Saturday, November 18

Series sends students out into the reel world


Film restoration class encourages amateur voices in ethical debates, programming decisions

Deteriorated and forgotten heroic films, classic Hollywood
movies and old home videos have come back to life at various
screenings at UCLA.

Providing students a glimpse into films from the silent era
through the 1980s, Hollywood studios are working together with
UCLA’s Film and Television Archive and the Moving Image
Archive Studies graduate program to take restored films of the past
and screen them to the public.

“If you don’t preserve the films, then eventually
they’ll deteriorate and they’ll be lost and not
viewable,” said David Pendleton, a programmer at the UCLA
Film and Television Archive. “By restoring and screening
these movies, it allows the public to view the movie on a big
screen with an audience, as it was meant to be seen.”

The renowned pair of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson crept
through the halls of a Scottish castle, in a screening of the 1945
“The House of Fear” one Thursday evening in April.

A week before that, students watched one-time Hollywood leading
man Errol Flynn as the legendary Robin Hood in the 1938 film
“The Adventures of Robin Hood.”

Tonight, students and members of the community will have the
opportunity to watch restored amateur films that provide a look
into topics ranging from gay cultures in San Francisco over the
past five decades to such celebrations as weddings and birthday
parties.

These and the other movies being shown are part of a restored
film series “Out of the Past: Film Restoration Today”
being held in conjunction with a graduate students seminar on
technical methods involved in the preservation of moving images and
the ethical issues that surround it. This year’s edition of
the series began in April and will run through late May.

The film series began way back in 2003, but this is the first
year students have been involved in the program, working with
restorationists at such studios as Columbia and 20th Century
Fox.

The first step was for students to get permission from the
distributor and studio to hold a public screening and to invite
restorationists to speak.

Students in the program said this type of interaction provided a
more interesting way of studying film than they can normally find
in a classroom setting.

“To see the preservationists from the field first-hand and
talk to them about (the film) while subsequently viewing the
screening is a much better learning experience than what you would
receive in a classroom,” said Clare Dank, a graduate student
and officer involved in the series.

To ensure that the series parallels the material being taught in
class, Dank said the department has constantly kept in contact with
Jan-Christopher Horak, the professor at the UCLA School of Theater,
Film and Television who teaches the seminar.

There are two main restoration techniques: photochemical, a more
traditional method based on restoring the original negatives, and
digital, a modern method utilizing more advanced technology. Horak
said with the new digital technologies, a restorationist can make a
film from the early twentieth century appear as though it came out
in 2006.

But there is more to consider when it comes to film restoration
than the technology: Horak said there is an ethical problem in
defining the boundaries of preservation so that the film remains as
close to the original as possible.

Horak said he believes that, even with the new digital tools, a
restorationist has a duty to restore the film only to the technical
level of when it was created and to restore only what was lost.

“If you’re an archeologist and you find a piece of
Greek pottery, you’re not going to paint the rest of it and
make it look better. But some (film) preservationists think
it’s okay to do exactly that, especially if you’re
working for a commercial company,” Horak said.

Pendleton said the Film and Television Archive often uses the
more traditional method of preservation to restore its films,
though a combination of both photochemical and digital techniques
is becoming more common.

Another element of restoration involves investigation, which
Horak said has always excited him.

“You have to do a lot of detective work (such as) finding
other versions of the negatives and doing detailed comparisons of
(them). What we try to do in this course is to try to convey some
of that excitement,” Horak said.

For Dank, one of the most important parts of restoring a film is
color.

“If you don’t restore a film, color fades over time.
… Color is a different way to tell the story,” she
said.

Dank decided to screen “The Adventures of Robin
Hood” because of the technology that is used to restore it,
which requires the preservationist to realign the original
Technicolor negatives.

Though the restored films come from a different, older
generation, younger audiences might be surprised about how similar
the older films are to modern films, Pendleton said.

“(Older films) might be less violent and have less sexual
content, but they still deal with the same emotions and
controversies that modern films do,” Pendleton said.

What older films offer as well, Dank said, is a visual record
and look at history and the cultures and customs that dominated
society when the film was created.

With the decaying effects of time, Horak said more than 95
percent of films from the silent period have been lost, along with
about 50 percent of films predating the 1950s.

“If we want to get a handle on our history ““ our own
history of moving images and visuals ““ we have to preserve
these films,” Horak said.

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