Patching up "Lawrence of Arabia" Pg2
Hollywood Lost and Found

"Patching up Lawrence of Arabia," page 2

MSNL: Was the film mixed six-track stereo, originally?

RA: The original 70mm release was a six-track discrete, non-Dolby, because there was no Dolby noise reduction. 25 years ago, the really big first-run pictures like "Oklahoma" and the Cinerama shows were released as six-track discrete.

MSNL: That means five separate channels for the front speakers and a surround channel. Today you have more commonly the "six-track spread," which has three across the front, surround, and two more at left-center and right-center with low-frequencies delivered from the other three.

RA: Right. The so-called "Baby Boom" channels. Then in those days the 35mm 'Scope versions were sometimes magnetically striped for four-track stereo. Today the same effect would be gotten from a Dolby stereo optical print. Anyway, this film had been progressively chopped-down over the years. Bob started researching where all the original (sound and picture) elements might be. He talked to Sir David and started to dig around in the storerooms in London, and in Columbia's Hollywood, New York, and "salt-mine" vaults in Kansas or wherever. There was no track for the original long version of the movie! He did manage to find certain parts of the cut scenes, but only in 35mm composite prints. Bob had to try to piece the whole movie together. The 65mm camera negative existed. It had been stored. I guess they figured if nothing else, they could sell lots of stock footage of the desert! But the sound? There were no original 1/4 inch tapes of the production sound. I'm not an historian, but it's possible in those days they shot production (sound) directly to 35mm magnetic film stock. But whatever it was recorded on, if it does exist, no one could find it. So there were no dailies of sound. They threw out all the original material, and yet they saved trims from the old work print. It had all been rolled up in little rolls and put in metal cans which had literally rusted shut! They'd been sitting in a storeroom in England since 1962. So there was work track, one copy only. And of course wherever they made a cut, there was a (sound) cut. Bob found some trims where somebody had taken a 35mm projection print (mono optical) and cut sections out. He made a mag (magnetic film) master from that composite. For some sections, that was the only sound that existed.

MSNL: You can't restore stereo from that!

RA: It gets worse! Now as you know, the soundtrack of a projection print is 19 1/2 frames out of sync...

MSNL: To accommodate the distance from the picture lamp to the sound head's exciter lamp...

RA: ...So when you come to a cut, the sound is cut off in the wrong place. That's more material we didn't have. So for 50-70% of the new material they wanted in the picture, the only thing that existed was this mixed composite track.

MSNL: So, for purposes of remixing, dialogue is married to sound effects, sound effects to music, etcetera. Bummer!

RA: So when a section would start, we didn't have the track for the first 20 frames. There were one or two sections where there was an M&E (music and effects) that had been prepared, in stereo, for foreigns (non-English distribution). If you see the film, there's a scene where they first come to Anthony Quinn's camp. There's a sequence that was cut out where, as he gets close to his camp, all his army of followers ride out to meet him, with flags and shooting guns in the air, and there's only 50 of Omar Sharif's guys. So you see (and hear) the power that this guy has. In the short version, they just dissolved to them having dinner in the tent and we don't see this. Fortunately, this was a section where we had the M&E. You didn't really have any English dialogue, 'cause they're all riding and shooting and shouting in Arabic, so essentially the M&E was the same as the domestic mix. There were some good sections where we were able to get use of the work track. The pieces we had were trims, not the pieces that were in the film originally, but out-takes. There's a whole scene in a tent where the British Army is discussing Lawrence. All the dialogue we used we had to try to lip-sync from out-takes. A lot of it was up-front close-ups. Jim Christopher did a good job of editing that stuff, synching it up. Sometimes an actor would ad-lib a word or two in one take, different from another take.

MSNL: For example?

RA: In one scene, a guy started a line with "Well..." in only the take that was used. We had the sound of the other takes, but he never said "Well." We just had to leave it out. Our philosophy was that people have to realize this was a reconstruction.

MSNL: So you always had some kind of dialogue to work with?

RA: Oh, no! There're some scenes between O'Toole and Alec Guinness, and Jack Hawkins where they had trimmed a lot. We put the trims back in, but they didn't have the track for them. But they had a copy of the original script, and just to check (for ad-libs and new lines) they hired a lip-reader to watch the section. So they went to London and Lean directed the looping of the actors. Now this is 25 years later, these guys are looping themselves.

MSNL: Sounded a lot different?

RA: Obviously, voices change and thicken with age. And Peter O'Toole had a lot of pints and liters go down his throat in the past 25 years. Of course today he doesn't drink at all. We matched as well as we could. But it was shot with a lot of wide angles, and we had no guide track. Sometimes the actors would walk right up to the screen in an attempt to see their mouths. Burt Weinstein sunc up all the London loops.

MSNL: You looped all the principals, then?

RA: Jack Hawkins had died, and had to be looped. But interestingly, he had done his last few films when he had throat cancer, and so there was already an actor sound-alike (Charles Gray) who was looping his voice. So they were able to find this guy for the reconstruction.

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