Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mamba at Cinefest, March 17, 2012

Tomorrow morning I'm leaving Stockholm to attend Cinefest in Syracuse NY where Mamba will see it's US premiere Saturday, March 17. Paul and I have been invited to present the film at the festival. Mamba has not been shown in the US for over 80 years so it is indeed an event not to miss.

Director Al Rogell (left) and the Mamba cast
There has been some rather negative comments in the Nitrateville forum concerning the fact that Mamba will be shown in digital form and not on 35mm film as some apparently expected. Maybe this is the best place to explain why and also give some technical notes on the work that has been done.

First of all, the nine reels of Mamba magic today resides in Sydney, Australia. It will be very difficult to get them over to the US on such a short notice.

Production still of the set
The second reason is that the nitrate print is silent. The Australian print have only four of the nine TiffanyTone disks intact. I don't have a Vitaphone equipped work station at home so I simply had to keep the synchronization in the digital realm. Todd Weiner and Bob Gitt at the UCLA kindly provided us with a copy of the complete soundtrack. This was the only solution available for me to produce a complete version of the film. For the restoration of Mamba all original film and sound elements will of course be used.

Mamba has NOT yet been restored. This is very important to make clear. The print we will show at Cinefest is a work in progress, straight out of the can. The picture elements are far from perfect and the soundtrack is noisy, still this doesn't hide the fact that the nitrate print is in very good condition. There is no apparent damage or anything apart from the usual scratches, uneven lightning and some loose splices. The digital print was made out of curiosity and the sole purpose with it is to be able to show this believed long lost film to the world.

Director Al Rogell at work on the set
For the synchronizing I started with the nine reels as separate video files transferred by the Australian Film Institute. The film was scanned at 480p PAL which is normal TV resolution but it still looked good. I edited the film elements together leaving out leaders, act signs and stuff normally left out on projection. I also tried to tighten some of the cuts and splices that were particularly jumpy. I did nothing to improve the image quality, no color correction or stabilizing was performed.

The soundtrack was delivered to me on CD. Every reel had its own sound file. The TiffanyTone disks had been digitally transferred for us by UCLA. No filtering or processing had been made to the audio, it came straight off the original disks. I'm not sure about the pre-equalization on TiffanyTone disks so I decided not to apply anything out of the blue. The sound is rather shrill and noisy. I have good experience in restoring 78's but the soundtrack disks seems to be a bit different, and they should be. I did however apply a slight pop-filter to eliminate the most apparent pops and crackles. I also lowered the over all noise level with about 6dB to make the dialogue stand out, but that's all.

Jean Hersholt, Will Stanton and Noble Johnson on the set
The sound elements were then matched to the film elements, a very difficult and time consuming task. One of the problems is that the frame rate of the DVD is standard 25 fps whereas the audio is supposed to play in sync with a film that runs at 24 fps. This meant I had to speed up the soundtrack with about 4% to make it fit. Then I basically ran into the same problems as the Vitaphone projectionists ran into. If a single frame is missing in the film the sound goes out of sync after a while. Thus I had to compensate for this here and there.

The Australian print have a missing scene of about four minutes at the beginning of reel four. As far as I see it this particular scene had been cut by the local censors in Australia in 1930. The soundtrack however still had this scene intact so I decided to keep the sound and replace the picture elements with stills. I used frames from an earlier scene in the film for this. Another oddity about this missing scene is that the first thirty seconds of it was found between two scenes in the middle of reel five where it clearly didn't belong. I corrected this and put it back where it was intended to be.

Paul and I are very proud and honored to show Mamba at Cinefest Saturday night and we hope everyone will have a splendid time, I'm sure we will.

The Cinefest 2012 program can be found here:
Cinefest, TheVitaphone Project

More about Mamba, how it was found and the people who made it can be found here: Mamba Lost and Found
Mamba World Premiere at the Astor in Melbourne: Part 1, Part 2

The production stills in this post courtesy of the Robert S. Birchard collection.
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