Site created 12/15/97.
page created: 3/1/01
on Home Theater Forum
The following is a
complete transcript of the on-line chat with film preservationist
Robert Harris, held on Tuesday, February 27th on
Home Theater Forum. Thanks to Ron Epstein and the staff the
HTF for all their hard work, and for providing the transcript for
all to read. Enjoy!
Home Theater Forum
Subject: ROBERT HARRIS chat
Date: February 27, 2001
[RonEpstein] I'd like to thank all of you for coming here tonight
for this very special chat. It's always great to have someone in our
company that has as much (or more) appreciation for film than we do.
The DVD format has truly changed the way we watch movies and
appreciate the quality of them. Our guest this evening is always
continuing to strive in the preservation of movies for future
generations to enjoy. We are very proud to have with us, Mr. Robert
A. Harris. Good Evening, Robert!
[RAH] Good evening.
[RonEpstein] I was readingan interview you did with THE ONION. I
see as a kid you had your own 16mm projector and an endless supply
of movies. I suppose that is where most of your love for movies
[RAH] You had to if you were to learn anything about film.
Projecting 16mm was the only way to see older films.
[RonEpstein] We have so many people here tonight who have questions
for you, and are admirers of your work. I am going to open the floor
so they can ask you questions. Here we go...
[Peter_M_Fitzgerald] Hi, Robert, glad to speak with you tonight.
I'm happy you could join us. I've heard that the Todd-AO version of
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS is lost. But is it still possible that a
widescreen restoration of the 35 mm version could be prepared for
video? ...or are we stuck with the pan & scan abomination that
plays on TV for the duration?
[RAH] The film is isn't "lost" per se. It can no longer
be printed with any economy to create a print. The 30fps version is
extremely faded. I believe what you'll probably see if we're lucky
is something akin to NORTH x NORTHWEST. Via digital technology and
the lower resolution of NTSC, we can create a very good looking
video master from a faded original. We just can't make a print.
Therefore, since the 30fps neg is intact, this could be brought out
and hopefully look superb.
[Dave_Hahn] Thanks for coming tonight Mr. Harris! I really
appreciate your contributions to the forum. Could you tell us, which
studios truely care about their films and take care of them?
[RAH] Universal, Warners is starting, Fox is starting...
[Dave_Hahn] How about Columbia and Paramount?
[RAH] Disney does a superb job (Scott MacQueen), Columbia (Grover
Crisp)...MGM has a tremendous job on their hands and is working
[SteveEnemark] Good evening, Mr. Harris, and thanks again for
participating in this chat. Anyways, my question: I noticed that all
your major restoration efforts fall within about a decade's worth of
time (1954-1964). Is that for any particular reason, perhaps the
beginnings of widescreen cinema and multi-channel sound? The
Cinerama films could use some of your magic, by the way...
[RAH] A number of different reasons...First I love widescreen and
large format. I grew up with them. Second, they are the most
endangered. The films shot on 5248 are all going. This is the period
from about 1951-2 into 1961. They are further endangered as all
large format prints were made directly from the camera originals.
[Ike] What do you see as the most commonly commited sin by the
studios when putting films on DVD? Thanks for coming tonight!
[RAH] Using old laser transfers. Poor compression. Overpriced
discs. Bad transfers by individuals who don't know the films. You
always know something is amiss when you see a group of people
wandering thru town with torches in daylight. If everyone could do
it the way Criterion does...
[Joseph_Goodman] Mr. Harris, do you think that Warner is taking the
proper steps to preserve the video transer elements...
[RAH] If by video transfer elements you mean film, I'd say
certainly. They know what they're doing.
[Joseph_Goodman] ...such as the "warts and all"
interpositive with built in yellow fade of NORTH x NORTHWEST, so
that the movies survive on actually celluloid and not just video.
[RAH] N x Nw still needs a full restoration. The creation of the
new VVLA IP is a step.
[DanBrecher] Thanks for being here Mr Harris... With you being an
obvious lover of all things film from a young age, I am curious as
to what someone in your field's take is on digital projection and
digital movie cameras, systems that do away with film completely.
[RAH] Like colorization, they have their place. I don't think
they're ready to take over for film just yet. DLP projection can be
quite nice, but its not film. I see film and digital being used side
by side. Problem still is that one needs to preserve on film, as
digital is very iffy.
