About Restoration

Nitrate disintegration

"Our preservationists must demonstrate the hard-nosed diligence of detectives, the technical skill of accomplished filmmakers, the aesthetic sensitivity of artists, and the allegiance to the truth of historians."—Jan-Christopher Horak, Director, UCLA Film & Television Archive

Fifty percent of all films produced in the United States prior to 1950 have disappeared. Ninety percent of classic film prints in the United States are currently in very poor condition. Similarly, much of historic television now exists only on obsolete and deteriorating tape formats.

UCLA Film & Television Archive is committed to preserving moving image materials. Until 1950, films were produced using nitrate cellulose film stock, a chemically unstable and highly flammable material that inevitably deteriorates and turns to dust. After 1950, more stable acetate (or safety) film stock was used, but it also deteriorates, giving rise to "vinegar syndrome" or irreversible color fading. The Archive is increasingly relying on polyester film stock and digital means to preserve image and sound quality.

"Part of the goal is to make a new print or prints and send them around to show people at museums and film festivals and so on. But the main thing is to make a new preprint element—a master positive copy or a dupe negative copy—on modern polyester film that's supposed to last for hundreds of years, and place it in our cold storage vault."—Preservation Officer Robert Gitt, 2005

Film and television preservation and restoration is often labor intensive and an extremely costly endeavor. The exacting work requires researching the best surviving materials among the world's archives and private collectors, painstakingly comparing and cutting together shots and scenes from diverse sources, repairing splices and perforations, rerecording soundtracks to remove auditory imperfections, tinting silent films in their original colors and restoring faded prints.

With proper storage, film elements have the ability to survive, without deterioration, for hundreds of years.

Watch video of Archive Director Jan-Christopher Horak discuss film restoration with TCM host Robert Osborne. 

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