Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The rescue of 'Tolkien in Oxford'

A quick report, to thank those who expressed interest...

I nipped down to London for 2 days last month.

The BBC paper file of Leslie Megahey's 1968 film 'Tolkien in Oxford' was made available to me, and I was able to go through it.  I spent all of Wednesday, December 18, in the editing suite, with Leslie Megahey and Charles Chabot, film and video producer.  The video file supplied by the BBC Library - technically a PRORES 422 HQ file - was of very good quality.  We were all very pleased with the quality of the images - especially remembering that the film was originally shot on 1960s 16mm film. 

Just to sum up what was done on the day...

1.  Captions
Captions were inserted where they would have been inserted during the original transmission.

2.  Credits
The original film was broadcast in 1968 as part of a BBC arts magazine series called 'RELEASE'.  It shared the evening, I understand, with a film about Barbara Hepworth, and combined credits for both films were floated in towards the end of the slot.

On Wednesday December 18 2013 we created and installed a sequence of credits for the 'Tolkien in Oxford' film ALONE - the sort of thing that would have appeared in 1968, had the 'Tolkien in Oxford' film been broadcast alone.  In re-creating these credits we called upon our joint memories AND the BBC paper file, which we had to hand.  So, we think they are right.

Typefaces for the Captions and Credits were simply a judgement call, as were placing and timing.  Since we had the original director of the film in the room, there was no argument about that.

3.  Some tidying of the actual video file.  A few scratches were removed, as were most of those jumps and clicks that are artefacts of the original negative cutting technology.  These are especially noticeable in the rostrum camera sequences.  A little bit of theological discussion here, about how much we should interfere with an archive 'document' - but from the BBC side an insistence that what we were aiming for was a 'transmission quality' file.

The amended and restored video file has been returned to the BBC.

I think we are happy enough with the quality of the restored piece.  The image quality is generally very good.  The overall structure, now that we can see it, is good.  The gags work - now that we can see the complete piece.  Individual contributions are good - we were struck, for example, by how good a job Joss Ackland had done with the readings. 

And, I think I will add, we liked the integrity of the piece.  Leslie Megahey remind me about the decision to NOT include talking heads academics - for example, he remind me that I had negotiated on his behalf with J. I. M Stewart (Michael Innes), before he decided that that was not the way to go.  And you have to think, what, in 1968, could the talking heads academics have contributed to the discussion?

I understand that there is now beginning within the BBC some discussion about how these BBC TV arts 'magazine' films might be restored and re-displayed - though they were not broadcast as individual pieces, they were costed and created as individual films, and work as standalone films.  So, we might have started something.

Patrick O'Sullivan

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