[Ken_McAlinden] Mr. Harris, please laborate on your recent Colonial
Williamsburg work with Mr. Katz. Thanks!
[RAH] The CWF project is quite unique. It was shot VVLA in 1957,
and has been running at the CW vistors center since then in either
VVLA or 70mm. One of the longest running shows in the world.
Non-stop. The neg is totally faded. Sep masters shrunken. We've
devised a means of digitally putting together the sep masters and
making them look like Eastmancolor. Working with Pacific title and
EFilm in LA who have both been experimenting on the project. CWF
needs about another $800,000 before the project can come to fruition
and will then take over a year.
[markharrison] Thank you for the opportunity to answer some
questions Mr. Harris. I suppose the thing most on my mind is when
faced with a restoration project, what do you consider to be the
greatest challenges to the effort? Does the rapid acceleration in
digital technology and computer software capability excite you in
their future potential for making your job easier?Lastly have you
patented any of the techniques or processes you use?
[RAH] We haven't patented anything. Every process that we have some
part in creating is turned back to the restoration forces to be used
for the public good. The greatest challenges are probably figuring
out how to do the restoration or reconstruction in the first place.
Every one is quite different with differnt problems.
[Jesse_Leonard] What is the most important thing studios are doing
to ensure that films made today are kept in great shape for many
generations to come?
[RAH] A number of things. Making b & w seps masters....and
FINALLY checking them. comping them back to film. Next major point
is that all of the studios are using cold vaults.
[StevenSimon] Welcome Robert, I have a very simple question, what
was the one most difficult restoration project you ever had to work
on in you career, and why??
[RAH] Restoration-wise would be Spartacus. We had no useable neg.
The seps were shrunken. For some scenes we only had two of the three
records. Each shot had to be put back together on an optical camera
by hand in multiple exposures. It was a mess. Fortunately Stanley
was very easy to work with and terrific about any changes
[StevenSimon] Are you involved with the new Criterion transfer?
[RAH] The transfer has been completed. Initially Universal did a
hi-def master. We then took that master and did all of the tweaking
necessary to bring it around to what Criterion would be proud of.
[BillHuelbig] Mr. Harris, I can't thank you enough for what you and
your team did for LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, SPARTACUS, and VERTIGO. I
spent a lot of happy hours in the Ziegfeld in NY because of you. Any
chance for AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS getting the same treatment?
[RAH] Really doubtful. The only way to save it would be a total
digital restoration. I really doubt that Warner would be willing to
put up the ten or so million dollars necessary to save the film. One
point that I should make in that regard, which is quite important.
80 DAYS did not fade on Warner's watch. It was already damaged when
they took over the rights.
[CraigBeam] Mr. Harris, what's your "holy grail" film
that you wish you could work on? I'm sure there are tons, but is
there one particular title that stands out in your mind? To put it
another way: if you could restore/preserve only ONE more film, which
would it be?
[RAH] I don't have one. I have a list. In 70mm... * It's a Mad Mad
Mad Mad World
* Ryan's Daugher.
* Cleopatra in the 4h 55m version.
* West Side Story.
* Zhivago, GWTW, Citizen Kane... I could go on. [RonEpstein] I hope
MGM comes to their senses and agrees to have MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD
restored to its original roadshow glory. That is one of the most
requested - if not THE most requested - MGM release.
[RAH] MGM is extremely cooperative. They're good people. They
understand restoration and preservation. But... They have one of the
biggest problems in the industry... the old UA library. into which
they're putting millions. I believe they're currently working on
creating elements for about 1,200 films. I'm working on getting one
saved... raising the funds at the moment for a proper reconstruction
and restoration ... The Alamo.
[RobLutter] Mr. Harris...how long does a fim...say your normal 35mm
film...remain intact if kept in ideal conditions... also do you
believe that with older films that the original soundtrack should be
made availible (not just a remix)
[RAH] It depends when the film was shot. Films from the 50s and 60s
are going. Films shot in 3 strip Technicolor from the 30s are fine
and beautiful. If an orig track survives, it should certainly be
available. For example, in the case of "Vertigo," all we
had were used prints.
[MatthewAnderson] Thank you Mr. Harris, Did you use the same
restoration process in restoring Rear Window as you did in Vertigo?
Vertigo looked and sounded so nice.
