Monday, August 26, 2013

Cube and Room Drawings

by David Haxton
16mm, color, silent (24fps), 12.5min.

The restoration of David Haxton’s Cube and Room Drawings (1977) is one of the very few in which I’ve actually cut a filmmaker’s original.  In this case, the camera original is not the same as the “original” conformed printing master for the finished film, which was lost.  But the presence of the camera original footage for the film enabled me to restore it using some atypical approaches in printing and restoration.

Here's David's own description of the film:

Cube and Room Drawings begins with a view looking down at an angle toward grey paper covering the floor.  A performer enters from the back of the scene and begins drawing lines on the floor.  The lines are the beginning of a drawing of a distorted cube.  The performer leaves the scene.  The paper begins to rotate on the floor.  As the paper rotates the cube gradually becomes correctly oriented, as if it were drawn on a vertical piece of paper.  The performer enters again and draws another cube that corresponds to the perspective of the other cube.  After leaving and re-entering the performer draws red receding lines on the floor.  He leaves and the paper rotates and the red lines become a grid that corresponds to the vertical screen.  The film continues with several additional actions that continue this theme.”

Cube and Room Drawings was shot entirely on 7242 Ektachrome EFB.  David Haxton frequently made use of negative imagery in his films (i.e. the image has negative polarity in the finished prints), and Cube and Room Drawings is no exception.  The film begins in negative (~100ft.), switches to positive (~300ft.) and then concludes back in negative (~100ft.).  The sense of action is continuous from beginning to end, and in fact it was more or less shot in a single session, with breaks only to reload the camera, or stop it briefly during some dead time in the execution of the filmed performance.

In 1977, to make finished prints of the film, David performed the following steps:

As mentioned, the entire film was shot on 7242 Ektachrome EFB, yielding a positive image on the original.

The camera original was separated into three parts, corresponding to the above description.  In the finished film, Parts 1 and 3 are intended to be seen in negative, and Part 2 is seen in positive.

The B-wind reversal camera original for Parts 1 and 3 were contact printed – as if negative – to 7381 color print stock, yielding an A-wind color print with negative polarity.

Part 2 was contact printed conventionally to a color reversal print stock of unknown type (likely Eastman 7389, 7390, or Agfa), yielding an A-wind color reversal print with positive polarity.

Part 2 was also trimmed at its head and tail, and edited slightly in three places to trim out unwanted excess material, such as some dead time or a flash frame when the camera was stopped at a few points.  These edits were done with tape splices.

The negative prints for Parts 1 and 3 were trimmed at head and tail and tape spliced to the beginning and end, respectively, of Part 2, completing its negative-positive-negative form.  This yielded a complete A-wind picture roll, an A-roll only, representing the finished, conformed printing master for the film.

Color reversal prints were then struck from this A-wind printing master.  The two extant prints I have access to are both B-wind Agfa color reversal prints.  It’s possible David also printed to Eastman 7389 (or, less likely, 7390 or 7387), but I have no confirmation of that.

Sometime in the years following the cessation of his filmmaking (ca.1982), the originals for nearly all of David’s films were lost, presumably discarded by the lab where they had been stored.

However, although the functional, conformed printing master for Cube and Room Drawings was among the material lost, the raw Ektachrome camera original material still existed in David’s possession, unexpectedly enabling me to restore the film using the camera original.  To do so, I needed to replicate the steps done by David in the creation of his printing master, though with reversal printing stocks no longer available, some modifications in the process had to be made. 

To restore the film in 2013, I took the following steps, using FotoKem and working with timer Doug Ledin:

Parts 1 and 3 of the camera original, still in separate rolls, were spliced together leader-to-leader, to be more easily printed together.

Parts 1 and 3 were then contact printed as if negative to an A-wind 3383 color print, to achieve a print with negative polarity.  This was done as a way to work out the timing lights needed to produce a negative print with good color/density.  Although somewhat faded, one of the vintage Agfa reversal prints was used as a general guide for timing.

Once this was approved, Parts 1 and 3 were printed again, but this time optically, so the image orientation could be flipped, resulting in a negative print with the necessary B-wind emulsion position.  This was returned to me.

Using the same vintage Agfa print (which conveniently had edge numbers printed through two generations from the camera original) as a reference, I set the various parts up on the bench, and built a set of A/B printing rolls, using a combination of the newly produced negative prints for Parts 1 and 3 and the Ektachrome camera original for Part 2.

All three parts were now in the correct polarity (neg/pos/neg), and wind (all B-wind).  I could have assembled them as an A-roll only, with tape splices, as David had in 1977, but was concerned that the mix of polyester (3383) and acetate (7242) material might cause some printing instability.  Instead, I composed the material as A/B rolls, with Parts 1 and 3 in the A-roll and part 2 in the B-roll. 

