out of sync / kinescopes / War is Hell

Picture/track synchronization is usually pretty important.  Even when a film doesn’t have actual recorded lip-sync dialogue, most films have a correct sync in their finished form, and obviously it’s an important thing for a preservationist to maintain and be observant of.  There’s a ton I could write about synching and sync problems, individual examples of weird or variable synchronization, or just the different ways we deal with sound sync in general, but for the time being, I’ll give this example, which is slightly atypical (at least in the world of experimental film – I have a feeling some TV archivists have seen this plenty of times!).

Many of you reading this probably know that usually, in film, sound and image are not only recorded separately, but also usually printed from separate picture and sound elements – these days, typically a picture negative and a track negative.  In the printing process, the picture element and the soundtrack element will usually have sync marks and/or hole punches at one or both ends of each which are used to match the separate picture and track rolls to the same printer start point, thus resulting in a new print with correct sound synchronization.

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Runaway (1969) by Standish Lawder

The initial instigation for this blog was my desire (in November 2007) to share a photo I’d taken of filmmaker Standish Lawder’s coffee can contact printer with whomever might find that interesting, which turned out, much to my surprise, to be a decent amount of people.  Over the years, as I’ve irregularly kept this blog, I’ve been amazed and quite happy to learn that people actually read it, and that the photo of Standish’s printer remains a favorite search/discovery for people.

Standish passed away in June of this year.  I hadn’t been much in touch with him over the past couple of years, during which time he had departed from his Denver Darkroom and moved to the Bay Area, though I would occasionally receive news.  We’ve been able to restore a few of his films, including Necrology (1970), Raindance (1972), and the little-known but quite lovely Catfilm for Katy & Cynnie (1973).  Many others are in the works.  Some present quite unusual challenges, and may someday be the subject of another post here.

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A contact printer

Homemade contact printer built by Standish Lawder, and used in the making of his films Runaway (1969) and Corridor (1970), and possibly part of Roadfilm (1970).

The coffee can contains a regular incandescent light bulb hooked to a dimmer control. The camera is an old 16mm that belonged to Lawder’s dad. He made the tension adjustable on its inner workings in order to put several pieces of film multipacked through the film path and the gate.

In the dark, he would bi- or tri-pack raw stock (b/w reversal usually) with existing footage (the running dogs cartoon in the case of Runaway, the corridor footage he shot himself in Corridor). He would then contact print the footage in various ways using different brightness settings on the lightbulb in the coffee can, which would shine its beam through the old flashlight tube into the gate of the camera.

In the case of Corridor, the resulting footage was sometimes further processed, or printed to negative, or hi-con, or whatever. The A/B rolls were then edited from this pile of footage.

Standish also says the coffee can was originally a Chock Full O’ Nuts can, but had to be replaced, I think because it got damaged at some point.