[RAH] No. Rear Window used a combination of yellow layer
restoration via the Pactitle methodology in which the yellow sep
master was combined with a new IP derived from the damaged element.
"Vertigo" used a great deal of gamma correction and
special processing and printing. The tracks on V were the biggest
problem. The originals had been junked in 1967. All that remained
were two used prints. We located the original floor recordings of B.
Herrmann's score in Paramount's vaults and after that could not turn
back from using them. If one listened to the old opticals, there
were many instruments missing from the score as the upper and lower
parts of the audio were completely gone.
[Keith_Paynter] Have you ever been approached to restore B&W
30's & 40's materials - I am a fan of Laurel & Hardy
features, and would love to see someone such as yourself or David
Shepard be involved in such an undertaking. Thanks from one
projector nerd to another.. :)
[RAH] I haven't and to be perfectly honest, there are those who can
do it better. David Shepard is certainly one. UCLA's Bob Gitt is
another. I'm really happier working on Eastman or Technicolor as I
find the problems more interesting.
[AgeeBassett] I'm a great admirier of your work with Mr. Katz,
Robert! Can you explain the decision by Mr. Katz and yourself on
your restoration for Rear Window to (I paraphrase) go for "color
[RAH] Ahhhh...I see you've been listening to the documentaries.
Jim's comment was meant to refer to our decislon on "Vertigo"
to go for sharpness, which we could get from working with the VVLA
Eastman elements as opposed to color, which we would have gotten
from the sep masters which were shrunken and would not register.
Hence the lack of sharpness. When the seps don't register, it's much
like the front page of your daily paper when the dots in the photos
don't quite come together. We allowed the color to drift a bit,
attempting rather to work with the gamma (contrast) and a potential
gain in color via speical processing. In this case, the color was
not 100% in a number of scenes, but one could readily see the
highlights in the actors eyes. Once you lose the highlights, you
might as well give up. Its rather like viewing a bad dupe of King
Kong. All you get is eyes and teeth.
[Dave_F] Mr Harris, how does someone get into the
restoration/preservation field? What kind of education/work
background do you suggest?
[RAH] I took the wrong fork in the road. I have a prelelection for
archaeology research...film and film history. It just kind of came
together when I least expected it. Rather like taking the wrong bus.
[GregYurkovic] Mr. Harris, Warner originally stated, when the
Stanley Kubrick Collection came out on DVD in June '99, that Kubrick
himself "approved" the transfers. Is there any way to
reconcile that statement with the way the discs look (i.e. mediocre
to horrible) or is Warner misleading the public? And do you hold any
hope for future releases of Kubrick's films, such as the rumored
boxed set for June 2001? Even though you didn't work on these films
directly, I'd like to hear your opinion. Thanks!
[RAH] First, I have great hope for the future releases. Next,
Warners in no way misled the public. You have to understand Stanley.
And you have to understand the great respect with which Warners
treated him. As he was working on a current project when the DVD
package came together, I can only assume that they went with the
masters that he had actually approved. The unfortunate thing was
that they weren't new. But they followed his lead and did as he
requested. Warners is not the bad guy here. There isn't one. Also,
he did like open matte. The multiple mattes in Lolita and
Strangelove may be a bit of his perverse sense of humor. They were
transferred open matte, even though the cameras at some times had
wide screen hard mattes in them. Which is why they jump back and
forth from one aspect ratio to another. Maria Palazzola went through
this with him on Lolita. It's what he wanted.
[KurtShimala] Thanks for being here tonight. What are your feelings
to re-releases being shown only in major cities? I really wanted to
see A Hard Days Night for example and Chicago was the closest to me
but I never made it. I mean the Exorcist was re-released and did
well. I feel if they are paying the money to restore these films why
not just a slightly broader release? I know not all movies would do
as well as the Exorcist.
[RAH] This is a problem. Its something that comes with education.
And what we need to do is to educate the studio distribution people
to understand specialized distribution. The major studio
distribution execs do a colossal job of getting 3500 prints into
theatres over a single weekend. They're brilliant. But bicycling 300
prints around the country is quite different. This is why things
were really humming when (for example) Universal had their classics
division in the early 80s. It was through this venue that we
realeased Napoleon with the score rather than with live orchestras.