To save on the black leader (which is expensive), I used clear leader as the slug in both rolls, with the exception of a foot of black before and after the A/B switches, with 16-frame fades to open/close the fader leading into and following these points.

As mentioned earlier, in winding through the material in a synchronizer with the reference print, I also discovered the camera original for Part 2 needed an extra bit of conforming in five places.  These were the aforementioned edits David had made when originally assembling his printing master.  Using tape splices as he had, I trimmed the head and tail, and made the three necessary trims throughout Part 2, which was easier to do given the presence of the edge numbers in the reference print.  The conforming for Parts 1 and 3 was done by sight, as there were no edge numbers to go by.

The finished set of A/B rolls then went back to FotoKem, and an internegative was struck from it, and a check print struck from that.  Release prints followed.  (Thanks so much to David Haxton for providing the images!)

Preparatory sketches for Cube and Room Drawings (David Haxton, 1977)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Will She Get Over It?

I don't know who the "she" is in the film's title, nor what it is that "she" needs to get over.  At least as of this writing, I've have not seen this film.  And yet I'm in the process of restoring it.  This has happened more than once (see my post on Gary Beydler and Venice Pier).  In my experience of working on the restoration of experimental films, this isn't the norm, but it's not totally unusual.  And in the case of Mike Henderson's films, it's quite common.  Will She Get Over It? is a ca.1971 film made by Mike with students in the class he was teaching at UC Davis at the time.

Before I get to this film in particular, I thought I'd say a little bit about restoring something I haven't seen.

First of all, the main reason for this to even occur is that there is no extant print of a given film.  For example, there may only be the original picture and sound masters, or an internegative.  So there's no way to very easily watch the film before working on it.  In some cases, I've had a print, but only a print, i.e. the film only survives as a single print, and although I trust the Pageant 250S 16mm projector I generally use here for quick viewings, I usually feel it's just not worth risking it.  This was the case with A.K. Dewdney's film Wildwood Flower (1971), which only survived as a single distribution print, and which I did not screen before using that print as the source for the film's preservation.

Of course, preserving/restoring something that you haven't seen involves a bit of curatorial chance-taking, but if the filmmaker is a known quantity (artistically/historically speaking), and/or I have it on good authority that the film is significant in some way, I don't consider it all that risky, especially if it really doesn't cost that much to do the work (as with Wildwood Flower).  I discuss this a bit in the aforementioned post on Gary Beydler, but with Dewdney's film, the same held true.  Dewdney had made a few films that I had seen, and felt were fairly remarkable (especially his masterpiece The Maltese Cross Movement (1967)), so I trusted him as a filmmaker.  Additionally, the print of Wildwood Flower had shown at Light Industry right before I got it, and a trusted friend who had been at the screening had spoken of how much he'd liked it.  That was enough.

Mike Henderson may not be a name familiar to many in the experimental film world, even among the very experienced and prolific viewers among us.  This is partly because Mike is known much more as a painter and blues musician.  (If you search him out online, you might find a different artist named Mike Henderson and a different blues musician named Mike Henderson.  The way you'll know if you have the wrong guys is that those guys are white.)

Here's a short piece about Mike from KQED, if you're curious to learn a bit about him.

Like so many other things, I got turned onto Mike's work because of Robert Nelson.  I was teaching a class at Cal Arts in Fall 2006, and one of the sessions was themed on humor.  Bob had suggested I look at Mike's film Dufus (1970/73).  I already knew about Mike through Bob, and the two film collaborations they had done (King David (1970) and Worldly Woman (1973)).  I had also seen Mike perform (with William Wiley on harmonica) at a reception for Bob at San Francisco Art Institute in 2002.  But I had no idea he'd made other films.

Turned out the Film-makers' Cooperative had two of his films - Dufus and The Last Supper (1968-70).  I rented Dufus, showed it in the class, and we were all pretty knocked out by it.  Immediately after that class, I called Mike and asked him about his films.  Soon after, I was visiting the Bay Area anyway, and we made plans for me to drop by his place to talk more about it.  We met up, had a good long talk, and I was thrilled to discover that Mike had not just made those two films, but also a few others.  He gave me a reel of four prints to check out back in LA - the aforementioned two, plus The Shape of Things (ca.1981) and Down Hear (1972).  Two other films - Too Late To Stop Down Now (1982) and Ducks Are No Dinners (1983) - were listed as being on the reel too, but were absent, so I could only be tantalized by those fantastic titles.  (Mike has a talent for titling, and many of his film and painting titles are packed with wonderfully implicit narrative suggestion.  Two of my favorite painting titles of his -- both abstracts -- are All You Do and She Worked For Years.)

