The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 16, Number 4
Aug 1992


Moving Image Preservation (and Destruction)

Archive director Guillermo Fernandez Jurado blamed the government for not supplying the film industry with sufficient funds to move the films to a safer place. Jurado said he repeatedly asked for an official subsidy or money from private associations such as the Producers Guild to accomplish the job. His requests were in vain.

The estimated damage of Thursday's collapse is in the millions of dollars. An many as 2,~00 original movie titles, going back as far as the late 1930s, were destroyed.

The cause of the collapse is not yet known, but preliminary investigation attributed it to operation of mechanized excavation equipment in an unauthorized underground construction site nearby. Somehow the work collapsed the walls and ceilings of the old archives building. (From the Hollywood Reporter, Dec. 9, 1991)

The Hollywood-based Dubs is one of only two facilities in the United States known to have the capability of transferring 2-inch, a short-lived format that was the first practical videotape technology for broadcast.

Millais recommended a format change to D2 or one-inch tape.

Born around 1959, 2-inch tape began being used as a film substitute in the '60s and '70s. Late in the latter decade, it was replaced by the more convenient, and technologically superior, one-inch tape format, and by 1983 the changeover was complete.

"A lot of the material has been improperly stored, and some of it is deteriorated beyond use, but if you think they'll have any residual value at all, it's worth checking into," said Millais.

Millais said remastering 2-inch tape is "fairly inexpensive." Services are offered on two levels: restorative submastering, which includes a thorough cleaning of both the audio and video tracks, and the simple transfer. Prices range from about $100 a half hour, including tape for a one-inch dub, to several hundred dollars for a high-end D2 transfer. (From the Hollywood Reporter, Nov. 1, 1991.)

Nitrate films, all made before 1950, are expected to be all gone by 2005 unless they are converted to another film base (cost: about $2 per foot of film). At least 100 million feet of unrestored nitrate film are stored in American Archives a]one, according to Robert Rosen, director of the Film and Television Archive at UCLA. To restore it all would cost as much as $200 million.

France unveiled at the Festival a $160 million, 15-year plan to restore all the country's existing nitrate films with government funds. In the U.S., in 1990, the National Endowment for the Arts offered $350,000 for film restoration, and the Library of Congress spent $500,000. (Condensed from the Los Angeles Times, Oct. 10, 1991: "French Festival Takes Aim at Film Preservation Efforts," by Rone Tempest.)

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