[Frank_Sesma] About the degradation of the films from the
'50's...Since these negatives pretty much are the embodiment of all
the time, acting talent, physical labor, and multi-millions of
dollars spent, why in the world would the studios leave these films
in conditions that would favor this degrading? Was it just money
they could afford to throw away? Didn't they know better ? Is
today's film physically or chemically any different that it won't
undergo this breakdown (as quickly ?) ?
[RAH] They didn't know any better -- one. They really didn't need
them -- two. Film stocks are different today. You have to realize
that in the 50s an average print order might be 350 copies which
would travel the circuits around the country for months and
sometimes years. And when this was completed. Generally the film
just didn't matter any more. There were no films on tv. There was no
home video. We ate, drank and slept 16mm prints...walking miles
through snow drifts to get to school in the morning.
[Frank_Sesma] i appreciate the response. I never thought of this
from that perspective.
[RonEpstein] I believe the studios never thought back then that
there would be the need for film preservation, nor a video format
[RAH] Nor televison or video at all. Time is really interesting.
When you get a look again at Rear Window, keep in consideration that
it couldn't be made today. Everyone would have air conditioning. All
the windows would be closed.
[RonEpstein] Interesting point on Rear Window.
[ParkerClack] what is different about the film elements today then?
[RAH] The film elements today are quite different. The dyes are
much stronger, the grain structure tighter -- almost invisible. All
prints are made from dupes unlike the old days. When as in Rear
Wibdow, 389 prints were struck from the camera original in 1954
[Andy_G] Do you have any knowedge of the condition of the "Bond"
films? If so what would you say the condition of the earily ones are
and what would be necessary to preserve them? (pre "The Spy Wo
Loved Me") Thanks!
[RAH] The Bond films. This is really Jim's turf as he was head of
publicity at UA during that period. The early ones have problems.
Dupes are faded. Just take a look at the DVD of Goldfinger as an
example. You'll see - - in the scene shot at the Fountainbleau --
when we cut to the shot through the binoculars, we go to dupe. Check
out the color. Faded. Jim actually has an intersting story about the
Bond films. I'll tell it briefly. It was about 1960-61. Representing
UA, Jim was sent to the hotel where Broccoli and Salzman were
staying. They did not yet have a deal. He went up to their room. The
air condition wasn't working and they were wandering about in shirts
and boxer shorts. He delivered a letter which told them two things.
UA was willing to give them a chance and make Dr. No. and... they
would raise the budget and shoot it in color.
[Andy_G] I take it they need work then?
[RAH] the early ones, yes. I have every faith however, that MGM
(Gray Ainsworth) is on it.
Andy_G] this can be really sad.
[John_Berggren] I came late so I regret if this has been asked -
Are there any dream projects you'd like to work on - or any films in
desperate need of attention that just aren't getting it? Thank you
for your work , btw
[RAH] Yes. Many films. To reiterate for those who came in late...
I'd love to get the following properly restored AND INTO THEATRES...
* It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
* Dr. Zhivago
* Gone With The Wind
* West Side Story
* Tom Jones
* The Alamo
[RAH] That would seem to be enough for the next few weeks...
[Bill_McA] Hello Mr. Harris. Can a film print be made from a
restored video master? Or a digital print for digital projection?
[RAH] You can make a print from anything. You just wouldn't want to
[hakanpowers] Thanks for chatting with us mr Harris and thanks for
the work you have done on many films. I understand 2001 is on its
way as a restored SE later this year. Is this something that you are
involved in? If not, Can you comment on what is being done with this
over at WB?
[RAH] I assume you're speaking of a DVD when you say SE?
[RAH] Its a major film in their library so I would assume that
they'll do right by it this time.
[RichardSharpe] Thanks for your time here, Mr Harris. You mentioned
in The Onion interview that film restoration can't be done "by
the seat of your pants. You only get one opportunity to work with
the film elements; they can be screwed up really easily". Have
you personally had any 'nasty moments'?
[RAH] Yes...Many times. On Lawrence...once we got the general color
correction and timing into a print -- this is after the
reconstruction and restoration. The Oneg decided at that particular
moment to die. It just began to deteriorate and fall apart. Every
morning I would get a call from the lab at about 7 am telling me
what had torn up the previous night. Splices were opening. It was a
mess. I then had to go back and figure out where to get the
replacement shots from. I now make a rule of creating an
interpositive before any major timing is done. Fortunately , we had
a 65mm ip on My Fair Lady. As we completed the work. The worst
possible scene opened up in printing. Audrey coming down the
staircase in the ball gown. Had we not had an IP we would have had
to go to sep masters which were defective and rather ugly.
