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The Restoration of Colourful Youth

Colourful Youth (1966, directed by Yu Ho aka Chan Wan), is the only contemporary musical film in which Connie Chan Po-chu and Josephine Siao Fong-fong, both popular teen idols at the time, starred alongside each other. The motion picture became an instant hit upon its release, achieving impressive box office revenues of over $700,000. In addition to being a fan classic, it is also a representative work of the teen film genre which reflects the social atmosphere of the 1960s.

 

A Scene in Colourful Youth (1966)
A Scene in Colourful Youth (1966)

In 1995, almost 30 years after its release, the staff of the HKFA found the negatives of Colourful Youth at Olympia Theatre in North Point prior to the cinema's demolition. Then in 2010, with the approval of Chi Leun Film Company Limited which owned the rights to the film, the Archive began its restoration. This article details the steps that were taken to restore the film to its former glory.

Phase One in 2010

The reels retrieved by the Archive included the negatives which would later be used for the film's restoration, the soundtrack, as well as other copies. Unfortunately, most of them had decomposed, and only a set of nine reels of negatives and soundtrack with an approximate duration of 87 minutes could be restored. These negatives were printed on Eastmancolor film, a product developed by Kodak which was used extensively as an industry standard during the 1960s. Moreover, they were internegatives that are usually only used to make screening copies. Consequently, the reels were well-preserved due to infrequent usage.

However, they were not completely problem-free. First of all, the negatives had succumbed to vinegar syndrome. Because cellulose acetate is one of the materials used in the manufacturing of this type of film, improper storage will cause it to absorb the moisture in the air, giving rise to a chemical reaction which releases acetic acid into the air. The acetic acid, in turn, causes fading or discoloration. Acetate film base degradation can also lead to film shrinkage. Because each section of a reel deteriorates at a different rate, warping becomes another problem. The film may soften and turn sticky as well – for example, one reel of soundtrack negatives we collected was stuck together and could not be unfurled, causing a part of the visuals to have no audio. In addition, the picture and sound fell out of sync due to the deterioration and shrinkage of the soundtrack films. Other issues included flickering in places at the heads and tails of reels, jittering images caused by uneven distances between the perforations due to shrinkage, and the appearance of spots. Luckily, because the negatives themselves were rarely used, there were only a few scratches.

 

A film strip became warped because of irregular shrinkage
A film strip became warped because of irregular shrinkage

The film became soften and turned sticky due to film degradation
The film became soften and turned sticky due to film degradation

The faded negative colour film (left), we can see its colour through its reversal image
For the faded negative colour film (left), we can see its colour through its reversal image (right)

A teared film strip with improper old repair (left). The film was cleaned and repaired (right)
A torn film strip with improper old repair (left). The film was cleaned and repaired (right)

Our aim was to restore Colourful Youth back to its origin screening quality as much as possible, rectifying the visual and audio problems caused by the deterioration of the film, so that viewers can relive the experience of what it was like going to the movies back in that era. Moreover, since the motion picture was printed on constantly deteriorating cellulose acetate film, the restored visual and audio data had to be transferred to archival grade film for long-term preservation. When placed in a proper storage environment, this type of film can keep for as long as 200 years without deteriorating. The third objective was to print a digital copy to facilitate screening as well as loaning for research purposes.

In tackling the problem of the film's physical condition, our staff first cleaned the reels and conducted some preliminary restoration work, so that a more complete set of film could be used to make a test copy. The extent of discoloration was assessed through viewing the duplicated images from these negatives, and the most suitable course of action was determined. Then, the film was digitised into 2K resolution digital image data to facilitate digital restoration. Through computer technology, the amount of flickering and jittering were reduced, spots were removed, and colours were corrected. After colour correction and fixing the sections where the sound and picture were out of sync by digital means, the restored film was output as a digital file for screening purposes and also transferred to archival grade film for preservation.

 

Digital restoration workstation was used to reduce the defects including flickers, scratches, jitters from and correct the colours in the moving images
Digital restoration workstation was used to reduce the defects including flickers, scratches, jitters from and correct the colours in the moving images

The digital colour correction process resulted in more vivid tones, clearer images, and sharper contrast, bringing back the ambiance of 1960s musical films. This restored version of Colourful Youth was shown at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in 2011, enabling old fans and first-time viewers alike to experience its allure.

 

The moving images before (left) and after phase one digital restoration (right)
The moving images before (left) and after phase one digital restoration (right)

Phase Two in 2015

After the screening, a member of the audience kindly lent the Archive a videotape in 2013. It contained about 22 minutes more footage than the original version in our possession. The scenes were mainly about Nancy's (played by Connie Chan Po-chu) father, and were especially crucial to plot development. While the quality of the images was not ideal, after much research and discussion, the HKFA decided that Colourful Youth was to undergo a second phase of restoration work, for which the missing scenes would be added into the already restored version.

Because the visual data originated from a videotape in this instance, not only was the image resolution low, but it was also in analogue format, a lot of noise was found on it too. The biggest problem was that the colours of the images on tape were different from those on film, so the first task was to make the tones as consistent as possible, so as to minimise any contrasts between transitions. In addition, the images were digitally enhanced to increase their resolution as much as possible to match those in the already restored version. Other processes included the removal of video noise, the reduction of drop outs and sparkles, as well as the adjustment of the quality and volume of the sound in the videotape footage.

 

The newly added moving images before (left) and after phase two digital restoration (right)
The newly added moving images before (left) and after phase two digital restoration (right)

Sadly, because the images came from a tape recording of a television programme, a large quantity of data was lost after several format conversions and compressions. The final picture quality was much lower than that of the film reels, so the results of the restoration were not as perfect as we had hoped. Nonetheless, the efforts of our various colleagues in adding the new footage did indeed make the motion picture more complete, giving us cause for much joy. The only hope is that the Archive will be able to retrieve the film materials of the new found footage in the future, so that we may conduct further restoration work and show this classic to audiences and fans in its original glory.