Dufus (1970/73, 16mm, b/w, sound, 7min.)
Back in LA, the reel blew me away, especially the incredible Down Hear.  I had a few more chats with Mike, told him I really wanted to restore these films, and not too long after, visited him in the East Bay again.  Already excited to see those two other films missing from the reel, I was further surprised to learn that he had actually made more in the neighborhood of TWENTY-FIVE films, once we started digging them out of his basement.  I kept finding cans with new, unfamiliar titles on them like Harvey Hog (1970), Just Another Notion (1983), How to Beat A Dead Horse (1983), Will She Get Over It?, and more, and Mike kept saying, "Oh yeah, that's another one, I'd forgotten about that one..." and laugh his inimitable laugh.

To cut to the archival chase:  Although a number of Mike's films survived as originals plus prints, many survived only one way or the other - as ONLY an original or ONLY a print.  Of the films mentioned in the last paragraph, both the originals and a print of Down Hear survived, Harvey Hog and Will She Get Over It? survive only as originals (no prints), and Just Another Notion and How To Beat A Dead Horse survive only as prints (no originals).  This is a fairly representative sample that you could extend across his whole filmography.

Part of Mike's sensibility - to just get in there and MAKE things, don't worry about your hangups, don't be afraid of failure - led him to try all kinds of ideas in filmmaking.  And thankfully, he had no formal filmmaking training.  Bob Nelson just told him to get a camera and get someone to show him how to load it and how to make a correct exposure.  Aside from maybe a few other pointers from people about how to splice and where to get your films printed, that was it.  He learned the bare minimum he needed to know to actually make films, and then proceeded to create a singular body of independent film work that intertwines complexly with his painting and music, having perhaps more in common with those two disciplines than with other films.

From a technical/production standpoint, all of Mike's films (except one) were constructed in the same very basic way.  They were shot on reversal film (he used both black and white and color), spliced with tape on a guillotine splicer as A-rolls only, and the sound finished on 16mm fullcoat magnetic film.  Mike's mag soundtracks were often created not on regular dubbers with a mixing console of any kind, but on a 16mm projector with recording capabilities that his friend Michael Rudnick owned.  These two elements would then go to (usually) Monaco Lab in San Francisco, and an electroprinted reversal print would be made.  (Electroprinting allowed filmmakers to get an optical track on their print directly from the mag, bypassing the creation of an optical track negative.  For filmmakers who were only planning to make a couple of prints, this was cheaper, although the sound quality was often not as good.)

Sometimes, the splicing tape Mike used was cheap and shitty.  Sometimes he didn't even use proper splicing tape, but cellophane tape.  It didn't matter - whatever stuck the two pieces of film together and got it through the printer would work fine.  He shot cheap and outdated stock sometimes too.  And the prints were barely timed, usually just a one-light, but that was OK because Mike had learned how to make a good exposure.

In the case of Will She Get Over It?, a few of the things I've mentioned above are at work.

No print survives, or at least we didn't turn it up at Mike's place when we looked.  I only have the original tape-spliced b/w reversal A-roll, and the 16mm mag.  I know how they sync up because they have hole punches in their leaders, but that's it.

The tape splices have problems, as with a lot of his originals.  There are two different kinds of splice problems that Mike's originals tend to have:

1. The film ends have separated somewhat under the tape splices, like this:
original picture roll for Will She Get Over It?

This is not a huge problem, but it still needs to be dealt with.  Not only would printing this original as-is mean that you'd see a distracting, clear splice-line at every cut, but the improper pitch of the perforations at the stretched splice would create instability in the printer, leading to the creation of little jumps at each cut, possibly with brief focus issues in the few frames immediately before and after the splice.

2. Tape splices have dried up and crystallized on the film (emulsion and base), and tarnished the silver of the black and white image, like this:

original picture roll for Will She Get Over It?

As you can see from the above pictures, Will She Get Over It? has both of these problems.

So basically, I had to take apart, clean, and redo every single splice in the film.

The splices that were merely stretched were easy to fix.  Just pull off the tape splices, hand clean the adhesive residue with film cleaner, and resplice them with new tape so they join better.  

The splices have also usually left adhesive residue elsewhere too, where they rested against the preceding and subsequent winds of film.  This had to be hand-cleaned as well.

As I mentioned above, Mike's technical aesthetic was in some ways rough, though it's very much the roughness of someone who knows what he wants to express in a direct way, and doing what he needs to do to express it, without worrying about procedure, rules, or standards.  It's actually kind of punk, in the way that raw country blues is also punk.