[Bill_Hunt] Hi Bob... I wondered if you'd talk a little bit about
Columbia's Lawrence of Arabia DVD. Does it meet your expectations?
Will it meet ours?
[RAH] Hi Bill. Glad you could join us. I honestly can't tell you
yet. I may have a set tomorrow. Have you seen it yet?
[Bill_Hunt] Not yet. Columbia keeps talking it up. Also, can you
talk a little about what you see the future of film restoration to
be. Is print restoration a dying art?
[RAH] As they say LOA is merely one of many classic films in their
[RAH] Is print rest dying? Probably. Its too expensive.
[Bill_Hunt] So digital is inevitably the future?
[RAH] I believe so...
[RAH] but at the expense of losing a great many films.
[Bill_Hunt] That's a sad testiment to the state of the industry
[RAH] Two things happened last year which are really going to
affect the future of film as film. John Lowry perfected his process
of digitally taking and correcting a godawful film element and
making it look terrific on video albeit in low resolution for DVD.
The first film we saw use this process was NORTH x NORTHWEST. This
is to the credit of Warner Bros. They really grabbed the bull by the
horns when they make their committment to DVD. And they've done it
again with their incredibly forward thinking methodology for the
creation of video masters. Its a brilliant move and we are the bette
for it when it comes to DVD. The problem, which remains to be seen
is simply put...will the studios bypass film restoration and go
direct to video? And if they do, where will the elements be in 50
[Bill_Hunt] Are there any films you know of that are in immediate
danger of being lost? And by the way, Todd sends his best...
[RAH] Hi back to Todd. Hope all is well in Atlanta. Yes. Many of
them. But if I mentioned them, someone might have me killed... and
if I told you in public... well...
[Bill_Hunt] Keep fighting the good fight, Bob. As always...
[JohnStockton] Mr. Harris, of all the films you have restored,
which are you happiest with the result... also have you seen Ben Hur
on DVD? thanks.
[RAH] Lawrence of Arabia. IMHO, the finest film ever made. And will
probably never be topped. I haven't yet seen Ben-Hur. I'm certainly
looking forward to it as I understand its stunning. I'd expect no
less from Ned Price and this team at Warners. The only caveat that I
have in this regard (and I almost hate to say it) is that its still
a DVD. Rather like experiencing an original hand-illuminated
manuscript on newsprint. This film...and just a handful of others
(2001 and Lawrence included) were created and meant to be seen on a
huge screen. Ben-Hur in a 2.76:1 aspect ratio on a huge screen. I'd
love to see Warner make a theatrical committment to it.
[RichardS] Thank you. Congratulations on your work. What is the
news on The Alamo?
[RAH] Do you mean re: fundraising or condition?
[RAH] Condition: The original 65mm negative is totally faded. It is
cut to the short version of the film. The sep masters (also 65mm)
are cut to the short version. The worse news is that the 70mm print
which was located in storage in Toronto in 1991 or thereabouts has
been grossly mishandled. Not by MGM, but by their precessors -- most
like Turner. Initially, when it was located I made arrangement with
the Academy in LA to place it in their cold vault. The folks who
found it were concerned about its safety. Dick May, who then was in
charge of the old UA elements (now at WB) agreed that it could be
shipped west and go into protected cold storage. Guess what
happened? The wonderful folks at MGM/UA home video -- again, not the
current company -- got their hands on the print. Shipped it to Crest
for transfer on their 70mm Rank. But before that could occur they
rejuvenated it... chemically treated it for scratch removal tearing
it several times in the process then trasferred it for their SPECIAL
EDITION LASER DISC after which it was cut into 1000 foot sections,
placed on cores and shipped to a nonclimate controlled facility in
Glendale. Cut to 8 years later. I go to the facility with a
compatriot. We pull it out. Take it to Pacific Title for inspection.
Totally faded. Magenta. Add about 400,000 to the budget and never
have the color the way that it had survived for the period in
Toronto. This is rather like saying "Besides that Mrs.
Lincoln...how was the show?" We're now testing the sep masters.
