[Tig] How does black and white film age?

Richard Kirk richard at filmlight.ltd.uk
Tue Apr 5 08:55:29 BST 2016

On 04/05/2016 01:42 AM, tig-request at colorist.org wrote:
> But the question was how to know how the bw colors looked like on film when is released. We are working on a restoration project for a film from 1956. We projected 4 copies, all looked different. One was slightly yellow,  other was grey without contrast, one was really contrasty and one is slightly gray with elevated blacks. The dvd copy is made in 1990s from the festival copy and probably has some grading on it too. How can we judge from this materials how this film supposed to look ?
Black and white film does not age much. However, different lengths of 
film can get random tints, such a subtle yellows or blues or even pinks 
on the light tones, even when it is new. I do not know what this is, but 
I suspect it is some interference effect. In cinemas you adapted to the 
colour pretty quickly, but you were aware of cuts, or changes or reel - 
particularly newsreels when they went from the national news to the 
local news.

The correct contrast is difficult to judge. I would go with your 
slightly yellow copy because it has the best contrast, and so it likely 
to be the earliest copy. Second- and third-generation copies will tend 
to have more contrast if you print in the middle of the tone curve. But 
they won't have the colour jumps at the cuts, as they will be printed 
all in one go.

> From: Jeff Kreines <jeff at kinetta.com>
> Sometimes labs print B&W films on color positive stock (it?s cheaper) but there is a special ring of hell reserved for those labs.
That would be the first circle of the Inferno, reserved for virtuous pagans.

Remember the film 'The Man Who Wasn't There?'. That was supposed to be a 
black and white film. However, even though we had Soho Labs back in 
those days, there still was not the process control you had to have for 
colour film. They must have run test strips, but there was no equivalent 
for the LAD patch.

Another problem is the considerable Callier effect you get with black 
and white film. This means that the intensities you get on the screen do 
not really correspond to the densities you get on the densitometer. Most 
projector optics will have been pretty consistent at about f/4 if you 
are going back to the 1950's, so it is possible to come up with a 
consistent measurement and preview technique. The black and white film 
will have a very high density but it will also scatter, so the deepest 
black will depend on how much white there is in the film. This is okay, 
because we also have scatter within our eyeballs, and the brain 
compensates for both. But it does make process control hard.

There was also much less black and white processing being done, so it 
was harder to get consistent results; while the colour processing was 
running all the time, and the chemicals were fresher. In the end, they 
just got a better result quicker using black and white film. And they 
did not get the strange tints.

It's not a bad way to go. However, it is hard to find a lab at all these 
days, so maybe we will all go back to black and white.

> On Fri, Apr 1, 2016 at 7:47 AM, Jim Houston 
> <jim.houston at mindspring.com> wrote:
> Since audiences of the time were used to seeing less contrast in
> projection, by today's taste, most black and white films have
> significant enhancements to contrast and blacks for digital projection.
> Also recall that the color temperature for projection back then was
> closer to 5000K  or if you go back to the 20's and 30's even 3800K.
> So some warming of the black is appropriate.
If you want the authentic experience, you have to remember that people 
were allowed to smoke in cinemas. The projector beam used to be this 
brilliant shaft of light. Now you can hardly see it from the side.

Hope this helps.

Richard Kirk

FilmLight Ltd.  	Tel: +44 (0)20 7292 0400 or 0409 224 (direct)
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