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BFI (2012) - Restoring Hitchcock 3: finding the best materials




Restoring Hitchcock #3: finding the best materials

Bryony Dixon, Monday, 3 September 2012

In this third glimpse behind the scenes of the BFI’s project to restore Alfred Hitchcock’s nine surviving silent films, curator Bryony Dixon introduces the principles of ‘technical selection’ – the locating and selection of the most suitable source materials on which to base the restoration.

Finding film materials is a time-consuming business. There are no centralised listings of film elements held by the world’s archives, and many archives don’t know enough about the material they hold. Listing and cataloguing large collections can take decades, and although things are improving with electronic technologies, locating source material for restorations has to be done the old fashioned way: by asking everyone you can think of and then examining and comparing all the material.

This process of comparison is called ‘technical selection’, and is done by highly qualified staff with a lot of experience of filmmaking technique, editing styles and the physical properties of archive film.

Choosing which materials to use in preservation and restoration work takes skill, precision and a lot of patience. Choices must be made about which elements to examine and ‘forensic’ work must be done to establish the provenance, condition and completeness of each element. Information is gathered about each film by reading both contemporary accounts of its release and historical studies, and by making deductions based on physical inspection of the copies.

We need to take into account missing material, extra material (usually repeated sections called ‘pull-backs’), ‘flash’ intertitles that need to be extended, material out of sequence etc, before we can establish the most authentic edit.

The provenance of film elements and the relationship between them is often...