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Film Noir B&W film stocks

noir b&W stoock

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#1 Earl Nottingham

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Posted 28 September 2014 - 08:30 PM

I'm working on a project trying to emulate some of characteristics of  B&W film stocks from the 1940-50's Noir period.

 

Does anyone know if there was one preferred "go-to" stock during those years? I know there were many available but surely one must have stood out as a favorite- the "Vision3" of its time.


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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 September 2014 - 12:18 AM

Most b&w movies of the 1940's were shot on Plus-X, lower-budgeted ones that had a smaller lighting package used Super-XX, though Gregg Toland embraced Super-XX right away.  He used it for "Citizen Kane" sometimes pushed one or two stops.

 

Plus-X and Super-XX came out in 1938, Plus-X was already twice as fast as the previous stock (Pan-X I believe) so many DP's were happy for that, but Toland saw the potential of Super-XX, which was twice as fast as Plus-X.

 

In the 1950's there was a high speed negative stock called Tri-X (not the same as the reversal stock of the same name). Stanley Cortez used that stock for films such as "Night of the Hunter" and "Shock Corridor".  It came out in 1954 and was replaced by Double-X I believe, which came out in 1959, though Tri-X negative must have been sold for a few more years since "Shock Corridor" was shot in 1962.

 

There were other brands used in Hollywood back then, I think Dupont made a b&w stock that some films used, again, mostly lower-budgeted stuff.


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#3 Dirk DeJonghe

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Posted 29 September 2014 - 03:13 AM

Today the choices are 5222 (but for how long?) and Orwo stocks; There used to be a 4-X negative too but long gone. Both 35mm and 16mm Double-X give excellent period style results. We did a film noir '13 Tzameti' shot on Double-X that won a prize at Sundance a few years ago, shot on Anamorphic 35mm B&W.


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#4 Simon Wyss

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Posted 29 September 2014 - 08:09 AM

Cinematographers from time to time chose duplicating negative film for a shoot. A relatively old such stock is Eastman 5234. FilmoTec offers Orwo Duplicating Negative 2/21. They can be rated at ISO 20, close to Eastman Plus-X 1231 of the period. Processing should include a Metol-Hydroquinone developer, if you are looking for historical correctness.

 

I don’t think that it’s important to match stocks to the film noir movement. Since you mention a 1940-50s period I’d say you need to include as well high-intensity carbon arc light not only with projection but already for the taking. Also, no zoom lenses but more often filters and a high level of make-up artistry. Projection lenses, to round it off, of simpler design, widely without coating.

 

 

Film Noir Look.jpg

 

 

Something for studies


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#5 cole t parzenn

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Posted 29 September 2014 - 09:15 PM

Most b&w movies of the 1940's were shot on Plus-X, lower-budgeted ones that had a smaller lighting package used Super-XX, though Gregg Toland embraced Super-XX right away.  He used it for "Citizen Kane" sometimes pushed one or two stops.

 

How were people rating their stocks, back then?


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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 September 2014 - 10:30 PM

Generally as Kodak recommended except when underexposing and push-processing.  Earliest silent movies were processed by eye, at least according to Karl Brown, it must have been under a red light, but the guy doing the processing would basically develop the roll until he liked the density of the negative.  And there weren't light meters in general so exposure was not an exact science.

 

Back in the 40's, some studios had recommended foot-candle levels for sets and recommended shooting stops that they wanted the DP to try and work towards.  Some of the cheaper studios basically asked that fewer foot-candles of light be used to save money and compensated in processing, mainly for their B pictures.  The general look of MGM films seemed to be less gritty than Warner Bros. films and this might have been partially due to studio recommendations for light levels and exposure -- the MGM films were more exposed and the development time was lower, Warners movies were less exposed and processed more, causing more grain and contrast.


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#7 Earl Nottingham

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Posted 08 October 2014 - 07:43 PM

With the variations of exposure and film processing times, I'm wondering if there were discernible differences in sound quality of the optical track from the resulting grain patterns and edge acutance, especially when heavily pushed.


