Some facts (for those into technical minutia):
The original negative to The Godfather was cut and conformed for dye transfer printing at Technicolor Hollywood, in an auto-select, single strand format. The film had been shot full frame 1.37, for projection at 1.85, with the matting performed in projection.
What auto-select means is that the negative is cut in a single strand, with printer function, ie. fades and dissolves created from first generation negative during the production of the printing matrices or prints. This was the norm for 65mm origination, but not necessarily for 35.
What’s even more important is that since the film was reproduced in dye transfer Technicolor, is that the original negative would receive very little actual wear and would be protected for future use.
In a fortuitous play of events, a CRI (color reversal negative) was created for printing in some foreign territories, and was also used for a few 70mm blow-ups for the Japanese market.
The element, that one might have presumed faded decades later, became a major aid toward our restorative efforts.
Another anomaly hit The Godfather. During the shooting of the Sollozzo / McCluskey assassination, which was shot over two nights, the processing lab neglected to push process the second night’s footage, which came out under-exposed.
While the lab in question promised Mr. Willis that this would never occur again, he made certain that it didn’t, and move the project to another lab – Technicolor.
The errant footage was shipped to Tech Hollywood, where the lab technicians experimented with ways of making the imagery work. Multiple sets of separation masters were produced and re-combined at different gamma levels, and the best was cut into the conformed negative. It was close, but never correct.
During the 2007 restoration, we spent months, off and on, searching cans for both the production masters as well as the original bits of negatives, all cut into shots. And while we were able to find most of them (the majority after Michael returns to the table), we never found all of them. In most of those cases, we were able to get back one generation by using the masters.
It was shortly after the release of a sequel, The Godfather Part II in 1974, that systems began to quickly break down, and it had very little to do with immediate studio decisions.
Except for some re-prints, The Godfather Part II was the final domestic dye transfer release from Technicolor.
Because of the popularity of GF II, more prints of The Godfather were needed, but without the dye transfer process still active in Hollywood, the work went to another laboratory – the only one capable of printing auto-select.
Let’s go into a bit more about the auto-select process.
That single strand we’ve been discussing is run backwards and forwards through an optical printer, thus encoding fades, and more importantly dissolves. The process also enabled multiple versions of a film, for different territories, and proprieties. For example, it could be set to produce long or shorter version, or delete a more explicit nude shot, and program another.
And that puts great wear on the original negative.
It was via that process that a run of re-issue prints was produced, one at a time, each taking its toll.
As far as I know, things then sat, vaulted until c. 1997, when a series of tragic events befell the negative through poor decisions, trusting the wrong labs, and bottom line, placing the fragile negative into the hands of people who just may not have either cared, or knew what they were doing.
A decision was made to re-cut the negative – a reasonable decision by the studio – before it could be printed via standard A & B roll printing, via which those fades and dissolves we’ve discussed were encoded by running two rolls of film, which should have been fine.
But it wasn’t.
The lab that took over the negative, cut it into pieces toward A & B continuity, and while doing so decided to equalize many of the long and lyrical dissolves, some running very long, and removed all of what are called handles. What this meant was that footage was now missing, and dissolves could no longer be produced as designed. They were cut to a standard length.
But things got worse.
The facility doing the work, which shall go unnamed, decided rather than using newly processed clean black leader as fill toward productions of those A & B rolls, used garbage, possibly taken from trim bins or off the floor. Positive footage, negative footage, positive and negative perforations, blithely mixed, along with sound track negative.
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But then things got worse.
During printing from the new rolls, shots began to crack up, and needed to be replaced from the black and white masters. Perforations began to wear out, and a new set of timing notches needed to be cut in, so that the negative could be run via the alternate side of perforations, thereby weakening the negative even more, as more prints were struck from the original.
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Repairs would be taped. Tape would weaken and come detached during cleaning.
Reel 1B, the second ten minutes of the film were replaced entirely, along with many other shots that self-destructed.
When my team was brought on and given the honor restoring the film in 2007, we began by taking several original prints, and trying to figure out what the original continuity had been, inclusive of the proper lengths of fades and dissolves.
We discovered that the footage needed to produce dissolves was no longer extant; that lengths had been modified for ease of printing; that an extra dissolve had been added for no apparent reason; that certain shots having been reproduced from the masters had been done incorrectly, as the masters were not the final version of the film.
Initially, we went through two months of testing, and ended up at Warner Bros. MPI facility in Burbank, which could handle the film in a non-sprocketed or pin-registered form, so that we didn’t add more problems to the fragile state of the elements. It was the wonderful Allen Daviau who had joined to help us, who made the final decision to go without pin-registration or sprockets. He opined, “I don’t want to be the one to have to call Gordon to tell him we tore up his negative.”
From September 2006, through July of 2007 we pushed the limits to create 4k data files and a DCP for theatrical (along with a new 35mm negative) that would make Gordon Willis smile and meet the needs of Mr. Coppola and the studio.
And yet, with all our searching, certain shots eluded us, and we were forced to scan dupes, masters or CRIs (color reversal negatives) toward our goal.
So where does the 2022 restoration fit in, and why was it necessary.
If you guessed that during the two-year period over which the work was done, that a further search would be performed seeking out more missing material, you’d be correct, and this, to me, is the most important benefit of the new work.
We had worked extensively trying to find missing negative of the restaurant assassination sequence and came away almost complete. In that sequence, the latest work adds more shots of Sterling Hayden.
In others, a missing shot of Abe Vigoda, which was part of a dupe optical unit was found, and seamlessly added back, along with stock footage used in the Nevada sequence, some from a VistaVision Martin and Lewis film.
Color for the new restoration was meticulously followed from our DCP, not from the 2008 Blu-ray, which for some reason seems to have come away with an extra point of red. All of this as approved by Mr. Willis.
New scans were performed at 16 bit, rather than at 10, which was the state of the art limit in 2007.
In 2020, when Paramount began the new restoration, I was shown some early test footage, and gifted our continuities, and other work records, but as far as working with elements, they were starting at square one.
What does the restoration look like?
It should track the color of our DCP perfectly. It will have additional shots based upon original negatives, and from trusted reports, it’s beautiful.
If one were to compare it to a 4k of the 2007, that casual observer might not see the differences, but they’ll be there.
Are there any obvious problems?
Beyond one single shot that may give away just a bit too much information, I expect none. And it’s doubtful that viewers will even pick this one up. This also fits into the thoughts offered by David Lean regarding restorative efforts. His feeling was to always leave at least one single shot less than 100% perfect, so that viewers might understand that they’re seeing a restoration.
The bottom line is that to the casual observer, and especially to those who don’t pray at the 4k shrine, the restoration may not seem necessary, but the reality is that anything to properly preserve Francis Coppola’s masterpiece is a wonderful thing, and I applaud the efforts of Paramount’s Andrea Kalas, Laura Thornburg, James Mockoski of Zoetrope, and their teams.
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