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Workshop with Anke Wilkening, Film Restorer

Co-organized by the Department of Film Studies of the University of Zurich and DIASTOR

On October 31st and November 1st Anke Wilkening, Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, known for her work on the restorations of such ‘classics’ as Metropolis (Lang, 1927), Die Nibelungen (Lang, 1924) and Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (Wiene, 1920), came to Zurich to give an insight into her work. The workshop was organized by the Department of Film Studies at the University of Zurich in collaboration with DIASTOR, and focused on restoration case studies.

First, Anke Wilkening gave an overview of the history of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung. She explained the specifics of the Stiftung’s holdings as well as its legal situation as an institution. Especially when it comes to the films from a complex historic period, it becomes obvious how a current perspective and evaluation of a certain historic time can strongly influence restoration politics, funding possibilities and dissemination practices of an artifact from the era in question. The Murnau-Stiftung with its specific holdings offers an interesting example because the status of the foundation is explicitly a private one – with the incentive to keep certain films out of reach of the state.

Anke Wilkening also pointed out the relationship between Germany’s current federal system, the landscape of different audiovisual heritage institutions and their collaborative working mode within the Deutschen Kinematheksverbund. Another productive collaboration she mentioned is the work the Murnau-Stiftung does with ARTE, one of the last TV stations in Germany broadcasting silent film.

After the more general introduction, which highlighted that film restoration never takes place outside the actual cultural and political system, Anke Wilkening proceeded by presenting the special challenges in restoring three films by Fritz Lang. Lang’s films – and especially his famous film Metropolis – are a prime example for restoration as a process of a work-in-progress; nowadays with rapidly changing technologies, but also the value attributed to a film can vary within a changing social and cultural environment.

Referring to the restorations of Die Nibelungen and Metropolis Anke Wilkening illustrated that in the first place, ‘film restoration’ means interpreting physical traces in surviving material filmic elements. It is central to understand historical practices of copying and disseminating films in order to be able to define how different generations of elements relate to each other; where can and should one get aesthetic information for the restoration process? The historic filming practices of the examples presented by Anke Wilkening posed an even bigger challenge for the already problematic term of the filmic “original”: the historic ‘classics’ (like Metropolis or Die Nibelungen) were filmed with several cameras and thus produced different camera negatives. It became obvious how much the conditions and the intentions of the present are shaping the workflow and the result of a restoration process. Anke Wilkening was very conscious and transparent about the problem: at the beginning of every case study she defined her restoration objective within the given institutional, funding and cultural framework but also in view of the surviving material and other (secondary) sources.

All the previous aspects were taken further in the presentation of the 2014 restoration of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. As also DIASTOR was involved in analyzing and capturing the historic colour appearance of the surviving tinted and toned Caligari prints, Barbara Flueckiger introduced during this part of the workshop her photographic method to document and transfer the colors into the digital realm (see Caligari on DIASTOR). DIASTOR is currently working on the further development of this method in collaboration with the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Haghefilm and Cinegrell postproduction (see DIASTOR tests Digital Desmet).
Anke Wilkening stressed in this context how the “memory” of films as a result from watching them for decades can influence the judgments of restorers, archivists and film historians, but also of the public: in the case of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari Anke Wilkening experienced that the visual quality of the 4K scan was judged as “too perfect” because one was used to see the film in prints in lower resolution and higher contrast. The central lesson is that the notion of “historical authenticity” is dependent on viewing habits nurtured by how the historic films were seen for decades.

The restoration workshop ended with the entertaining case study of the restoration of Glückskinder (Martin, 1936). The musical comedy balances between the integration of the German ideology of the 1930s and resistance against it. From a technological perspective the challenges of sound restoration emphasized the importance of this often neglected area (more information).

In summary, the two workshop days gave an intense and multifaceted overview of what film restoration can currently mean and imply. For the ca. 60 film studies students present it was surely an impressive demonstration of how knowledge about film history, historical technologies and cultural frameworks can be turned into practical workflows and ways to shape film culture and experience today.


“Die Nibelungen”, restoration by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung 2011 © Murnau-Stiftung


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