Thursday, May 24, 2012

Long-suppressed WWII Documentary Debuts Memorial Day Weekend

NOTE from DearMYRTLE: The following was received this morning from our friends at the National Archives (US). Please address all inquiries to Public.Affairs@nara.gov.

National Archives  Leads  Restoration of John Huston’s Let There Be Light

Washington, DC… The National Archives and Records Administration’s restoration of Let There Be Light (1946), John Huston’s controversial World War II documentary about the rehabilitation of psychologically scarred combat veterans, will screen on the National Film Preservation Foundation’s website (www.filmpreservation.org) starting May 24.  The free presentation will run from Memorial Day weekend through the end of August.

The third in the World War II trilogy commissioned from Academy Award-winning director John Huston by the US Army Signal Corps, Let There Be Light follows the treatment of emotionally traumatized GIs from their admission at a racially integrated psychiatric hospital to their reentry into civilian life.  Made decades before post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) entered the vocabulary, the documentary was created to help Americans understand the challenges faced by returning veterans and to demonstrate that the psychological wounds of war are very real and could heal through therapy. 

The War Department pulled the film shortly before its premiere at the Museum of Modern Art and commissioned a replacement in which white actors took all the speaking roles and the GIs upbringing was blamed for their psychological condition instead of war trauma.  Let There Be Light was first shown publicly in December 1980, after a chorus of Hollywood leaders, joined by Vice President Walter Mondale, persuaded the Secretary of the Army, Clifford Alexander, Jr., to authorize its release. 

Let There Be Light holds a special place in documentary film history for its almost unprecedented use of unscripted interviews.   Only now, with the new National Archives soundtrack restoration, can these interviews—many with battle-weary soldiers who can only mumble or whisper personal stories—be heard with their full emotional force. 

The documentary will be available for free streaming and downloading and presented with extras providing historical context, including:
·         The Battle of San Pietro (1945), the second film in Huston’s WWII trilogy
·         The Reawakening (1919), about the treatment of returning WW1 veterans
·         A documentary about the National Archives Motion Picture Archival Unit
·         Program notes about the film and its restoration 

The restored soundtrack for Let There Be Light was donated by Chace Audio by Deluxe through the NFPF grant program.  Sponsoring the premiere is Fandor.com, a web showcase for independent films and documentaries from around the world.

About the National Archives’ restoration of Let There Be Light
For the audio restoration of Let There Be Light, the National Archives provided a 35mm black-and-white print with a variable area optical sound track.  The print had numerous crackles and pops from previous screenings, in addition to bumpy edits, audio level fluctuations in the original recordings and sibilance in the sound track.  The sound preservation work was done at Chace Audio by Deluxe, using the sound track from the 1957 black-and-white print.  The sound track was converted to digital audio files at 24 bits and 96 kHz.  For preservation and long term archival reliability, the National Archives had both a new mono 35mm optical sound track negative made to produce new prints and a 35mm fullcoat 35mm polyester magnetic recording of the original and restored tracks.

For the image restoration of Let There Be Light, the National Archives created a new picture negative from the 35mm black-and-white print.  To create the new negative, the Motion Picture Preservation Lab staff used a wet-gate printer to alleviate the scratches on the original film.  Wet-gate printing utilizes a fluid with the same refractive index as the base of the film and diffuses the light to minimize the appearance of scratches in the resulting copy.  The Preservation Lab then created HD scans.

The Lab currently is scanning in the film at a 2K resolution (2048 x 1556) and will use digital restoration tools to correct density shifts introduced in previous generations of printing and to remove dirt, dust, and scratches that were printed in or caused by mishandling.  Once the film is digitized, the Lab will capture the audio from the restored magnetic track made at Chace Audio by Deluxe and create WAV files to sync with the image.  The files will then be transcoded to HD, DVD, and web quality.

The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent Federal agency that preserves and shares with the public records that trace the story of our nation, government, and the American people. From the Declaration of Independence to accounts of ordinary Americans, the holdings of the National Archives directly touch the lives of millions of people. The National Archives is a public trust upon which our democracy depends, ensuring access to essential evidence that protects the rights of American citizens, documents the actions of the government, and reveals the evolving national experience. The National Archives, as the nation’s record keeper, holds one of the world's largest moving image repositories, with more than 360,000 reels of motion picture film titles.  The National Archives carries out its mission through a nationwide network of archives, records centers, and Presidential Libraries, and on the Internet at http://www.archives.gov.

The National Film Preservation Foundation is the nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America's film heritage. Since opening its doors in 1997, the NFPF has supported film preservation in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico and has helped save more than 1,900 films. The NFPF is the charitable affiliate of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress.

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