, combine the records to a single safety color dupe negative stock called CRI, thus saving one generation of loss, and not going through an intermediate stage.CRI stock was not meant for archival printing, and generally has a shelf life of less than ten years, properly stored, before it quickly begins to fade.The fact that proper alignment was not done was error one.The fact that CRI stock was used was error two.Had proper testing been performed, there would have been nothing wrong using CRI as an immediate printing element, but not for archival use. While the resultant prints could potentially, if created from fully exposed negatives, be very pretty, there were registration errors printed in, and color timing generally did not replicate the original intent of the filmmakers.Once the CRIs were produced, the lab then made error three.New separation masters, from partially registered, improperly graded, and in many cases, overly dupey and contrasty CRIs were struck. These new "archival" elements, replicated in quick and dirty separated records, what had been improperly exposed to the CRI.Once all of these miracles were performed, every original nitrate Technicolor three-strip negative was junked. Every (I believe one survived) set of three-strip nitrate fine grains were junked.Every black & white nitrate negative was junked.Every black & white fine grain master was junked of Fox's holdings. A small number may have survived at archives.Fortunately, the Fox nitrate studio prints went to UCLA.Rumor has it, that the nitrate elements were taken out into the Pacific on barges, and dumped, but that may just be rumor.Today, because of the unprofessionalism of those who came before them, do the best that they can with what survives.None of the Techniciolor films have been restored, no matter what you may read. Films such as The Black Swan, which won the Academy Award for Best Color Cinematography, and Leave Her to Heaven, with its beautiful Technicolorish tones are digital clean-ups based upon the extant elements, with a good attempt at making them look nice. But far from original.While digital technology is helpful, it cannot repair the damage done to these films.Every time I think of this unfortunate situation, Henry Hull's words, as spoken in both Jesse James and The Return of Frank James come to mind.Fortunately, every other studio had the foresight and technical knowledge to take care of and properly store their libraries.Let's look to the bright side.RAH
Hopefully this catastrophe of 35+ years ago will never be repeated and serve as a lesson to today's studios. Henry Hull's words sum up my thoughts perfectly as well.
 
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Lromero1396

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Andreas Wagner said:
Dear fellow members,

I would like to ask some important questions regarding Fox catalog titles. During the last months, I have read several posts on this forum that hinted at the fact that something terrible happened to the original camera negatives of many classic movies at Fox in the 1970s.

I have tried to do some research on this topic, but it is hard to find adequate information.

What happened to those OCNs? Were all of the OCN of classic Fox movies (up to that point) "destroyed"? Why would anybody do something like that? Is that the reason why some Fox Technicolor BDs do not look as good as those released by Warners?

Any help would be very much appreciated.

Thank you in advance!
Several of the most disastrous events in the history of film preservation occurred in 1978: in my opinion the worst year for the preservation of classic films.
At 20th:
In addition to what RAH pointed out, All trims, outtakes etc were junked. The cut footage from Cleopatra, John Ford's original cut of My Darling Clementine, John Huston's original cut of The Barbarian and the Geisha, and the uncensored version of Forever Amber are just a few of the many great things lost.
The National Archives experienced a fire which destroyed at least a million feet of newsreel footage and the GEH suffered the aforementioned fire which I believe destroyed 300-400 OCNs from MGM films. Those included in the losses are Singin' in the Rain, Red Dust, Grand Hotel, Strike Up the Band, The B&W portions of The Wizard of Oz, and possibly Mrs. Miniver.
 

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Robert Harris said:
Around 1976, with an apparent fear of nitrate stock, certain execs at Fox decided that it would be appropriate to "convert" to safety any and all nitrate holdings.There are two ways to perform this. The first, and least expensive, would be to create new safety fine grains from each of the original black & white nitrate Technicolor records, and then re-composite said records to a new color dupe negative. This would be performed after a test print had been produced, checking for dupes, alignment of records and other potential problems.The precise same methodology would deal with black & white productions, less the alignment tests.These actions would have preserved the library AT ITS ORIGINAL QUALITY.Once all elements would be produced, tested and answer printed, the original nitrate elements would go into archival storage, lest they be needed again. The LoC, UCLA, GEH, or MOMA would all have been perfect places to shepherd the elements.The other way to "preserve" an entire library would be the route taken by Fox, one of the most notoriously idiotic things ever done in the history of film, and IMHO worse than the great silent purge at Universal, c. 1948.What these knights of film preservation did, was to take original Technicolor negatives, and without testing, combine the records to a single safety color dupe negative stock called CRI, thus saving one generation of loss, and not going through an intermediate stage.CRI stock was not meant for archival printing, and generally has a shelf life of less than ten years, properly stored, before it quickly begins to fade.The fact that proper alignment was not done was error one.The fact that CRI stock was used was error two.Had proper testing been performed, there would have been nothing wrong using CRI as an immediate printing element, but not for archival use. While the resultant prints could potentially, if created from fully exposed negatives, be very pretty, there were registration errors printed in, and color timing generally did not replicate the original intent of the filmmakers.Once the CRIs were produced, the lab then made error three.New separation masters, from partially registered, improperly graded, and in many cases, overly dupey and contrasty CRIs were struck. These new "archival" elements, replicated in quick and dirty separated records, what had been improperly exposed to the CRI.Once all of these miracles were performed, every original nitrate Technicolor three-strip negative was junked. Every (I believe one survived) set of three-strip nitrate fine grains were junked.Every black & white nitrate negative was junked.Every black & white fine grain master was junked of Fox's holdings. A small number may have survived at archives.Fortunately, the Fox nitrate studio prints went to UCLA.Rumor has it, that the nitrate elements were taken out into the Pacific on barges, and dumped, but that may just be rumor.Today, because of the unprofessionalism of those who came before them, do the best that they can with what survives.None of the Techniciolor films have been restored, no matter what you may read. Films such as The Black Swan, which won the Academy Award for Best Color Cinematography, and Leave Her to Heaven, with its beautiful Technicolorish tones are digital clean-ups based upon the extant elements, with a good attempt at making them look nice. But far from original.While digital technology is helpful, it cannot repair the damage done to these films.Every time I think of this unfortunate situation, Henry Hull's words, as spoken in both Jesse James and The Return of Frank James come to mind.Fortunately, every other studio had the foresight and technical knowledge to take care of and properly store their libraries.Let's look to the bright side.RAH
Thank you RAH for clarifying what actually happened to the Fox film elements. I have to wonder if the Zanucks were still in control of Fox, would the same horrible decision been made regarding those film elements? I don't think so, but you never know.
 
