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Moby Dick (1956) Grain in the background

Mathew Collins

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Mostly the film stock -- 35mm color negative back in the mid-1950's was not that fine-grained even though it was only 25 ASA. Hence the interest for larger formats to improve quality, from Cinerama in 1952 (three 6-perf 35mm negatives), VistaVision in 1954 (8-perf 35mm horizontal negative), Todd-AO / Super Panavision in 1955 (5-perf 65mm), Technirama in 1957 (basically VistaVision but with a 1.5X anamorphic lens), and then finally MGM Camera 65 / Ultra Panavision in 1957 (basically 65mm Todd-AO / Super Panavision but with a 1.25X anamorphic lens.)


I don't count CinemaScope in 1953 since that didn't use a larger negative, it was 4-perf 35mm.


Some of the grain is not just in the original negative, it's probably from copying to more generations, and/or because they made a new color interpositive from b&w separations. Some of these old movies only exist in prints, so that's what they have to use for the video transfer.


Plus individual shots can be grainier than others. The most common reason is that those shots were optical-printer dupes made in order to add a transition like a dissolve, or to add titles, etc. but sometimes it is because they were underexposed compared to the other shots.


Grain is always most visible in flat areas of midtones -- like a mid-grey wall, for example.

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As David has said you could always tell when a dissolve or fade was coming up because of the grain increase with the dupes .This was very obvious in the Ray Harryhausen stop motion work on his films even as a young teenager I could always tell a Monster was about to appear because the grain would increase . Would have been better if all the live action had been duped as well to match . So all the same amount of grain you would soon get used to that .

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  • 1 month later...

There was also a huge issue with color shift and reciprocity failure. So you could tell one was coming because the color would shift right before. I believe Kodak won an Emmy when they fixed this and made color response more consistent with changing exposure in the printer, along with finer-grained film.

I am not sure as to this specific scene, but another issue could be rear projection. Unlike B&W, there was only one color film, which meant there was no finer-grained film designed specifically to try to hide a projected background. So that could be what he is seeing here, not familiar with the shot in question.

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This scene takes place in a church where Father Marple is delivering a sermon.


One can see a white line on the edges where the blacks in the foreground meet the back wall.

This might be an artifact of edge enhancement in the transfer.

Edge enhancement can enhance grain.




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