As I also mentioned, Mike spliced these films in a very simple way using tape on a guillotine splicer.  Traditionally, in production and preservation, a splice (especially a tape one) is meant to be as invisible as possible.  Mike's splices are not invisible.  They're also not self-consciously visible either.  They're just there, and they don't care.  So I decided the best way to resplice all of these cuts was to do the same thing, on a guillotine splicer, not worrying about making it perfect.  I'm not deliberately trying to make them imperfect either.  I'm just doing it.

I've dealt with the badly dried up splices in a similar way, but they need a bit more help.

original picture roll for Will She Get Over It?

The adhesive wouldn't come off in a hand-cleaning, so in a moment of mild frustration, I just stuck the end of the film right into the film cleaner bottle, like so:

let it sit for a few minutes, pulled it out, and was glad to discover the dried up adhesive had weakened enough that a hand-cleaning would work.  I then respliced them.

Of course, this didn't help the problem of the tarnishing.  Here's a top-down view of the above splice so you can see a more extreme example:

original picture roll for Will She Get Over It?
Since the film is totally black and white, the brownish tone that you see will be eliminated in the printing process going to a black and white dupe negative.  There will still be some visible image degradation built in, but aside from chopping out the frames entirely, there's nothing that can really be done to fix it.  The tarnishing in Will She Get Over It? is infrequent and not that bad, so I decided to just leave the frames as they are.  In the case of Harvey Hog, the tarnishing is much worse, and has turned the two frames under each tape splice into nearly abstract compositions.  Talking to Mike, we decided I should cut those frames out of the film entirely, as they intruded too much on what the film is.  Although it's a compromise to remove the frames, and unfortunate, the film is not about those frames, and the minimal integrity of those frames should not compromise the integrity of the film as an overall artwork.

One last thing about preserving Will She Get Over It? that came up is something that's suggested by my hasty post-it note on the film can as seen above.  The original has yellow lightstruck leader at its head, which cuts directly to the first image of the film.  This suggests to me that the film, in its printed form, originally began with a fade-in, but I have no way of knowing for sure - there's no print to compare to, no lab paperwork, and Mike doesn't remember.  We talked about it, and he said sure, start it with a short fade-in.  So that's what I'm doing.  It's up to Mike, and it sounds good to me.  And it's not the kind of decision -- when dealing with films as beautifully unanxious and liberating as Mike's -- that I'm going to let keep me up at night.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Later That Same Night (1971) and Pastorale d'Ete (1959) by Will Hindle

Later That Same Night (1971) by Will Hindle

This'll be a somewhat basic post, covering two of the Will Hindle films I've been working on lately.  (Also working on Pasteur3 (1976), which will perhaps be covered later...)

I have a particular devotion to restoring Will's films, for various reasons.  One of those reasons is that Shellie Fleming is amazing and an inspiration to me, and it's the least I can do for someone to whom Will was such an important person.  Another is that I really love Will's work, and definitely think its reputation has waned dramatically over the past 35 years, to the point where not very many people today know his work anymore.  There are several reasons for this, which I may get into later or elsewhere, but they have nothing to do with the very high quality of the work itself.  Yet another is the nature of Will's collection - upon his sudden death, a lot of his originals were spread around at various labs, and his materials were in somewhat of a shambles.  Thanks to Shellie, a lot more was saved than otherwise would've been.  Also, a few things turned up at labs, still sitting in their vaults after 35 years.  But a lot of it was lost, including the originals for the two films I'm discussing here.  So Will's stuff has always seemed to me in dire need of care.

Pastorale d'Ete (1959) is Will's first completed personal film, and Later That Same Night (1971) is the first film he fully created and completed in Alabama, where he had planned to build (literally and conceptually) a sort of filmmaking workshop that would be open to other artists.

The originals for both are totally lost.  The last known location of the originals for Pastorale d'Ete was Deluxe Labs in Hollywood, and the last known location for Later That Same Night was MPL in Memphis.  Nothing ever turned up at either, and in fact MPL stated that any materials not claimed from their vaults were discarded.  The original mag soundtrack for Later That Same Night did actually survive in Will's collection, so I at least had access to the original mixed soundtrack in very good quality and condition.

Actually, if the originals for Later That Same Night HAD been available, they may not have been usable anyway.  The film uses a variety of stocks, and different processing techniques, including at least one section that seems to clearly have been cut into the originals on color print stock.  Most likely, several sequences in the originals would now be moderately-to-totally faded.  On the other hand, one 350ft. roll of outtakes that Shellie was able to save are all on 7242 Ektachrome EF daylight, and they look beautiful.

On the other hand, Pastorale d'Ete was shot on Kodachrome and what seems to be Plus-X b/w reversal.  900ft. of outtakes survive, all gorgeous, which is a huge bummer in light of what this says about how nice the cut original must've looked.

So, in order to preserve these films, we just had to work from the best surviving original prints.