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Robert Harris

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Robert Crawford said:
Thank you RAH for clarifying what actually happened to the Fox film elements. I have to wonder if the Zanucks were still in control of Fox, would the same horrible decision been made regarding those film elements? I don't think so, but you never know.
Robert Crawford said:
Thank you RAH for clarifying what actually happened to the Fox film elements. I have to wonder if the Zanucks were still in control of Fox, would the same horrible decision been made regarding those film elements? I don't think so, but you never know.
Even if they were, there is no way of knowing that the decision-making process ever reached that level.

I can tell you as an absolute, that it would not happen today at Fox.

RAH
 

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Lromero1396 said:
... and the GEH suffered the aforementioned fire which I believe destroyed 300-400 OCNs from MGM films. Those included in the losses are Singin' in the Rain, Red Dust, Grand Hotel, Strike Up the Band, The B&W portions of The Wizard of Oz, and possibly Mrs. Miniver.
The Tom and Jerrys were lost as well.
 

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May I add the "Asset Protection" program at Paramount in the late 1980's. New separation elements were made on color features, sometimes from fading camera negatives. The original seps, made when the films were new with perfect color, were then junked.

In addition, master materials on the 3-D films were cannibalized. Years later, someone at Cinetech saw original YCM material on MONEY FROM HOME being used as fill leader!

The left/right 35mm dye-transfer prints that I was able to secure and restore may now be the only complete stereoscopic records of both eyes. Tragic.
 

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Bob Furmanek said:
May I add the "Asset Protection" program at Paramount in the late 1980's. New separation elements were made on color features, sometimes from fading camera negatives. The original seps, made when the films were new with perfect color, were then junked.

In addition, master materials on the 3-D films were cannibalized. Years later, someone at Cinetech saw original YCM material on MONEY FROM HOME being used as fill leader!

The left/right 35mm dye-transfer prints that I was able to secure and restore may now be the only complete stereoscopic records of both eyes. Tragic.
So the OCN for The War of the Worlds could potentially be gone?
 

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Possibly, I don't know for sure on that one. I was good friends with the technician (Bud Abbott Jr.) that did the optical work on some of these films circa 1986. One to suffer was PARDNERS.

The original YCM elements (with perfect color) were evaluated and found to have some dirt and other light wear. They were junked and a new set of separations were made from the VistaVision camera negative.

The problem? The 30 year old negative had started to fade. So there are relatively new, clean color separations but they do not accurately replicate the original color pallete.

Bud was appalled with these decisions but had no choice in the decision. It was part of the Asset Protection Program...
 

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Bob Furmanek said:
Possibly, I don't know for sure on that one. I was good friends with the technician (Bud Abbott Jr.) that did the optical work on some of these films circa 1986. One to suffer was PARDNERS.

The original YCM elements (with perfect color) were evaluated and found to have some dirt and other light wear. They were junked and a new set of separations were made from the VistaVision camera negative.

The problem? The 30 year old negative had started to fade. So there are relatively new, clean color separations but they do not accurately replicate the original color pallete.

Bud was appalled with these decisions but had no choice in the decision. It was part of the Asset Protection Program...
"some light dirt and other wear". No vinegar syndrome....no other issues....and they were destroyed anyway??? Pah, asset protection my...
 

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Lromero1396 said:
Hopefully this catastrophe of 35+ years ago will never be repeated and serve as a lesson to today's studios. Henry Hull's words sum up my thoughts perfectly as well.
Now film is in its final years, it's all going to be digital, so everything's going to be fine in the future, right?
 

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seangood79 said:
Now film is in its final years, it's all going to be digital, so everything's going to be fine in the future, right?
I think you are making a joke here, but fear you may be serious as we all know that digital data has an even shorter shelf-life than celluloid and needs much more maintenance to keep it from being forever lost. Files become corrupt, hard drives fail and software becomes obsolete.
 
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My friend is a musician and they can't play digital files of recording sessions from a decade ago.

When I was producing stuff for Capitol Records in the early 1990's, we played tapes that were 40 years old without any problems.

Digital is far from a magic word!
 
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