The negativehas major damage. And hopefully we'll find some angels
in Texas who would like to see the film saved. MGM is behind it in a
major way, as they are in their general outlook for film restoration
for their library. At the moment, with all of their ot her work
going on, it is simply beyond their budget to handle alone.
[james_garner] Will LAWRENCE OF ARABIA's DVD sound mix will have
directional dialogue like the 1989 restoration, or will it be
center-channel dialog only? It's a honor to chat with you.
[RAH] From what I've been told by Grover Crisp, they cleaned up the
track a bit, but other than that it should be the same. One
interesting note: right after the main titles, there was an error in
the track. We attempted to get it out in '88 but lost audio with it
as we didn't have the digital tools that we have now. If you listen
carefully just as Peter gets on the cycle you'll hear (on previous)
versions: a "3" pop. This has been eliminated along with
some generator noise, which we also could not get out at that time.
[james_garner] 3 pop?
[RAH] Sorry. In academy leader... countdown...in a dub session,
there is an audible sync pop on the three. You view the leader which
lets you know when picture begins. The "pop" is always on
[Craig_Smith] Mr. Harris, thank you for sharing your time with us
tonight. Where are some of the stranger places you have had to turn
in your search for elements? thanks again.
[RAH] Ahhh... Once in Borneo, under a sleeping rhino... We've found
elements all over the place. Possibly the most horrific in a sense
of ultimate and actual danger, besides the rhino of course, was on
My Fair Lady. CBS had all of their elements stored together in a
non-airconditioned facility under a de-burring facility in Van Nuys,
Ca. Jim went into the vaults... actually to make matters even more
interesting...above Warner's nitrate blowout vaults. I was in NY
awaiting an inventory. The "big enough" one of '94 had
just occurred. Jim was on his cell. Giving me the view from inside
the vault when a 5.5 struck. Cans were falling on him from upper
shelves. What is he thinking? If I'm going to die, don't let the
headline read "Archivist killed by falled cans of "Happy
Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown." At least let it be the missing
cans of Ambersons! He stood fast as everyone else levetated and got
out. He and our asst. Mike Hyatt, loaded the cans of the orig neg
some thousand pounds into his Jag XJ-6 and down they went along the
freeway with his undercarriage scraping the pavement. I got out
three days later. We loaded the sep masters into the only conveyance
we could find... a swimming pool company or gardeners truck. don't
rermember. Which and we got the seps to the Academy vault. We then
moved the Oneg from an outdoor vault at Warner Hollywood to Kodak's
ProTek... the first film there on an emergency basis. Great fun.
Thank goodness for alcohol.
[MarkPfeiffer] Bill sort of asked part of my question, but here it
is... Digital production, projection, and distribution have been
hyped heavily for the industry, although I suspect (and hope) this
is all in the not so near future. What are your opinions on the
elimination of film altogether, and do alternatives, such as
Maxivision, have a chance?
[RAH] Wow! I'd love to see Maxivision have a chance. My fear in
digital is not that eventually it won't come up with true film
quality. In time it probably will, although its far from it at the
moment. A single frame of VVLA is 150 or so megabytes. My concern is
that if the delivery system goes digital which it probably will
eventually simply because of cost-savings that a film could be wiped
by someone walking through a vault with a magnet in their pocket. I
know that this is far-fetched, but you get the idea. We've gone
through so many different video formats since the inception that
most can't be played any longer. There is hardly any hardware. To be
more simplistic... when was the last time that anyone of this group
tried to run a 5 1/4 inch floppy? And where did you find the drive?
And was the software still functional under which the disc was
[DickSidbury] I find your DVD commentaries extremely interesting
and educational, especially MFL. What plans do you have for future
[RAH] I do them as they come to me. I'm certainly pleased that you
enjoy them. I wish that Warner had included the MFL doc on the DVd,
but it would have had to go to two discs. Normally people use my
commentaries as an aid to sleep disfunction.
[DickSidbury] what doc?
[RAH] Sorry, the documentary on the MFL laserdisc.
[Robert_George] Returning to Warner, and specifically Ben-Hur. I
have been taking some heat from some of the more hardcore purists
over my positive comments on Warner's new 5.1 sound mix for BH.
Knowing you did a multi-channel remix for Vertigo, what are your
thoughts on the general practice of updating sound elements to take
advantage of newer technologies?
