How the Library of Congress Preserves Exploding, Shrinking Film Forever

Illustration for article titled How the Library of Congress Preserves Exploding, Shrinking Film Forever

Maybe it's because I'm a film and video buff, but I just read an article that rocked my world a bit, and I recommend that you read it, too.


By Ken Weissman, a member of the LoC since 1982 who has overseen film restorations like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Maltese Falcon, his story is not a mere summary of how a couple of librarians dust off old film.

It's a tale of how we learned to preserve 140 million feet of nitrate-era combustibles (early celluloid prints that were banned for starting fires), copy damaged old stocks as pristine new films (using dry cleaning solution) and preserve the film we have now for up to 2000 years without hard drives (by freezing it).

You won't regret the read—I imagine everyone will learn something from it—so head on over to Creative Cow to check it out. [Creative Cow, Thanks bornonbord!]

(Note: The image here is of a paper print, not actual film—more on that in the article.)



You know what's really scary?

How they recently learned the shelf-life of digital video is no more than 15 years.

Back in 1992, Ridley Scott pulled original 35mm film negative of his 1982 film BLADE RUNNER from the vaults, and digitized it so he could re-cut it more easily. The result was the brilliant Director's cut version we all know and love today.

But it wasn't until 2007, when old Ridley decided he wanted to make a few more tweaks and broke out the digital transfers they made back in 1992.

The technicians were shocked to discover that in less than 20 years, the digital image had begun to warp. (The blacks were coffee-brown, the whites were bleeding all over the frame, etc.)

Luckily they still had the film negative to go back to, but it was a serious warning to everyone shooting on digital to, ironically, backup all your footage onto film... just in case.