In both cases, the best prints were housed at Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, thanks to a 1960s/70s collector who was particularly a fan of Will's work, and who bought a number of prints from him at that time.  She treated them very well, so they remained in quite nice condition, eventually going to PFA.  We borrowed these Kodachrome (7387) prints of the films from (the very gracious and helpful) PFA to work from, and they went to Colorlab for duplication.

The original mag and a different print of Later That Same Night were both transferred to provide a sound source and reference, respectively.  The mag sounded great, and did represent the correct final mix, which was a relief.  In the meantime, Colorlab made a new internegative from the PFA Kodachrome print.  We then supplied them a new track negative from the restored sound, and they made a new print, matching the Kodachrome print as closely as possible.  After two printing passes, it was approved.  And it DOES look great, but of course, duplicating Kodachrome is difficult due to its heavy saturation, contrast, density.  But I feel confident that Colorlab did as good a job as is possible, and it really does look excellent.

By the way, I'd like to say here - Later That Same Night always felt to me like a problem film, and a weaker one, in Will's filmography.  It was always one of my least favorites, though I still thought it was curious and interesting.  But looking at it a number of times now during this project, I've changed my mind quite a bit, and think it's quite good.  The soundtrack is fantastic, and the sound/image relationships in particular are powerful and unexpected.  As an experimental cinematic look at the generational, social, and political disenfranchisement of youth and youth culture in the late '60s/early '/70s, it's really powerful and sharp, and feels weirdly contemporary now, with definite resonances in the current interest in so-called freak folk and radical/alternative culture, aesthetics, and history.

As for Pastorale d'Ete - though the process here is similar to that of Later That Same Night, it's a bit more difficult.  The soundtrack is not so hard to deal with.  It's just a recording of the titular piece of music, by Honegger.  We transferred the audio from the same print we're using as a picture source.

Some frames scanned from outtakes of Pastorale d'Ete (1959)

The above images (sorry, I only currently have low res versions) give some idea of the classical beauty of Pastorale d'Ete, which is a very elegant and inspired California landscape film.

Unlike Later That Same Night, one of the challenges in duplicating the picture for this film lies in the problematic fact that Will shot the color portions of the film on Kodachrome, and also made his finished release prints on Kodachrome print stock.  As a result, the Kodachrome prints are very saturated, and more contrasty than Kodachrome prints made from Ektachrome or other lower contrast originals (such as Later That Same Night).  Colorlab's first stab at an internegative was deemed too contrasty to work with.  It was made on the recently discontinued 3272 internegative stock, which has now been replaced by 3273, which is essentially a polyester version of the 50D camera negative stock.  As of this writing, the second try at a usable internegative is in progress.  I have to say, looking at the camera original outtakes for this film is depressing, as it gives me an idea of how nicely the preservation work would come out if we actually had the film's camera original to work from.

A few more images from Later That Same Night:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Studies in Chronovision (1975) by Louis Hock

The preservation of Louis Hock’s Studies in Chronovision (1975) was fairly simple.  I had been interested in Louis’s films for some time, but hadn’t talked to him about depositing them at the archive until only about 2010 or so, thanks to the help and instigation of my buddy Vera Brunner-Sung, who’d been working with Louis down in San Diego.

Louis periodically comes up to L.A., so once he’d decided to deposit his films, he brought them up in a few separate carloads when he was visiting up here anyway.

I had never seen Studies in Chronovision before he brought his films in, but had read some intriguing and complimentary references to it here and there.  Once I finally got to see it, I found it one of the more interesting, beautiful, and expressive time lapse films I could remember seeing.  And given the fact that the camera original had been discarded by Louis (due to extreme color fading and deterioration), it seemed like an obvious preservation candidate.

As I mentioned, the 16mm reversal camera original was gone, having faded badly over the years.  I don’t know for sure, but this is almost definitely because it was filmed on the dreaded 7252 Ektachrome Commercial (ECO) stock.  When Kodak reformulated ECO from 7255 to 7252 in 1970, it may have improved the stock for production use at that time, but it would prove devastating for filmmakers and archivists down the line, as its color fades badly, pretty much without exception.

All that otherwise survived for Louis’s film was a 1970s internegative made from the original, and two reversal prints, both on 7387 (Kodachrome) print stock.  The two prints were in good physical shape, and with completely stable color.  Kodachrome famously – and very unlike 7252 – is incredibly color-stable. 

One of the prints was a bit warmer and more magenta than the other.  Louis and I compared the two prints on a bench, and he indicated his preference for the cooler of the two prints as more accurately reflecting how the film should look.

Also, the film is silent, so no sound work was needed.

