Be Big - Preservation

The original nitrate negative for LOS CALAVERAS survived in good condition and was converted to safety film stock before being entrusted to state of the art archival storage in 1988. No restoration was necessary.

 Why? The physical material sat idle in M-G-M's low temperature, low humidity vaults for 52 years until we discovered it there in 1983. When rare, desirable film elements remain safely stored, but ignored, the happy result is they cannot be raped and ruined by careless users, or wrecked from within as a consequence of nitrate decomposition. That is precisely what occurred, and what did not occur, with respect to the camera negative on LOS CALAVERAS. No one asked about, printed from, or otherwise despoiled the film elements for this subject; as a result they were safely stored under top conditions until they could be preserved intact making them available to delight new generations throughout the next millennium.

BE BIG was preserved in 1994 using primarily the studio cutting print, or work print. This would be the 35mm nitrate print, full of splices, physically edited by Bert Jordan, as superviesd by Dick Currier, which was generated from the film negative that actually ran through Art Lloyd's camera as the actors performed.

35mm and 16mm prints and masters for other media (such as video) have, up until this point, been notoriously fuzzy and dull looking. The conversion in 1994 will upgrade every authorized BE BIG viewing experience. LOS CALAVERAS, however, offers the richest detail, clarity and contrast in its picture. As a result of wear and tear caused by over-printing over many decades, BE BIG's physical pre-print material has now acquired built-in artifacts that cannot be reversed utilizing the technology currently available.

The nitrate conversion on LES CAROTTIERS was more complicated and was performed in 1996.

For this restoration we worked from a 35mm combined dupe negative, a 35mm original studio work print stored in vault number seven at Hal Roach Studios right next to Lake Laurel & Hardy up through 1963; a silent, shrunken 35mm lavender (fine grain positive), and a 16mm print as a soundtrack source. These materials contained many physical repairs, abrasions, artifacts, and occasional lines. Plus not all of these elements were either complete, or capable of being matched (which is to say, lining up the picture portion with the separate soundtrack). This is because in 1931 there were two different edits on the material, one for French-speaking Canada, and another for France. Thus today the track for one market cannot be synchronized with the separate picture portion for the other territory. They will not fit.

Whether for cultural, censorship, or random reasons, the variations were slight, but made the task of piecing together a single, complete preservation master with the best possible picture and track extremely difficult. Nearly as difficult as finding and putting on the correct boots for riding, hunting, and attending stag parties.

Consequently derivative viewing copies will offer a picture that sometimes varies in contrast, density and sharpness, just as the track varies slightly in volume, range and clarity.

The only alternative to this situation is to phone Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Anita Garvin and everyone else so as to arrange to film everything over again, with the possible improvement of using color film stock this time. We have the script, we have the music cue sheets, we can hire any orchestra to recreate the incidental melodies.

"Sound funny to me."

Although actually more easily seen, there were subtler variations in the picture quality as projected and approved at the film laboratory in Los Angeles in 1988 for the fine grain on LOS CALAVERAS. Scenes from the original American BE BIG containing no dialogue and no substitute foreign actors, did not need to be re-shot in French or Spanish. So therefore dupe negative footage two generations removed from the BE BIG camera negative could be used on these scenes as the primary element for each of the foreign versions. But when intercut whith the new lower generation scenes specifically filmed for the export versions, one can view slight scene-to-scene variations in film contrast, density and sharpness. But of course even the best nitrate film elements for both LOS CALAVERAS and LES CAROTTIERS have always betrayed that built-in limitation.

The safety fine grain and dupe negative preservation materials for these three versions of what started out as THE CHISELERS were transported by rail to Atlantic City for permanent archival storage and care earlier this year.

Or, maybe not.

-- by Richard W. Bann --