Restoring the Trailer

The project to restore The Last Edition began with an extensive search for existing film elements. Database searches and queries to archives and collectors worldwide confirmed that the 35mm nitrate film print in the collection at EYE Film Instituut Nederland was likely to be the only surviving copy. However, one fortunate outcome of the search came with the knowledge that the United States Library of Congress held a 35mm copy of the original theatrical trailer.

Through the generous assistance of Mike Mashon, Head of Moving Images for the Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, we were able to secure a loan of the library’s 35mm preservation print and have included restoration of the trailer an adjunct element of the project. As we are doing with the feature, the 35mm black and white trailer has been digitally scanned at 2K resolution and digital restoration techniques applied to repair damaged and deteriorated sections. From the new digital master, a new 35mm preservation negative and two 35mm prints will be created, all of which will ultimately be deposited with the Library of Congress for archival preservation.

The Last Edition trailer, before and after restoration


Having access to this rare trailer has multiple benefits. The most obvious is having the occasion to pair exhibition of the advertising trailer with the film it promotes. Advertising trailers from the silent era, a practice that began circa 1912, rarely survive today. Having the opportunity to present both the trailer as well as the subsequent feature to a modern audience is cause for celebration.

Having access to the trailer also provided clues, and even footage, that assisted with restoration of the feature. The 35mm print of the feature  was last exhibited in Netherlands, and as a result the original English titles and intertitles have been replaced with Dutch translations. Not only does this mean that the restoration project must include translation and re-creation of English titles, it also means that we lack a reference for the typeface used for the original titles. While we cannot be positive that it is identical, the trailer provides a meaningful guidepost to the typeface and style that was likely used within the feature.

One element of the trailer will also be included with the restoration of the feature itself. While the 35mm print of the feature is virtually complete, it lacks the opening title – the print begins with the first narrative shot sans any introductory titles. The trailer fortunately begins with a short seventeen frames of what is either the actual opening title, or a very good approximation. For the feature restoration these seventeen frames will be restored, stabilized and then 4x looped to create a new opening title 68 frames long (slightly less than four seconds of screen time, running at 18 fps).

The comparative before/after images videos on this page illustrate of some of the digital restoration techniques that are being applied to the feature. These techniques can be divided into two separate categories. One set of techniques are used within individual frames to repair specific aspects within the image. Not unlike using PhotoShop to correct a picture, individual frame repair is used to correct dirt, scratches, and damage to individual frame images. The second type of work involves correcting the relationship between frames – problems that are apparent only when the film is projected in motion. Examples include reducing flicker (when adjacent frames vary in brightness) and improving stability (when adjacent frames are not well aligned, resulting in a “jumpy” image).

Looping.  The too-short opening title has been 2x looped after to give it a little more screen time. This means that once the image cleanup and stabilization was complete, the seventeen frames of the opening title were duplicated a second time to double its length. The current version here is still too short and will be 4x looped in the feature. Obviously this is a technique that can only be used with titles and not with moving images.

Flicker Abatement.  There is a considerable amount of flicker in the original material. This is especially obvious in the titles (look at the backgrounds) and not as conspicuous in the photographed action. After first selecting a number of example “reference frames” within each shot, digital tools were applied to either increase or decrease the brightness of adjacent frames to a nearer intensity. Note that the restored version still flickers to a certain extent. This is intentional, the film should still look like a film. The purpose of this step is to reduce the intensity when appropriate, not to eliminate it entirely.

The Last Edition trailer, split screen before and after restoration


Stability.  Over time and use, film perforations stretch, shrink, warp, and tear. The result can be a shaky or wobbly image when the film passes through sprockets of a projector (or in our case, through a digital film scanner). The work of digital stabilization is essentially to shift individual frames in a sequence such that they line up properly in relation to each other. Note that like Flicker Abatement, the intent is not to completely “nail down” the frame. Motion picture film, particularly early film, has an inherent level of motion and it is not our purpose (or desire) to completely eliminate that motion. The purpose of this step is to come as close as possible to stabilizing the image to the level inherent to the original medium.

Dust Removal.  “Dust removal” covers the removal of a wide gamut of damage that may have been inflicted on an individual film frame. There is dust , dirt, fingerprints, cue marks, etc. which appear as black spots film material. There are also white flecks and scratches which indicate damage to the film emulsion, where bits of the picture material have flaked or been scratched away. Sometimes that damage can be repaired using automatic tools that work by comparing adjacent frames, but sometimes this work requires attention that can only be accomplished through individual frame retouching.

Special Needs.  Not all damaged sequences are created equal. Typically the beginning and ends of film reels are the most heavily damaged – our trailer was no exception. In addition to being very short (indicating that most of it was missing) the seventeen remaining frames of the title were heavily damaged. Restoring each individual frame required an intense level of cloning to repair bits of each frame with elements copied from another. The result, while not perfect, is a great improvement.

Also requiring special attention were the first and last frames of each shot. Early films were hand-assembled and there are often physical splices between shots and titles. The result is that often the first and/or last frame in a shot may be photographically exposed at a different level or exhibit a slight “jump” in the image as a result of the thicker film splice passing through the film printer. These first and last frames typically require special attention in order to eliminate the effect of seeing a flash or jump at each shot transition. In the trailer, this was especially apparent in the first frame after the opening title (our hero Tom sitting in his easy chair) in which the top half of the frame was significantly underexposed.