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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 October 2014 - 11:15 PM

Even if the negative processing was uneven or pushed heavily, it doesn't mean that the print processing was pushed heavily or had grain issues affecting the silver area of the optical track.  I know that until the 1990's, color prints had silver applications for the optical tracks but I assume that that wasn't necessary with b&w prints.


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#9 Simon Wyss

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Posted 09 October 2014 - 12:14 AM

The talkies killed hand processing. Machine processing had existed since already 1898. For uniform sound tracks continuous development is paramount. Print processing, which was based on the 1000-foot roll, invited negative processing, naturally. The shift from carbon-arc lighting to incandescent lamps towards the end of the 1920s, fuelled by panchromatic film stocks, provoked an extensive increase of camera movement as a new dimension of narrative style. Put boldly, the early sound films looked boring, so one began to push around dollies and cranes to give spacial and temporal depth to a scene. It’s a complex subject.

 

As a side note, evenness of density is far better within each roll at manual processing in spiral reels. Motion-picture film has been developed in reels up to 1000 feet lengths. It takes two workers to lift the heavy spirals. I can’t find the picture of that right now but there’s one on the web.


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#10 Dirk DeJonghe

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Posted 10 October 2014 - 02:29 AM

The picture negative and the sound optical negative are two different items, not related to each other until printed to the same print stock on the final positive print. So no matter how much you push or pull the picture negative, it has no relationship to the optical sound quality.

Sound negatives are made on special B&W high contrast stock such as ST9D, very sharp and very fine grain but no straight portion on the sensitometric curve. They are made with a controlled amount of overexposure (image spread) so that the print can also be made with controlled overexposure to get the desired density on the soundtrack (positive image spread that compensates the image spread in the negative). For more information see: Crossmodulation distortion testing.

B&W prints are silver based and do not require sound track application, 35mm color prints are made with dye tracks these days, 16mm color prints still require applicated (redeveloped) sound tracks (silver+ dye).


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#11 Earl Nottingham

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Posted 12 October 2014 - 05:53 PM

David, Dirk,Simon and Cole -Thank you all for your wealth of knowledge and willingness to share it.  Much has been learned!


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#12 Danny Nowak CSC

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 06:25 PM

Thanks for the great info.

 

I've found on Wiki that the ASA standard was established in the mid-1940s; 

Does anyone know what the approximate sensitivity ratings would be for the main films in the 1920s?  1930s? 1940s?

 

What comparable ratings were they using on Citizen Kane?  Metropolis?  

 

Cheers.


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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 06:33 PM

There is a chronology here, but the ASA ratings of early stocks are not listed:

http://motion.kodak...._Film/index.htm

 

When Plus-X and Super-XX were introduced in 1938, Kodak said that Plus-X was double the speed of the previous stock and Double-X was twice that of Plus-X -- and we know that Plus-X was 80 ASA and Super-XX was 160 ASA (I don't think Kodak back then gave the slightly lower rating for tungsten light, hence Plus-X being 64/80.)

 

This means that the main Kodak b&w panchromatic stock of the 1930's was 32/40 ASA.  It was probably a version of what was later called Panatomic-X (Pan-X). According to Wikipedia, the still film was 32 ASA and came out in 1933:

http://en.wikipedia....lms#Panatomic_X

 

But the Kodak Chronology of Film only lists Type II and Type III Cine Panchromatic film as coming out in 1928. Perhaps the still film version came out later in 1933.

 

The Wikipedia page mentions that panchromatic b&w still film came out in 1907 by Wratten & Wainright:

WRATTEN & WAINWRIGHT VERICHROME was introduced around 1907/8 offering greater spectral sensitivity and speed compared to contemporary emulsions of the time. The company was bought by KODAK in 1912. In 1931 KODAK released the film on a safety base as a Roll film, with greater latitude and finer grain than the KODAK NC (Non-Curling) Film that had been the standard since 1903. Kodak Verichrome Safety film was eventually replaced by Kodak Verichrome Pan film in 1956.

