restored Fuses / preservation ethics

From: Mark Toscano (email suppressed)
Date: Thu Sep 04 2008 - 09:46:44 PDT

I'm glad this came up, because I think it's a really interesting issue, and one that Andrew and I (and many other archivists) grapple with all the time.

The idea that one can be 100% faithful or definitive when it comes to preserving and re-presenting particularly this kind of work is incredibly flawed, but it's obviously still a key consideration. But it's just as important to be flexible and realize that compromise is necessary and even interesting in pretty much every single project. It's often hard to determine what even an approximation of "definitive" or "faithful" means.

I think Andrew and I both tend to be on the conservative side, e.g. not digitally cleaning soundtracks beyond fixing actual damage to them, understanding as best we can an intention and aesthetic and context of a work to inform the decisions we make, i.e. not assuming anything.

With "experimental" work, this absolutely necessary attention to detail and understanding of intention and limitation is crucial, and it's really hard sometimes to decide where the lines are drawn. We do it as responsibly as we can.

When working on Robert Nelson's Grateful Dead, I was faced with two options for the soundtrack. I only had the optical track, and the original 1/4" tape. The soundtrack is a collage from the band's first album. The 1/4" tape sounded fantastic, and the optical sounded lousy. But the prints of the film that circulated always had those optical tracks, so the muddy, indistinct sound was technically how the film has always been heard. In this case, I decided to use the 1/4" tape, deciding (and confirming with Nelson) that the muddiness wasn't at all an intended or desired quality of the film. But since the 1/4" tape had no sync, we had to futz around quite a bit with speed correction before it sounded right, something we checked by laying it against a transfer from the optical, and also simply by ear. Anyway, so the film is restored now, but it's restored back to something that was technically never seen. But in this case, it seemed valid to me (and

In the case of Fuses, it's really tough. I haven't seen the new print, but I've heard vivid descriptions. I think what Andrew did here is very exciting and totally valid. The argument is easily made that when Carolee was editing and modifying the footage, she was probably working in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get mode. The fact that an intermediate master had to be made in order to make the film printable was a technical necessity that was not intended to bear on the appearance of the film, though of course it unavoidably did. More complicated is that fact that these resulting less clear, more murky prints are the way nearly everybody has seen the film over the years, which give them a certain validity, as Caroline K eloquently pointed out. So the argument for both to co-exist is not invalid, although part of me does wonder what this does to focus attention away from the experience of the film itself, when one is comparing them in terms of clarity,
 color, and so forth.

A similar thing came up recently with me for Standish Lawder's Necrology. Cinema Lab made a new print from the original negative, and Standish liked it, but felt very ambivalent about it, because he felt the people in the movie suddenly looked "alive", when previously they seemed more "dead". This is largely due to the improved print stock and the better lab work done than he was getting in the early '70s. With Brakhage's painted film Nodes, the original internegative made in 1981 was not exposed well, and about half the actual color was simply not expressed, and the forms and details were incredibly murky. A few years ago, the lab made a great new negative from the original in which the full range of color was now apparent, and the detail of Stan's painting visible as it had never been before. Another quandary. And I fully expect similar questions to come up with Window Water Baby Moving, as all prints and negatives since the mid-'60s have been
 made from an intermediate, not from the original. So probably 90% of the people on this list have seen only a third generation print from the internegative, 9.9% have seen a 2nd generation print from the master, and .1% have seen anything directly off the original (maybe Fred?).

This all extends to blowups to 35mm, presentation on video, preservations of installation or multi-screen works...

I like Morgan Fisher's own approach to restoring his super 8 installation Color Balance: he re-shot it.

Anyhow, didn't mean to go on so much, but hope this is of interest and perhaps sparks some conversation and debate!

Mark T

--- On Thu, 9/4/08, Caroline Koebel <email suppressed> wrote:

> From: Caroline Koebel <email suppressed>
> Subject: Re: [FRAMEWORKS] Fuses restored version
> To: email suppressed
> Date: Thursday, September 4, 2008, 8:10 AM
> Hi Andy & All,
> I screened the new Fuses print from Anthology at SUNY
> Buffalo on April 12,
> 2007, as part of ³April Thursdays of Experimental Film²
> (thanks to Andrew
> L. for enabling this to happen). A digital transfer of the
> restored Fuses
> concurrently screened in looping projected DVD form as part
> of Carolee¹s
> retrospective ³Remains to Be Seen² at CEPA Gallery in
> Buffalo.
> I agree with Andrew (Lampert) that the colors and sharpness
> of the restored
> version are more intense--and this results in the ³added
> footage²
> interpretation. Out of shadowy parts of the former image
> emerge detail and
> clarity. For instance, I remember James Tenney coming to
> the fore in a
> manner unobserved in the earlier version. My take on the
> ³two Fuses² now
> circulating in the world is that it is ideal to actually
> present both
> together. While the new Fuses holds clear attractions,
> there remains
> something incredibly seductive about the ³lostness² of
> parts of the image of
> the old version. Long live Fuses and Fuses.
> best,
> Caroline


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