Paul Howson’s Website

A Film Restoration Diary

Preparing the Films for Scanning on the Spirit

Having found a Spirit Datacine in Brisbane and tested some of the Tarax Show kines, it was time to prepare the full length 16mm reels for scanning.

Of the five Tarax Show Christmas Pantomimes that I had fully on film, I chose four for scanning: 1959, 1961, 1962 and 1963.

In addition to the full reels, there were some cans marked “offcuts” which suggested that pieces had been excised for use in the “Magic Box” show about early television which Denzil Howson presented in his later years.

I made up an extra composite reel containing these offcuts together with a second print of the first act of the 1961 production “The Magic Mirror”. I figured that if there were frames in the full reel that were damaged then the second print might provide material to effect repairs.

Film Cleaning

These films had been shown numerous times over the years on Denzil’s French Debrie projector, a beautifully engineered device with the unfortunate habit of leaking oil from its lubrication system onto the film. This had left oil patches on the film, visible if you hold the film in the light (the surface reflectance changes where there is oil). But they don’t appear to make much difference to transmitted light, so they must be very thin.

Nevertheless, I decided to try some simple experiments in cleaning this oil off the film. For this I used a soft cotton cloth dipped in shellite and held between the fingers to exert a light pressure on the film while simultaneously winding it from one spool to another. Now, according to authoritative sources, cleaning film in this way is supposed to be a big no no. But I did it very carefully and checked the film closely to ensure no scratching was occurring.

Although this process did remove some of the oil in places, it appears that the oil layer must have somehow bonded with the film emulsion or substrate.

35mm Animation Sequences

One film can contained a series of short 35mm clips of Tarax Show opening animations with optical audio tracks. They depict cartoon characters at an amusement park — on a roller coaster and other rides. At the end a lion’s mouth opens to reveal the title “Presenting … Gerry Gee’s Happy Show” or variation thereof.

These would most likely have been produced in-house at Fanfare Films which operated at GTV9 circa 1960 and which had an animation department and produced series such as “The Adventures of Freddo Frog”.

A frame from one of the Tarax Show opening animations, preserved on 35mm film. These kids are having fun on a roller coaster.
Now they’re on a ride in the dark — maybe a Ghost Train? Quite a bit of dust visible on the animation cells.
Here’s a lion. He bares his big teeth.
The lion’s teeth transform into this striped curtain which the man in the top hat casts open.
Behind the curtain a group of smiling children’s faces bursts forth.
Finally the title appears: “Gerry Gee’s Happy Show”.

These opening animation sequences would have been played to air at the start of each Tarax Show directly from the 35mm film. (GTV9 had 35mm telecine projectors as part of their Pye vidicon telecine chains.)

As a child I recall watching these sequences open the Tarax Show and here they were fifty years later preserved in an unlabelled film can! They deserved to be scanned also and fortunately the Spirit Datacine was equipped to scan 35mm film.

I inspected these animation rolls, picked the ones which appeared to be in best condition and tape-spliced them together into a single reel.

Visiting Cutting Edge Again

With the film prepared, it was back to Cutting Edge to deliver the four Tarax Pantomime reels for scanning.

Since my first visit, the sound head on the Spirit had been repaired and was now operational. I wanted to run some tests of both variable density and variable area soundtracks on the Spirit.

We mounted the Magic Mirror reel and tested the variable area soundtrack. I would expect the Spirit to deliver the best audio you can can reasonably expect from a 16mm optical soundtrack, which isn’t that great (the nominal bandwidth is only about 6kHz).

We also mounted the Golden Princess, which had a variable density soundtrack.

Both reels sounded good on a pair of headphones.

Justin said he would scan the audio and video in two separate passes since the video needs to be done at less than 25fps for 2K data rates. Audio needs to be done in real time.

It was time to head back home and await the results.