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Are many of the vintage color films effectively lost?

preservation archive film decomposition Technicolor

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#1 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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Posted 09 August 2018 - 02:41 PM

Someone told me that the original Star Wars had faded red and all that is left are digital copies. Do you think that is true?

I imagine the dye transfer films should be pretty good for color. But what about the films that were not Technicolor IB?

In my archive I have Kodachrome 16mm going back to 1939 that looks pretty good. I had read the early Kodachrome version faded. I've found a few early 1938 samples of Kodachrome that faded somewhat and they verify Kodak changed the formulation.

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr., 09 August 2018 - 02:46 PM.

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 August 2018 - 08:11 PM

PRINTS from the 1970s have faded to magenta but the original negative was photochemically restored in the late 1990s (not digitally though some new digital effects replaced older optical ones) and it had mildly faded, but not enough that it couldnt be restored by making new color intermediates.

Dye transfer was a printing technology the originals were either b&w negatives from a 3-strip Technicolor camera, or were color negatives from which b&w separations were made for making dye transfer prints. The dyes in a dye transfer print are very stable, just like the dyes in Kodachrome. However, a projection contrast print is not the ideal element for archiving a movie, though its better than nothing. Ideally youd have either a usable negative or intermediate dupe of the negative and/or b&w separations containing the full information of the negative prints lose detail because they have to be much higher in contrast.

When you say lost you have to be more clear as what has been lost. Some old movies, for example, have lost their original negative but have decent dupe elements from which prints can be made. Others only exist as prints and sometimes an archive is forced to copy that to have an element to store and reproduce.

Nothing has really been lost with Star Wars other than the cut of the original negative, which was disassembled when being photochemically restored and re-conformed into the Special Edition version. But there are intermediate dupes of the original negative in the original edit. Same with Apocalypse Now, the original negative was altered when being restored to create the Redux version, so only a dupe intermediate exists of the original edit.
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#3 Mark Dunn

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Posted 10 August 2018 - 07:02 AM

Interestingly, Star Wars was the last western film to have IB prints made, in London for the UK release. A few are rumoured to be in private hands (including George Lucas's) and they are very occasionally screened.

Shortly afterwards, Technicolor London sold the gear to China where apparently it was used till the 90s.


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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 August 2018 - 07:37 AM

Im sure the vaulted prints made in the late 1990s for the Special Edition release of Star Wars look fine other than wear & tear, but prints of the original edition made in the early 90s or 80s might start to show some fading to pink. Definitely prints from the original release in 1977 would look pink (other than those rare dye transfer prints). But it is unlikely Disney / Lucasfilm would order new prints to be struck these days as opposed to releasing a DCP.
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#5 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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Posted 10 August 2018 - 05:30 PM

Thanks for the rundown. I mean the OCN has faded beyond restoration, not talking about physically lost.

And this topic is not limited to the 70's but going back to the 50's and 60s. Although back then were most of the famous movies shot in Tech IB?

How are negatives photochemically restored?
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 August 2018 - 07:36 PM

No, the original negative of “Star Wars” hasn’t faded to red — they just struck a new IP from the original negative of “2001” and that negative is a decade older, so why would “Star Wars” be fading at a much higher rate? Some shots that were duped to discontinued CRI stock faded so badly that the composites had to be redone in the late 1990s, but luckily they could use the OCN to redo them.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 August 2018 - 07:41 PM

Tech IB is the printing process using dye transfer, aka imbibation (IB). The camera process was 3-strip. Eastmancolor negative came out in 1950 and 3-strip died off by 1955, a five year overlap.

Some Eastmancolor negatives have faded badly due to improper storage, that’s true.
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