SVP of archives Andrea Kalas leads asset management at Paramount Pictures and has a long career in preserving films. Prior to joining Paramount, she was head of preservation at the British Film Institute, digital studio director for Discovery Communications, archivist for Dreamworks SKG and preservationist and research data expert at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and currently serves on the Science and Technology Council where she chairs the committee on digital preservation.
At Paramount, she has been cleaning up the classics for release in the home entertainment market. Most recently, her team restored The Sheik (1921), one of the seminal films of silent era starring the legendary Rudolph Valentino. The film is available Nov. 2 as part of the “Paramount Presents” Blu-ray Disc line for its 100th anniversary. Media Play News editor in chief Stephanie Prange asked Kalas about the difficulties and rewards of restoring such classics.
MPN: My grandfather, I recall, idolized Rudolph Valentino. Can you discuss his relevance and the position of The Sheik in the history of Hollywood and filmmaking?
Kalas: Rudolph Valentino is well worth idolizing. His importance to film history is monumental. He was not only a brilliant performer, but he was a lightning rod for a cultural change that is hard to see from 100 years later. In today’s eyes, we might frown at a white guy passing for Middle Eastern but in the 1920s he was seen as “foreign” and “dark.” He was in many ways the first superstar, his style and legendary sensuality transcending the films he was in. Sometimes that meant controversy — many journalists of the time openly questioned his masculinity, maybe because so many women adored everything about him. He connected with the camera — he looks right at it as if it were the object of his affection. It’s hard to think of other performers since who had this incredible ability.
MPN: Please describe the elements Paramount used to restore The Sheik and how they were obtained.
Kalas: Original camera negatives are rarely extant for silent films, unfortunately. We were grateful for a print loaned to us by Film Preservation Associates. We used that for the intertitles. We also had a fine-grain (a black and white intermediary element) that we used for the picture. We also had an original continuity script that told us timing and specific color information for the tinting.
MPN: Were there any particularly difficult scenes/sequences to restore?
Kalas: The fine-grain element had been “stretch printed” — a way to bring the silent frames-per-second speed to the standard one of 24. We needed to digitally unstretch it back to the original 22 frames per second to represent how the film was meant to be seen.
MPN: What is Paramount’s strategy in restoring classic films such as The Sheik?
Kalas: Paramount is dedicated to film preservation and restoration, and the most important priority is the condition of the films. Our top priority is making sure we preserve the films so films like The Sheik can be enjoyed when it’s 200 years old.
MPN: Can you describe a particularly hard film/scene that you and your team have restored in your career?
Kalas: Our restoration of the 1927 film Wings (1927), the first Best Picture [Oscar] winner, had a very compromised picture element that had printed-in nitrate deterioration among other issues. The work to restore that took enormous amounts of frame-by-frame work, with tools usually used for special effects. We’re very proud of the result, which is paired with a completely re-recorded and re-mixed original silent score. [Paramount Home Entertainment March 23 released Wings as part of a “Best Picture Essentials 10-Movie Collection.”]