Silent Movie Speeds

Just to add my 2 cents to this column, hand cranked movies needed to be done at a remarkably consistent speed in order to assure consistent exposure of the film. However, skilled cameramen of the day would often change speeds during a shot, compensating for the speed change by adjusting the iris on the lens. From The Parade’s Gone By by Kevin Brownlow:

In today’s cinematography this technique is referred to as ramping, and was all the rage from about 1995 to 2005. The funny thing is, the technique pretty much disappeared with the advent of sound, not resurfacing until the film Raging Bull in 1981.

Cecil’s column is now outdated. The “stretch printing” that was in 1991 “tedious and expensive and many film labs hate to do it” is no longer used.
Digital processing gets the speed right on the first try.
As noted, taped versions are better, and that’s partly due to the interlace of standard TV format. Instead of every other frame being used twice, you can have the extra frame have half it’s interlaced lines from one cel and half from the next, smoothing it all out.
Other digital automatically enhancements remove most spots and lines caused by projection dust.

Brownlow later returned to the issue in greater detail in this classic article for Sight and Sound from 1980. The site hosting it, The Silent Film Bookshelf, also has a good selection of articles from the original period discussing speeds.

This is true for the US TV format, which is roughly 30fps. My understanding is that in Europe–where 25fps broadcasting was standard–films are simply sped up slightly for broadcast at the higher rate; the increase is nearly imperceptable.

Wow. Thank you for that terrific link bonzer.

I don’t think that can be correct - speeding up a 25fps film for broadcast at ~30fps is an increase of 20 percent. That can’t be unnoticeable - when I accidentally encoded a DVD with audio sampled at 44.1kHz, it expected 48kHz and the encoder apparently just sped everything up so that the samples came through at the expected rate - the result was a DVD where everything was bustling around too fast and the soundtrack was distinctly perky and chirpy - and that was only an increase of about 9 percent.

I believe it’s true that the US TV system is something like 29.65fps and 30fps movie reels are sometimes slowed down a bit to fit, but that’s a much smaller change

You seem confused.

US TV is approximately 29.97fps (originally 30, to sync. with 60Hz power, but slightly reduced in 1953 to solve a problem with color).

European TV is 25fps (to sync. with 50Hz power).

Theatrical sound film is 24fps. (US TV sound film is often 30fps.)

In Europe, speeding up of 24fps to 25fps is regarded as acceptable.

Ah, gotcha. I saw ‘30fps’ and ‘25fps’ and ‘sped up’ and misunderstood the rest. Sorry.