Sunday, July 21, 2013

SFSFF: Amazing Tales from the Archives

Friday morning the SF Silent Film Festival presented a free informational program on film preservation. Executive Director Stacey Wisnia introduced film preservationist Rob Byrne, who gave a 45 minute slide show about the restoration of the Half Breed, a 1916 feature starring Douglas Fairbanks. Mr. Byrne showed us intertitles from various versions which had different names for the characters & sometimes different plots. There might even be alternate takes of the same shot. Ultimately he used 3 sources, all generations removed from the original 1916 release. A color-coded spreadsheet was required to track the alternatives available for each scene. We saw scenes from the different sources & how they were combined in the restoration, which premiered at the festival on Saturday.

Céline Ruivo, Director of Film Collections at the Cinémathèque Française, then talked about Le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, an early synchronized sound technology that premiered at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle but then quickly disappeared. The Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre catalog contains short films capturing famous performers of the era, including Sarah Bernhardt & Benoît Constant Coquelin, the actor who created the role of Cyrano de Bergerac. Restoration of these films was especially difficult because both the films & the cylinders used to record the sound were run at a variety of different speeds. A complex spreadsheet was used to track all the sources & their technical details. Unfortunately Ms. Ruivo showed only one of the films, a scene from an opera called La Poupee featuring a singing doll. Bizarrely, the soundtrack contains the voices of the singers, but the instrumental accompaniment had to be provided live by Stephen Horne on the piano.

§ Amazing Tales from the Archives
Rob Byrne, film preservationist
Céline Ruivo, Director of Film Collections at the Cinémathèque Française
Stephen Horne, piano

San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Friday, July 19, 11am
Castro Theatre

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