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Author Topic: Old B&W film question?
Stephen Frazza
Expert Film Handler

Posts: 161
From: Nutley, NJ, USA
Registered: Mar 2004

 - posted 07-16-2004 03:01 PM      Profile for Stephen Frazza   Author's Homepage   Email Stephen Frazza   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I just saw an old B&W Harold Lloyd short on TCM. It had this effect
i've seen in other old B&W's also.A circular look where the corners get black and it looks like a telescope effect.It happens in varying degrees throughout the movie. It seemed to me to happen randomly and not done for any dramatic effect.

So my question is,was there a reason for this or was it done intentionaly for effect and I'm just missing it?

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John Pytlak
Film God

Posts: 9987
From: Rochester, NY 14650-1922
Registered: Jan 2000

 - posted 07-16-2004 03:33 PM      Profile for John Pytlak   Author's Homepage   Email John Pytlak   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
It could be lens vignetting of some of the camera lenses -- the lens is not able to evenly expose the entire frame:

Most photographic lenses exhibit optical vignetting to some degree. The effect is strongest when the lens is used wide open and will disappear when the lens is stopped down by a few stops. Together with natural vignetting, optical vignetting causes a gradual darkening of the image towards the corners. This illumination falloff often goes unnoticed but it may become disturbing when the subject has large faces with an even color or brightness.

Photographically, vignetting means the darkening of the corners relative to the centre of the image. At low levels it is not noticeable to the average person, and not objectionable photographically, and at its worst it destroys a picture.

All 'normal' photographic lenses vignette.

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Richard Fowler
Film God

Posts: 2389
From: Ft. Lauderdale, FL, USA
Registered: Jun 2001

 - posted 07-16-2004 04:52 PM      Profile for Richard Fowler   Email Richard Fowler   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
It was also popular during the silent era to "iris" in a frame to focus the composition for a director's intention...a visual exclamation point to prompt your eyes to see what only mattered in the shot.
Lenses where also not "coated" during this period and depending on the type of lens and film - ortho or panchomatic, there could be some "acceptable" falloff of image.

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Leo Enticknap
Film God

Posts: 7046
From: Loma Linda, CA
Registered: Jul 2000

 - posted 07-16-2004 04:52 PM      Profile for Leo Enticknap   Author's Homepage   Email Leo Enticknap   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I wondered if it was irising in and out, too (quite common in teens & '20s Hollywood) - but that wouldn't happen randomly; only at the start or end of a scene (equivalent to a fade to/from black), or, as you describe, in situations where you'd cut to a close-up nowadays.

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William Hooper
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1879
From: Mobile, AL USA
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 07-19-2004 02:17 AM      Profile for William Hooper   Author's Homepage   Email William Hooper   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
It's common to see vignetting on early films, & successive dupes exacerbate the condition.

However, there was quite a wide convention in silent movies of changing the 'aperture' for artistic reasons - irising or using a matte to a circle or slash, or masking the sides/top/bottom. It was generally done to direct focus to a particular point, as an alternative to moving in. There are a lot of 'closeups' of faces, scenery & action which are shot through a circular mask, or, just as often, with the sides & top matted to even something that looks like just a narrow vertical bar of picture in the middle of the screen. It may seem strange, but in practice it's often unnoticed. Since those pictures were 100% visual but not yet completely bound up in the conventions of having to look like a window on some scene as audiences came to expect with the sound era, the practice came from experimenting with ways to manipulate the audience only via means at the camera. It's not that different from the manipulation of cutting. Silent movies in the last years became very sophisticated in methods of image manipulation to manipulate the audience's attention & perception; however synchronized sound brought a lot of 'anchors' with it to expectations of realistic sound & viewing.

Most of the Harold Lloyd movies are from (cut) original camera negative, so increased vignetting due to successive duping is not likely the case. Lloyd owned his own films (except for the very early stuff), & took care of them. They're not available on video due to terms of his will, because Harold Lloyd was apalled at what television did to movies in terms of chopping them up for commercials, time, the reduced impact of comedies when not viewed with an audience, the reduced effectiveness on the tiny screen, etc. They're shown on TCM just as a sort of exposure & snack for the faithful, as well as sort of going someplace where all the folks who like the same things hang out. I don't know how long the agreement to run the Lloyds is with TCM this time, but if you like 'em, tape 'em. Otherwise, you'll have to be vigilant for theatrical showings of his movies - yep, they print them & run them. Lloyd movies are always GREAT in a theater with an audience. He was likely the first to do previews & edit, do re-takes, etc. based on audience reaction.

The Pickford Trust is sort of similar with the Mary Pickford movies. Few folks get to see them therefore, so there's no really accurate perception nowadays of a Mary Pickford movie. Somehow in memory & popular culture she's been spliced with Shirley Temple & Little Mary Sunshine, & the perception is of here as a sort of drone. She's a hoot & great comedienne, & her movies were VERY expensive, had the best directors & cameramen, & are a lot of fun. Mostly all you find these days on video is "Sparrows"; it's more Sunday School than anything else she's done. Her stuff is rarely mawkish; it's generally fast & fun like her husband Douglas Fairbanks stuff. And Fairbanks movies make Indian Jones look like a humorless old man who needs a walker.

The biggest stars of the late silent era were Chaplin, Fairbanks, Pickford, Keaton, Lloyd, & Gloria Swanson. They got that way by turning out hugely entertaining movies -& made a ton of money doing it.

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