From here, the process was pretty easy.  I got the internegative and the preferred Kodachrome print to FotoKem Lab in Burbank, and asked them to print the internegative, matching the supplied Kodachrome print as a reference.  In the 1970s, it was common for internegatives (from reversal originals) to be a ‘one-light’, meaning the color correction/timing was already built into the internegative, and striking a print from it could be done at a single set of printing lights, rather than numerous timing changes from scene to scene.  This was generally accomplished by answer printing the reversal original to reversal print stock, possibly multiple times with corrections, and, upon approval of the reversal answer print, those timing settings would be built into the internegative.  If a filmmaker planned to make several prints of their film, it would be ultimately cheaper to make an internegative, as release prints off a single-strand internegative would be notably cheaper than release prints off an A/B –rolled reversal original.

When printing one of these ‘one-light’ internegatives these days, they may require a bit of extra timing, due to the changes in film stocks and the fact that a different lab with different printers is now printing it.  But generally they’re not too tough to time.

Since Louis’s internegative was made as a one-light negative, a minimum of timing was needed at FotoKem, making the printing job a check print rather than an answer print.  At FotoKem, a check print generally means a minimum of timing effort is needed, and it’s quite a bit cheaper than an answer print.  An answer print job could require not just a lot of timing changes throughout the negative, but also potentially a few passes of the negative, making multiple prints with corrected timing changes until the results are to the filmmaker’s liking.

Once approved, an interpositive was made from the internegative, and an additional two release prints.  This was a pretty basic preservation, as no additional internegative was made at this time.  Though it’s always nice to have as many protection elements as possible, it didn’t seem necessary at this time to make a new internegative from the new interpositive.  The only preservation benefit to having a new internegative would be to double the number of newly made elements.  The internegative otherwise doesn’t offer any additional archival stability (it and the IP would both be the same stock, 3242), and no other prints are needed at this time.  Louis isn’t really focused on circulating 16mm prints of his older works, so the three new prints made seem like enough for now.  If additional prints are needed down the line, a new internegative will be made from the interpositive, to avoid over-printing the original internegative (which is now, practically speaking, the original).

Friday, June 8, 2012

Neuron (1972) by Robert Russett

NEURON (1972)

A quick update (9/3/2013) - since I now have a couple of stills of the film, I thought I'd add them to the post, though I'll leave the photos from Robert's book (below), as they give a better sense of what happens in the film on a frame-by-frame basis.


Sorry I don't have proper stills of the film handy - instead, here are a few photos of film strips taken from Robert Russett's book, Robert Russett: A Retrospective Survey:

I have to thank the wonderful Michelle Puetz for turning me onto Robert Russett’s films.  Her enthusiasm for them really encouraged me to seek them (and him) out, eventually bringing his collection to the film archive in 2011 after a couple of years of correspondence and discussion.

Various originals for the films of Robert Russett as they arrived in 2011.
Robert has been based in Louisiana for decades, making (I believe) just about all of his films there.  Though stylistically diverse, and employing a number of different aesthetic styles and techniques, there’s a consistency of vision which is really deeply intelligent, and even, I would say, startling.  His abstract works (Brain Field, Primary Stimulus, Neuron, etc.) are intense and powerful, and employ unusual visual motifs and techniques to investigate (I would NOT say “play with”) the deeper recesses of perception and cognition.  The rephotography-based films (Aprés-Midi, L’Acadie, etc.) are lyrical, but dark and searching, unsettling and elegiac.

All of Robert’s films were made in reversal.  With a few early exceptions, his color films were all made in Ektachrome, and usually printed on Ektachrome print stocks (primarily 7390).  The use of Ektachrome over Kodachrome (in both shooting and printing) gave somewhat less saturated, more delicate results, which Robert favored.  Early attempts at making internegatives for the films failed as well, giving results that Robert felt simply didn’t capture the intended look of the films at all, particularly with the rephotography pieces.

With improvements in Kodak’s internegative and print stocks since the 1970s, and particularly with the high quality lab work available at specialty labs like Colorlab (where I’m working on Neuron), I was pretty confident we could get results with new internegatives that Robert would be happy with. 

As of this writing, the work on Neuron is nearly done, but still in progress.  Colorlab should be sending me a print the week of June 11th.

The film, which is about six minutes long, is made up of two halves, more or less.  The first half is black and white, shot on Tri-X, the second half is a color articulation of some of the motifs introduced in the first half.  Robert may correct me, but it looked to me to be on 7389 Ektachrome print stock, possibly printed via some multi-part color additive process.  The imagery of the film consists of different ‘windows’ containing what could perhaps be described as op art patterns, which move and transform rapidly, with recurring flicker patterns.  The soundtrack is a repetitive, insistent, ratchety sound which crackles with nervous, propulsive energy.