[RAH] There are a couple of sides to this. 1. On "Vertigo"
we had no choice but to do something as all the mags had been junked
and the optical tracks didn't hold up. 2. As long as the original
tracks have survived, and they also appear or are available or at
leaat preserved, I have no problem with them being cleaned up. ]From
what I understand the situation to be on Ben-Hur, there were some
problems and an overall cleaner sonic image could be obtained by
returning to the stems...which in this case (also on Nx NW) did
survive. I have every belief that they've done a superb job in
remastering and that we're all going to be the beneficiaries.
[Robert_George] When you have a chance to see the Ben-Hur DVD, I'd
like to know what you think about both the picture and sound.
[RAH] I like it in Camera 65.
[Robert_George] Robert, do you know if Warner did in fact transfer
BH from the original Camera 65 elements?
[RAH] I would doubt that very much.
[RAH] The important thing to realize here is that 35mm is just fine
for a transfer. We started a new process with MFL. We tested and
decided that we could accomplish more by going with 35. Therefore,
we had a very specific and expensive (about $80,000) interpositive
optically shot from the 65mm restoration negative in 2.21:1 AR. We
exposed the frame all the way to the splices to get everything in.
And I believe it worked beautifully, first on the CBS laser and then
on the new Warner DVD which was done by Warner's Ned Price.
Beautifully, I might add.
[Frank_Sesma] It sounds like, in restoring these older films, that
there's a little bit of an, for lack of a better way to put it,
outsider's interpretation of the film , e.g. such as strengthening
the color or sound or whatever else. Do you ever worry about too
much of your personal interpretation coming into play (or whoever it
is that's restoring film "xyz" ?) *And* Is there something
you or someone has as a guide to keep such a thing in check ?
[RAH] I'm always concerned about the way a film is restored. We
don't work in a vacuum. On Lawrence we worked with David Lean,
Freddie Young, John Box. On MFL, Gene Allen, George Cukor's longtime
production designer. On "Vertigo" and Rear window with
Herbie Colman and Pat Hitchcock. I'll give you an example of a
typical problem. What precisely does the color "white"
mean? In the end of MFL, in Gladys Cooper's (she played Rex
Harrison's mother) house we had wedgewood blue as a reference, but
the whites were coming out different in every shot and I wanted to
control and match them. Gene Allen came to the rescue. He referenced
the proper white and explained that they never looked on film as
they did when they were shot. He gave direction. On "Vertigo"
we had color reference. The tracks on "V" which have come
under critisism were worked over by the studio sound dept. --
possibly a bit much efx in places -- but we had no other way to go
as nothing else of high quality existed which could go along with a
70mm "SuperVistaVision 70" image. There are always
choices. You hope that you're right most of the time. Do you lose
sleep over it? Absolutely. Just look at our hairlines.
[CraigBeam] Mr. Harris, in your opinion, what is the single
greatest loss, in terms of films that are just too far gone to be
restored? To put it another way: if you could reach back into the
past and rescue one lost film, which would it be?
[RAH] The Magnificent Ambersons
[CraigBeam] GREAT answer! Thanks a million, sir....
[RAH] my pleasure.
[AgeeBassett] Thank you for your wit and patience with us tonite,
[RAH] You're quite welcome. I hope everyone enjoyed the evening.
[AgeeBassett] You mentioned in a HFT thread earlier that in order
to create a new and improved digital transfer of Vertigo, Universal
would need to go back to the old, "warts-and-all" print as
Warner did on North xNorthWest, rather than utilize your restored
elements...Why is this?
[RAH] I believe I referred to Yogi Berra. When he said "When
you come to the fork in the road...take it." This is a case,
and I went into this a bit earlier, in which we really need to be
taking BOTH forks. One toward the best restoration of the film as
film and another -- which is not restoration -- but which will
provide the most superior digital video image. This is what Warner
has done with N x NW. If we were to do "Vertigo" in the
best possible way for video, I would go back to the original
negative, as we did, make a VVLA IP, as we did, and transfer that IP
to be corrected digitally at a cost of possibly $40,000, which
should yield a terrific looking DVD not necessarily better or worse
than the current version. But decidedly "different" as a
[SteveEnemark] Is there any chance Paramount/American Zoetrope
could let you have a crack at restoring the GODFATHER movies? I've
heard you were dissatisfied with the recent restoration.