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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 06:48 PM

More interesting info:

http://en.wikipedia....wiki/Film_stock

 

Film stock manufacturers began to diversify their products. Each manufacturer had previously offered one negative stock (usually orthochromatic) and one print stock.
 
In 1920, a variant of Type F film known as X-back was introduced to counteract the effects of static electricity on the film, which can cause sparking and create odd exposure patterns on the film. A resin backing was used on the film, which rendered the film too opaque to allow focusing through the back of the film, a common technique for many cameras of that era. The X-back stock was popular on the east coast of the US. Other manufacturers were established in the 1920s, including American E.I. Dupont de Nemours in 1926 and Belgian Gevaert in 1925. Panchromatic film stock became more common. Created in 1913 for use in color film processes such as Kinemacolor, panchromatic was first used in a black-and-white film for exterior sequences in Queen of the Sea (1918) and originally available as a special order product.
 
The stock's increased sensitivity to red light made it an attractive option for day for night shooting. Kodak financed a feature in 1922, shot entirely with panchromatic stock, The Headless Horseman, to promote the film when Kodak introduced it as a standard option.
 
Panchromatic film stock was expensive and no motion pictures were produced in entirety on it for several years. The cross-cutting between panchromatic and orthochromatic stocks caused continuity problems with costume tones and panchromatic film was often avoided.
 
Orthochromatic film remained dominant until the mid-1920s due to Kodak's lack of competition in the panchromatic market. In 1925, Gevaert introduced an orthochromatic stock with limited color sensitivity and a fully panchromatic stock, Pan-23. In 1926, Kodak lowered the price of panchromatic stock to parity with its orthochromatic offering and the panchromatic stock began to overtake the orthochromatic stock's market share within a few years. Similar panchromatic film stocks were manufactured by Agfa and Pathé, the shift to panchromatic stocks had largely been completed by 1928, and Kodak discontinued orthochromatic stock in 1930.

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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 November 2014 - 06:55 PM

Take a look at this discussion:

http://photo.net/bla...ng-forum/003uDW

 

One good point was that it was hard to know an exact ASA rating because development times could affect density.

 

I would say that if the stocks were 32 or 40 ASA in the 1930's, odds are that they were around 25 ASA in the early to mid 1920's.

 

Another comment on another thread about 1920's b&w still film:

http://photo.net/lei...rs-forum/00NHzq

Orthochromatic film ISO=20 to ISO=30, Panchromatic was available but slower, ISO=10 to ISO=15. Usually tails from 35mm movie film. (Culled from Erwin Puts Leica Lens book.)


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#16 John E Clark

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Posted 05 November 2014 - 02:22 PM

I looked into this a little bit when I was investigating how ISO/ASA/DIN was defined... and found some early methods of estimating 'proper' exposure. One method used a device called the "Watkins Bee Meter", and the company made a 'speed card' for a number of then existent films. One site has the Speed Card for 1931, and several 'cine' films are listed.

 

The names are listed as:

 

Kodak Eastman Cine Neg

Gavaert Cine...

Pathe Cine...

 

All have estimated 'Bee' speeds of 250. From the article the conversion to approximate ASA would be ASA = BEE-SPEED/20... or for these films 12.5... and could easily be 10-15...

 

In any case far slower than most moderns can imagine...

 

From the 30's on Weston meters were used, and had an exposure scale that appears to be about 1/3 stop lower than the equivalent ASA value, and from a 1949 speed table, a listing for 16mm Super X, gives  a Weston number of 32, add + 1/3 stop, gives 40 (or so...).

 

However.... the ASA ratings were doubled in 1960, so, this would suggest Super X would be rated at 80 ASA.

 

The reason for the 'lower' ASA initial ratings was for a 'underexposure' safety. By 1960, this 'safety' seemed to be obsolete as better meters were used to get more accurate exposure settings...

 

As far as 'looking at the negative' and estimating 'sufficient development'... that would only work for orthohromatic film and using a red filter low power light. Panchromatic film would be sensitive and thereby potentially flashed with such a technique.


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