Since 2008, The Reel Thing: Los Angles has offered presentations and screenings dedicated to the latest technologies in audiovisual restoration and preservation. As a technical symposium, The Reel Thing brings together a unique line up of laboratory technicians, archivists, new media technologists and preservationists. Below is an account from the 2013 Reel Thing.
The first night of this year’s Reel Thing dawned hot and sticky in Hollywood. It felt wonderful to finally slip into the back entrance of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Mary Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study. Ushered down a hallway, my peers and I , colleagues and luminaries of the field of moving image archiving were fed out into a lobby full of refreshments. We were awaiting the premiere of a 4K restoration of Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz; a restoration we would find out later, that was some 15 years in the making. After a brief interlude we made our way into the Linwood Dunne auditorium and the show began.
The 1979 film tells the story of Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider). Reportedly autobiographical Fosse’s “biopic” depicts a womanizing, drug addicted dancer/producer who stops at nothing to create a broadway spectacle. The 4k restoration featured a greatly enhanced image as well as a restored soundtrack. Note: More about the films restoration will be discussed later in this blog post.
Day two of the three-day conference saw an onslaught of information on a variety of topics. From presentations about B&W film restoration software to lectures on post WWII televisions the day was jam-packed with valuable information.
Just after lunch Michael Pogorzelski (The Academy Film Archive) and Schawn Belston (20th Century Fox) presented on their restoration of Bob Fosse’s All that Jazz (1979). The two men told a three act story which began in 1997. Belston began by pulling several of the prints held in 20th Century Fox’s vaults. What he found was that almost all of the prints were red shifted. This means that the prints other two colors had faded away leaving only the magenta. Working with Pogorzelski (who was then a preservationist at the Academy), and the then AFA president, Michael Friend, Belston mounted a photochemical restoration. Several preservation elements were made, however this is as far as Act I of the story went.
Act 2 began, with Belston showing the preservation master to the cinematographer, Guiseppe Rotunno. Rotunno was in Hollywood on a visit and was willing to sit in and comment on the work done by the two organizations. Ultimately, the cinematographer decided the prints color timing was off, with most scenes being too dark. With these comments Belston and Pogorzelski went back in and made a new, more correctly timed print. After this change however, the project was again shelved.
In 2010, Act 3 of the restoration was ushered in, with the intent of both parties (20th Century Fox and the Academy) mounting a digital restoration of the film. With 4K technology at their disposal the work was undertaken. The work they did with the digital tools was done using the Rotunno timed print from earlier. The sound was reworked by Chase Audio.
The first session of Day 3 was presented by Disney’s Theo Gluck. Theo covered the 4k restoration of three of Disney’s early animation shorts: Flowers and Trees (1932), The Old Mill (1937), and Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom (1953). In many cases the shorts not only had to be preserved and restored but also reconstructed to their former glory. Gluck emphasized the importance of getting historic details correct. Several of the shorts has in correct titles attached to them and artists at Disney had to do their best to reconstruct what the original titles might have looked like. For this Gluck and his team went to Disney’s animation library to do research on title construction. What was achieved is most likely as close to the original as they will come.
The Reel Thing XXXI provided those in attendance with a wide array of information about the field of moving image archiving. From presentations on new B&W digital restoration technology to information about using soundtrack roots and stems to rework audio the conference provided the listener with plenty of useful information.
For more information about the Reel Thing XXXI and the events program please visit: http://www.the-reel-thing.org/. We looking forward to learning more this fall at The Reel Thing XXXII in Richmond, Virginia on November 6, 2013. Hope to see you there!