[RAH] I believe everyone was dissatisfied with the "restoration."
It was...how you say in your language... a botch job.
[SteveEnemark] an understatement
[RAH] The problem with The Godfather is that I fear that the
preservation elements are flawed. We've discussed it. Francis and
Zoetrope are my partners on Napoleon. It comes down to studio
politics. Would I do it? In a split second. Here's hoping. And I
could make it look precisely as it did in 1972.
[Peter_M_Fitzgerald] Apart from the "want list" you
already mentioned of films to restore.... pretty famous films... are
there any specific films, that may be unknown to non-buffs, that
you'd like to take a crack at, specifically? I know there must be
[RAH] Not actually. Basically that list. There are others. The
Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, for example..
[JohnStockton] Do you know if Ben Hur and Superman DVD used the
same technology that was used to restore NORTH X NORTHWEST on video
....also are other studios using this technology yet? Thanks again .
[RAH] I have no idea what they used for B-H. I know that they did
problems initially with S'man as the opticals like those on CE3K and
Star Wars were on CRI stock which faded quickly.
[Bill_Hunt] Bob, what's your biggest pet peeve when it comes to the
restoration work others have done? What do you see on screen, that
just drives you crazy? Things that you consider definite "no-nos"
in terms of the elements, the process and the result?
[RAH] There are several films which were billed as restored which I
hated. Junk restoration - someone once called it "masturbatory
restorartion." GWTW is probably the worst. Followed by Dr.
Zhivago. And then, of course...the "brilliantly restored"
films which haven't been restored at all. Either because there was
no need or because someone just discovered a great marketing term
and a public that was trusing enough to buy it. Examples? The Third
Man. The Graduate. There are several. On video my favorite has
always been one of the great Disney rediscovered CLASSICS. I guess
they're all classics from Disney. I have a laser disc in my office
that I use as an example of bull***t in home video advertising...
Fully Restored... The Little Mermaid.
[Bill Hunt] Thanks again for getting the word out about
restoration, Bob. If only more felt as strongly about it as we all
[Joseph_Goodman] Mr. Harris, do you have any opinion on the state
of preservation/restoration in foreign countries? For example, I've
heard dire things about Hong Kong studios, and good things about the
British Film Institute and Toho studios in Japan.
[RAH] Many problems. Most foreign territories don't have sep
masters or are just now beginning to institute them. One of the
saviours of the Italian cinema must be Vittorio Storaro...who really
single-handedly brought sep masters to Italy, initally for Bernardo
B. Hong Kong? They basically have treated their films as we did here
in the 30s. Most everything off the camera originals. That's why
films like "The Killer" are as damaged as they are.
[Joseph_Goodman] all the wars in Europe and Asia can't have helped
[RAH] And yes, war doesn't help. Its sometimes worse than humidity.
[RonEpstein] Last question, Robert (my thanks to Chris Maynard for
this one): What are the studios doing differently now when storing
film to keep it better preserved and prevent the problems we are
[RAH] cold storage. good and tested sep masters. knowledgable asset
protection people. As far as I know every studio has someone superb
on board at this point. Although I have no idea -- still -- what
Paramount is doing with their library. Some of the classic horror
stories come from their vaults.
[RonEpstein] This is good to know that at least today's films will
be preserved better. Too bad today's films are not as grand as the
ones that are deteriorating.
[RonEpstein] Robert... Universal Home Video was kind enough to
donate a few copies of REAR WINDOW which you will personally sign.
[RAH] Really?!? Are those the ones sitting in my office?
[RonEpstein] Yes, THOSE! Hahahaha. We picked 5 people who asked the
most interesting questions.... Parker and I picked them. And the
winners are.... Aggee Bassett, Frank Sesma, Richard Sharpe, Craig
Beam, and...finally...Mark Pfeiffer.
[RAH] If each would let me know what they would like on the
[RonEpstein] Thank You so much for being here tonight!
[RAH] I'll sign most anything with the exception of the most wanted
from George Clooney... "Thanks for last night." I don't
[RonEpstein] Hahaha. Robert, let me open the floor so everyone can
say thanks to you...
[RAH] You're all quite welcome. It was a pleasure.
Session Close: Tue Feb 27 23:56:11 2001
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