Monday, June 11, 2012

Studies in Chronovision (1975) by Louis Hock

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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

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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.

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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!

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)