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Q: Film Preservation ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Film Preservation
Category: Arts and Entertainment
Asked by: vernorsdwarf-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 31 Oct 2005 13:06 PST
Expires: 30 Nov 2005 13:06 PST
Question ID: 587167
I?m looking for resources on how films have been collected and
preserved during the 20th century. I?m especially interested in the
problems of decaying celluloid and the transfer to digital format. 
I?ll tack on an extra $10 when I get an answer.
Subject: Re: Film Preservation
Answered By: wonko-ga on 09 Nov 2005 15:45 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Widespread interest in film preservation is a relatively recent
phenomenon.  Up until the early 1950s, films were shot using a nitrate
base.  Nitrate is an extremely difficult medium to preserve.  It is
extremely flammable, burning more readily than even newsprint.  It
also reacts with air to create nitric acid, which turns film into
dust.  Nitrate also reacts poorly to temperature fluctuations and
shrinks easily.  As a result, the studios were faced with a very
difficult storage problem that most chose not to grapple with because
they did not view their libraries as having any value.  Movies were
rarely reissued after their first run, and storage space was limited. 
In many cases, older film negatives were burned to free up room for
newer films.  As a result, fewer than half of the films made before
1950 are still in existence, although some films that were thought to
be lost are rediscovered periodically.

The replacement of nitrate cellulose film stock with cellulose
triacetate eliminated the problem of film easily catching fire (the
film melts instead when exposed to high temperatures), but created new
problems of its own.  The first is "vinegar syndrome," which occurs
when cellulose triacetate degrades in the presence of moisture to form
acetic acid.  The second problem is permanent deterioration of color
dyes, particularly those produced on Eastmancolor stock instead of

Film preservation has been recognized as an issue for many years, but
interest developed slowly.  "When it was founded in 1938, FIAF [the
International Federation of Film Archives] had 4 members. Today it
comprises more than 120 institutions in over 65 countries - a
reflection of the extent to which preservation of moving image
heritage has become a world-wide concern."  "It was closely involved
in the preparatory work for the UNESCO Recommendation for the
Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images, approved in Belgrade
in 1980."  (See FIAF source below)
Film preservation first got serious attention in Hollywood when Roger
Mayer, Assistant General Manager at MGM in the early 1960s, realized
the poor state of the studio's film library.  Under his leadership,
MGM came to view its library as an asset and became focused on
restoring and preserving its films.  The first significant acquisition
of the UCLA Film and Television Archives, the second-largest in the
United States other than the Library of Congress, occurred in 1971. 
The prominence of film preservation grew considerably in the 1980s and
early 1990s when Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese devoted their
attention to the problem of film deterioration.  "Spielberg became
interested in film preservation when he went to view the original
master print of his film Jaws, only to find that it had badly
decomposed and deteriorated -- a mere fifteen years after it had been
filmed. Scorsese drew attention to the film industry's use of
color-fading filmstock through his use of black and white film stock
in his 1980 film Raging Bull."  (See Wikipedia source below)

New formats, such as DVD, have greatly increased the commercial value
of film libraries and have accelerated interest in the development of
archives and preservation and restoration efforts.  Both studios and
museums have contributed significantly to the effort.  Transferring
films to digital formats has been viewed for several years as an
attractive solution to the deterioration of physical film stocks. 
However, preserving digital information creates its own problems
because of changing file formats.  Digital copies can also be easily
tampered with, potentially corrupting the content of the original

Although preservation and restoration efforts can be very expensive,
the popularity of movie viewing in a variety of venues and the
proliferation of formats, including high-definition video, undoubtedly
will ensure that film archiving and preservation will attract
considerable attention.  As digital storage becomes cheaper, and as
more and more films are largely or entirely shot in digital formats,
digital seems destined to play in ever greater role in film



There are many good resources on the Internet describing various
aspects of this problem:

"Storage" Kodak

"Film Reservation At The (Digital) Crossroads" By David Chute

"Facts about Film Preservation" The Film Foundation (2002)

"Film preservation" Wikipedia (November 6, 2005)

"Preservation" UCLA Film & Television Archive

"What is FIAF?"  International Federation of Film Archives (2002)

"Film preservation - saving america's movies" by Charles Edwin Price
Pagewise (2002)

"Hollywood Film Preservation: Digital 'Film' " by Chris Profiri
(November 26, 2003)'film'.htm

"Hollywood Film Preservation: Digital 'Film' Preservation" by Chris
Profiri (November 26, 2003)

"A Note On Film Preservation" by Jim Hubbard (1995) PlanetOut
Interactive Services

"Film Archive & Preservation Centers" (2005) PlanetOut Interactive

"Art in Motion" by Carolina Reyes, Daily Bruin (April 30, 2001)

Search terms: "film preservation"; "film preservation" digital
vernorsdwarf-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
Thanks for your answer.  I wish you had given me a little more in the
text of your answer about the transfer to digital format and the work
of the various groups involved in film preservation, but the links
were very helpful.

Subject: Re: Film Preservation
From: smelt-ga on 09 Nov 2005 14:02 PST
These links may interest you

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