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Matinee: 'Undeveloped World War II Film' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

7 March 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the seventy-fifth in our series of Saturday matinees today: Undeveloped World War II Film.

This 10 and a half minute production by the Rescued Film Project highlights the Project's mission to rescue undeveloped film rolls from all over the world and of any age. "We have," the Project notes, "the capability to process film from all eras."

Why do they bother? The Project Web site explains:

Every image in The Rescued Film Project at some point, was special for someone. Each frame captured, reflects a moment that was intended to be remembered. The picture was taken, the roll was finished, wound up and for reasons we can only speculate, was never developed. These moments never made it into photo albums or framed neatly on walls. We believe that these images deserve to be seen, so that the photographer's personal experiences can be shared. Forever marking their existence in history.

In this nicely produced clip, photographer Levi Bettweiser processes 31 rolls of film exposed 70 years ago in World War II by one American soldier. With a little rust on the rolls, it's obvious they've been exposed to the mortal enemy: moisture.

But there's hope.

Bettweiser show us how he carefully must load the film onto reels. We watch as he processes it in tanks, washes it and gives it a splash of Photo-Flo (that's where the soap bubbles come in) to avoid water spots.

Each batch takes half an hour with half-minute agitations during the seven-minute development phase. There are at least a development, stop and wash phase to each batch.

Then the moment of truth arrives. "I'm just amazed at what I see," Bettweiser says.

And so are we, looking at images captured 70 years ago. Groups of soldiers. In transport. Listening to a concert on a neighboring ship. Mingling. Waiting. Posing for the folks back home. For history.

Unknowns. And by now unknowable. And yet rescued in no small way from oblivion by these frames of film.

"Most old film is not what the old timers would call a printable negative," Bettweiser says. But today, you can scan the film and see things you can't detect with the naked eye let alone a print. We see him using an Epson V700/V750 with Epson Scan software to digitize the film.

So what can't be printed can be scanned and enhanced. Rescued, in short.

The Rescued Film Project has put up a page of all the images rescued from these rolls, which Bettweiser acquired at an Ohio auction in 2014.

If you have any old film laying around, you can send him the black and white or color film and he'll send you digital copies of the images, adding them to his archive with proper accreditation. A donation is recommended.

But the real reward, we suspect, is the rescue itself.

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