The original for the film is cut into a single printing roll, an A-roll only, and is in great condition, with no damage.  The color half has some very mild color shifting, but nothing we can’t fix in timing.  The goal in printing the picture is to get the black and white to look as black and white as possible on the color print stock, as well as match the colors as well as possible to the extant Ektachrome prints.  After I get an approved print, it’ll go to Robert as well, for his evaluation.

Although the picture presents some minor challenges, the sound is really where this project gets unique.

As I mentioned above, the soundtrack contains a repetitive motif which is (as far as I can tell) consistent and unchanging for the duration of the film.  The original sound elements I received from Robert were an original 1/4” tape, a 16mm fullcoat mag track, conformed to the original, and an optical track negative.

All contained the same recorded content, but the optical track differed in one regard that brought the sound restoration of the film into the realm of the unusual.

Here’s a picture taken of the original track negative, in a section at the climax of the film, near its very end:

As would be the standard thing to do, the track negative was shot from the conformed 16mm mag, and contains the same audio content.  However, in the course of finishing the film, Robert decided the track needed a little extra element near the very end of the film, to amp things up at that moment and heighten the film’s intensity.  Having at least some interest already in experiments in graphical, synthetic sound (taken to a fantastic level with his 1977 film Primary Stimulus), Robert decided to add these adhesive line patterns – 28 little pieces of them in all – directly to the track negative itself.  The result is that all prints of the film made from that track negative would have these line patterns printed in, which, when shown on a projector, emit a rapid beeping sound at the film’s climax, on top of the existing recorded track.

Although it would perhaps be a bit easier in doing the film’s sound restoration, to re-recorded the sound from this track negative and create a restored track with those beeps built in, to create a “fool proof” version of the film’s soundtrack, I felt that this would be a conceptually impure approach.  The graphical, synthetic, NON-recorded element of the track would be lost, the evidence of this technique and conceptual approach would be absorbed and normalized, neutralized in the film’s reprinting. 

Thankfully, when Robert sent his originals to the archive, the elements for Neuron came with the following envelope: 

As long as these adhesive patterns still had their stickiness, I knew I’d be able to recreate the process that Robert had first performed 40 years before.  (In case anyone’s wondering why I didn’t just use Robert’s existing track negative to make new prints, it’s because the original track negative is B-wind, for printing with the original, whereas I needed an A-wind track negative, for printing with the new internegative.)

Backing up a bit, the sound restoration was done by transferring the original 16mm mag, checking it against a transfer of a vintage print to make sure it synched exactly (which it did), then performing only a little EQ and fixing a few dropouts that had developed in the mag over time.  Then a new A-wind track negative was made for printing with the internegative.  A 35mm preservation mag and digital backups were made as well, on which we also included the transfer of the reference print, just in case.
With the new track negative and an envelope of sticky adhesive line pattern bits on the bench, I lined up Robert’s original track negative and the new track negative exactly, and marked off the areas I’d need to apply the patterns on the new track.  I tested one of the sticky patterns on another piece of film, and it stuck fine, so I proceeded to stick them onto the new track negative like so:

28 stickers later, I cleaned the track up with a little bit of film cleaner, let the whole thing sit for a bit, then rewound it and sent it to Colorlab for printing.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Taking requests.

After some delay (with no good excuse), I present here a list of films I've been working on preserving/restoring over the past year or two.  A lot of these are finished, but a number of them are still in progress, some further along than others.  Feel free to make requests on any specific film you'd like me to write about, and I'll do my best to do so.  In the interests of me not being overwhelmed, please limit your requests to no more than, say, two titles.   Some projects can be summarized really easily and briefly, some are a lot more involved.  And although I did go over this list pretty closely to make sure they're all things I would/can write about, I reserve the right to change my mind about writing on certain films.  Just leave your requests in the comments!

In the meantime, for the heck of it, here's a quick n dirty scan of an intended original titlecard for Ed Emshwiller's film Thanatopsis, before it was called Thanatopsis.  I don't believe it was ever released with this title:

