From: Fred Camper (email suppressed)
Date: Thu Sep 04 2008 - 12:45:23 PDT
When a film is shown publicly, even to but a few people, it enters film
history, and when it gets discussed and written about, even more so.
Crisper color and sharper imagery do not always represent
"improvements." I think the absolute bedrock principle behind any
restoration should be to get something as close to the original as
possible. Of course changes in print stocks and the like mean this is
often very difficult. Still, I don't see how one can argue with the
principle. Maybe the filmmaker would not have wanted "better" color, et
cetera, if she or he could have seen the new result. The Lawder example
is a good one in that regard.
When the filmmaker is living, she or he can always approve a new
version. But it should be made clear to all that that is what it is, a
new version. In an ideal world of nearly limitless resources, a world
that of course does not exist, the film should also be restored to a
version that is as close to the original as possible.
What constitutes a "new version"? Of course this can be hard to decide.
I don't have an opinion as to whether improving the sound on Nelson's
"Grateful Dead" really results in a new version. These are often going
to be judgment issues. But as to the principle of trying to get
something as close as possible to the original, I don't see how that can
be argued against. Otherwise you allow restorers to also be revisers.
I first saw "Window Water Baby Moving" in January of 1964, which is also
when I first saw "Mothlight." I remember pretty well what "Mothlight"
looked like then, but I wouldn't trust myself to judge how close new
prints of "Window Water Baby Moving" are to the original. A lot of the
rental prints, though, including non faded ones, are much red. There
were (and I hope still are) one or two 7387 prints around that look
right to me.
With many filmmakers, Brakhage being a prime example, the issue is
further complicated by the fact that they let out many different-looking
prints of the same films in their lifetimes. As far as I know, though,
in Brakhage's case this was almost always due to vagaries at the lab,
changes in print stocks or in process (printing from interneg rather
than the reversal original), and the like. Brakhage once told me that he
rather preferred the low-contrast version of "The Riddle of Lumen" that
his lab was putting out circa 2001, despite the protests of Phil
Solomon. Again, in an ideal world, such a version would remain
available, since Brakhage seems to have endorsed it (he said you can see
more details due to the low contrast). But in restoring "The Riddle of
Lumen," Mark got wonderful prints that are closer the original I first
saw in 1972 than to this low-con version. I think he did the right thing
there. At the same time, the print I first saw was a reversal "test
print" that looked "better," to my subjective eyes, than any print I
have seen since. Time and tide, or something like that...
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