The Reconstruction and Restoration of John Wayne's
The 70mm Newsletter
by: Robert A. Harris
The Digital Bits.
Reprinted with permission
70mm frame supplied by Schauburg Kino, Karlsruhe, Germany
"THE ALAMO is the greatest picture I've ever seen. It will last forever, run
forever, for all peoples, all families everywhere."
- Legendary filmmaker, John Ford, 1960.
was produced as a large format 70mm (5 perf) motion picture, with an
original running time of approximately 192 minutes plus Overture, Entr'acte
and Exit music. It was a "special event" film distributed via Roadshow with
advance ticket sales. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards including
Best Picture, winning for Best Sound.
Soon after its initial release in 1960, a situation arose based primarily on
local transportation problems. In smaller cities, where bus service from the
outlying areas was the main means of transit, the last busses were leaving
before the film ended. As a result at least 30 minutes was cut from the
As John Wayne was shooting "Hatari!"
in Africa, the actual cutting was performed by Michael Wayne (John's son)
and the film's editor, Stuart Gilmore. Because the 6 track audio could only
be either cut or slightly remixed, a detailed fine cut was not an option.
Those involved in the cut were led to believe that the extant 70mm prints
would be trimmed and resounded, and new printing matrices produced for the
35mm release in the shorter form – but that the original negative would not
be harmed or modified.
That is not what occurred. The original negative and all protection
elements, inclusive of the 65mm separation masters, were cut to conform to
the new 161-minute length; the trims and deletions were destroyed.
For over thirty years, the original Roadshow version of the film was feared
lost, until in 1991 a lone surviving 70mm print
was found in remarkably good
condition in a film exchange in Toronto.
in 70mm reading:
"The Alamo" lost 70mm version - This
letter which started it all
"The Alamo" August 9, 2001. Reprinted from Dallas Observer by permission from Robert Wilonsky.
Restoration of "Lawrence of Arabia"
Restoration of "My Fair Lady"
"Vertigo" Cast and credits
Restoration of "Spartacus"
The Digital Bits
Home Theatre Forum
More Bits 2014
The fundraising has officially begun.
The project's charitable sponsor is now accepting contribution checks and credit cards toward the restoration of the film. All contributions are tax deductible. Contribution checks should be made out payable to...
Jacob Burns Film Center, Inc.
...with the information: "f/b/o Alamo Restoration" in the memo field, normally lower left.
The mailing address is:
Jacob Burns Film Center
Att: Dominick Balletta
405 Manville Road
Pleasantville, NY 10570
Todd-AO credit from original 70mm Main Title sequence
For the uninitiated, something about film elements needs to be fully understood.
That print was used as the basis of what was called the Roadshow for release on laser disc. Unfortunately, it is now totally faded and suffering from vinegar syndrome, which literally turns the base of the film stock into a hard, sticky mess, rendering it unusable.
While modern Eastman elements are robust with a long life expectancy, this is simply not the case for films made before the creation of Eastman 5250 color negative stock in 1961. All Eastman color stocks created before that point fade. Some more, some less, dependent upon a number of technical and storage factors, but the absolute is – they fade.
On top of that, any film with an acetate base has a tendency to go "vinegar" as a result of Vinegar Syndrome (VS), another naturally occurring fact of safety film longevity. Magnetic tracks are extremely susceptible. And there is very little that a studio can do about it. It occurs even when elements are properly vaulted.
What the studios do to preserve their assets is to create black & white separation masters of color negative productions. These were created of the long version, but are now cut, and after almost half a century these consummate protection elements are also showing the classic signs of early VS.
The bottom line is that the condition of the original elements for this
film, created in 1959-60 (the most problematic for Eastman color film
stock), is a totally normal function of the dyes, chemistry and film bases
Original 65mm negative - Intermission
The simple truth is that all of the extant elements have hit the end of
their useful lives at the same time, and in order to preserve the film for
future generations, it must be restored. The good news is that we finally
have the digital mechanism that will allow us to properly restore the film
to an extremely high quality end result.
Now that we've had a lesson on film elements, we go to the facts. The
original negative is faded, missing over 90% of its yellow layer, which
controls blue and contrast, therefore yielding no true blacks and
Crustacean-like facial highlights. Any attempt to pump color back into a
print turns the skies a muddy green, as yellow is added. The negative also
has additional damage due to improperly prepared black leader used in
negative cutting, which has chemically attacked the emulsion through the two
outermost dye layers. The original negative is unusable to make either
prints or preservation elements.
A frame of the original 70mm print as it exists today.
The original 65mm separation masters, which would normally have served as an
ultimate backup, were improperly produced and have focus issues.
audio, which had an Academy Award winning 6-track discreet mix, is not an
overriding problem, although original elements have an extremely high level
of vinegar syndrome. It is doubtful that the original tracks will survive
through the year.
The time has come for a complete restoration and overhaul – a massive
MGM and a number of vendors have been very supportive in the effort to save
this epic film, and are making generous contributions. Still, in order to
expedite a full and proper restoration we are seeking financial support from
outside sources, both corporate and private, for the remaining 1.4 million
The work involved will take about 10 to 12 months. The final result will be
two versions of the film – The original Roadshow and the General Release,
both with Overture, Intermission, Entr'acte and Exit Music.
70mm frame supplied by Schauburg Kino, Karlsruhe, Germany
The most important would be the theatrical event projected fully restored in
70mm or Digital Cinema in 2K or 4K. The running time would be approximately
172 minutes, replicating the visual and aural splendor of
as it originally premiered in San Antonio on October 24, 1960, albeit in the
General Release cut of the film. While the General Release cut would be
available for DVD and Blu-ray, the Roadshow version of the film is intended
solely for the DVD and Blu-ray home video audience.
The restoration via all new Eastman film materials would guarantee that the
film would survive in perpetuity.
Once completed, MGM would make a restored digital cinema element or 70mm
print available for special charity screenings. The print, provided in the
names of major donors, with all proceeds going toward the charities
involved, would include end credits containing the names of major donors,
both corporate and private, which would be seen on screen and later on home
video and other uses of the work, linked forever with John Wayne's
Currently, there is no way to create a 70mm print of this film. The extant
production elements are a fading 35mm interpositive and a dupe negative
derived from that source – neither representing the heroic work that went
into this film by John Wayne and his co-creators.
One of the most important ways people know of the extraordinary gift of
freedom given to Texas and our nation by those who defended The Alamo is by
virtue of this film. Although an imperfect representation historically, John
Wayne's work brilliantly portrays that larger than life tale, capturing the
hearts and creating lasting memories for all who experience this great film.
We are attempting to pull this important film back from the very brink of
extinction and preserve it for generations to come.
We are hopeful that once we are officially in step with the appropriate
charitable organization and are able to accept contributions, that support
can be found to save Mr. Wayne's epic.
Our goal is to premiere a fully restored 70mm print of the film to play in
San Antonio, Dallas and other major cities on or about March 6, 2010 to
benefit the continued preservation and memory of The Alamo.
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