ANGIE (ADAM BECKETT FX ROLL) (Adam Beckett/Deirdre Cowden, 1976)
ANSELMO (Chick Strand, 1967)
ASPARAGUS (Suzan Pitt, 1979)
THE ASSIGNATION (Curtis Harrington, 1953)
BABOBILICONS (Daina Krumins, 1982)
BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN (Scott Stark, 1997)
BACKGROUND (Carmen D’Avino, 1973)
BATH (Penelope Spheeris, 1969)
THE BEARD (Robert Nelson, 1967)
BOOK OF DEAD (Victor Faccinto, 1978)
BY THE LAKE (Chick Strand, 1986)
CATFILM FOR KATY & CYNNIE (Standish Lawder, 1973)
CHOPPERS (Chris Langdon, ca.1976)
COLOR FRAGMENTS (Elwood Decker, 1948)
COLORFILM (Ben Van Meter, 1965)
CRYSTALS (Elwood Decker, 1951)
CUE ROLLS (Morgan Fisher, 1974)
THE DEAD (Stan Brakhage, 1960)
DEUS EX (Stan Brakhage, 1971)
THE DIVINE MIRACLE (Daina Krumins, 1973)
THE DOODLERS (Kathy Rose, 1975)
ECLIPSE PREDICTIONS (Diana Wilson, 1982)
EYES (Stan Brakhage, 1971)
FURIES (Sara Petty, 1977)
GRATUITOUS FACTS (Tom Leeser, 1981)
HATS OFF TO HOLLYWOOD (Penelope Spheeris, 1972)
THE HOG FARM MOVIE (David Lebrun, 1970)
I DON’T KNOW (Penelope Spheeris, 1970)
INTEGRATOR (Richard Taylor, 1966)
INTERVIEW WITH AN ARTIST (Chris Langdon, 1975)
LATER THAT SAME NIGHT (Will Hindle, 1971)
LIGHT MODULATORS (Elwood Decker, 1948)
LOUD VISUAL NOISES (silent version) (Stan Brakhage, 1987)
LOUD VISUAL NOISES (sound version) (Stan Brakhage, 1987)
LOVING (Stan Brakhage, 1957)
MADAME MAO’S LOST LOVE LETTERS (Tom Leeser & Diana Wilson, 1983)
MAGDALENA VIRAGA (Nina Menkes, 1986)
MANZANAR (Robert Nakamura, 1971)
ME & BRUCE & ART (Ben Van Meter, 1968)
MICRO 2 (Elwood Decker, 1952)
MOVIE STILLS (J.J. Murphy, 1978)
NEURON (Robert Russett, 1972)
NOW PLAYING (Susan Rosenfeld, 1983)
NOW THAT THE BUFFALO’S GONE (Burton C. Gershfield, 1967)
OLDS-MO-BILE (Ben Van Meter, 1965)
OMEGA (Donald Fox, 1970)
OPPOSING VIEWS (Tom Leeser, 1980)
PASSAGE THROUGH: A RITUAL (Stan Brakhage, 1990)
PASTORALE D’ÉTÉ (Will Hindle, 1959)
PENCIL BOOKLINGS (Kathy Rose, 1978)
PICTURE AND SOUND RUSHES (Morgan Fisher, 1973)
PICTURE WITHOUT SOUND (Susan Rosenfeld, 1976)
PRELUDE (Curtis Opliger, 1950)
PRINT GENERATION (J.J. Murphy, 1974)
PROGETTI (Paul Bartel, 1962)
REFLECTIONS ON BLACK (Stan Brakhage, 1955)
THE ROCKING CHAIR FILM (Mike Henderson, ca.1972)
SHIT (Penelope Spheeris, 1969)
SHOPPERS MARKET (John Vicario, 1963)
SILENT REVERSAL (Louis Hock, 1972)
SIRIUS REMEMBERED (Stan Brakhage, 1959)
SOFT FICTION (Chick Strand, 1979)
SOME DON’T (Ben Van Meter, 1964)
SOPHISTICATED VAMP (Lynn Fayman, 1958)
STILL LIVES (Louis Hock, 1975)
SYNTHESIS (Penelope Spheeris, 1968)
UNDER THE JUGGERNAUT (Robert Russett, 1969)
VERY & NIGHT MULCH (Stan Brakhage, 2001)
WAR IS HELL (Robert Nelson & William Allan, 1968)
WAR ZONE (Neon Park, 1971)
WHY MAN CREATES (Saul Bass, 1968)
WILDWOOD FLOWER (A.K. Dewdney, 1971)
WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING (Stan Brakhage, 1959)
WONG SINSAANG (Eddie Wong, 1971)
YIN HSIEN (Michael Whitney, 1976)

Monday, March 19, 2012

A million projects.

I'm working on a million preservation/restoration projects right now, the vast majority of which are independent/experimental/artists' films. I was thinking of posting a list of a bunch of them here, and having folks who are interested pick a couple of titles that interest them, and I'll write a blog post about what's going on with those specific projects, archivally speaking. I would probably throw in some production info on the films too, in cases where I have info worth repeating.

So hopefully this would not only be of potential interest to fans of this sort of thing, but also would give me "homework", which I think would compel me to be a bit better about writing out descriptions of each project, something I'm a bit behind on at that moment.

What do you think? I'd have to limit it, though. Can't write on a ton of 'em! Some will be very basic, some will be very elaborate. Comments?

In the meantime, here's a picture of the inside of a can that contained a print of Confrontation at Kent State (1970) by Richard Myers et al.