Care and Repair

 

CARE AND REPAIR OF

 

NARROW-GAUGE FILMS

 

I have been collecting films and projectors for over thirty years, starting with 9.5 but moving on to most other gauges as well over time. The care of films is more important now than ever, as films get older and more used. We may be within a few years of the end of film as a medium with electronics taking over. Keeping what weve got is vital. So I thought that, in the hope that there would be new young nerds entering the hobby to keep it going when us old fogies have gone, I would write down what I have picked up over all those years, to give them a head start.

Let's start with what you need. First, a rewinder. You cant check and repair a film using a projector rewind. Most machines run the mechanism at the same time anyway, causing extra wear. You should not use an editor for film checking - the transport mechanisms can be a bit harsh, especially if you already suspect damage. The best rewinders have two speeds, one-to-one as well as a three- or four-to-one ratio. Ideally, provide some means of holding it still. As you go thru, each turn of the handle winds more film, of course, requiring more effort and the rewinder may get mobile, particularly during the cleaning process. It is important not to speed up the rate at which you check film so you have to turn slower, which is easier if the damned rewinder isnt always sliding about the place.

Second, and probably the most important piece of tackle, is a tape splicer. Mortgage your house, sell your Grandmother, but whatever it takes, get a tape splicer for each and every gauge you dabble in. Take your cement splicer and lock it away. Its only use is for joining films. It doesn't repair, it joins film up after youve cut damaged bits out, i.e. the very opposite of repair. There is nothing a cement splicer can do that a tape splicer can't, and with tape you can do so much more. Unless you have (and you haven't) one of those wonderful professional frame line splicers that use heat and pressure as well as cement (better cement than you've ever used, too), you might just as well chuck yours away. You see the results of these pro splicers sometimes, eg where 300' 9.5 reels were joined to make a 900' reel. When you compare them with the hideous mess that one so often sees masquerading as a splice, it's enough to make strong men weep. There is more skill than appears to making a good cement splice, and if you don't got it, don't do it.

For most gauges, the CIR type of splicer using plain unperforated tape is best. The special tapes needed by some splicers can be so difficult to get.

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Reading from left to right, we have Super 8 and Standard 8. (The latter is branded Ferrania, and is unlike normal CIR ones in having a special little trimming platform near the hinge.) Next are 9.5 and a Super 8 that uses pre-perforated tape. Lovely splicer while the tape lasts. The next pair are conversions to 17.5mm. (Basically this involves re-sizing the film channel and, the most important and difficult bit, having a punch made of the right size. The double blade for trimming the tape is removed. A sharp blade or craft knife along the side of the film does, if anything, a better job.) Next 35mm - the knob left moves one pair of location pins for shrunken film; the right-hand knob drops the pins on the far right, presumably for the same reason. If I do have to cement splice 9.5, I use the splicer in the last pic; the other is 35mm.

For Super 8 sound, however, particularly stereo, you need a specialist machine that won't cover the mag tracks. The one pictured above misses the track on one side, but wraps round and so covers the balance stripe. If you want to keep stereo, you need one that puts a patch between the mag tracks. The tape itself is also critical. As new, CIR splicers used to be supplied with a ghastly roll of opaque sellotape that marked as soon as you looked at it and was suspiciously sticky. Get PEC or equivalent, where you can read even small print on the core thru a full roll of tape. And no, good tape does not dry out. Cement splices can and do, and they can rarely be completely re-glued satisfactorily; the film is stiffened and distorted by the cement and you end up cutting out another two frames. When sound film is your main interest, this is especially irritating. And if your new join is out of line. For the above reason, never, ever use sprocket patches. Death is too good for the man who invented these.

The remaining requirements are large amounts of blank and opaque leader, tissues, your choice of cleaning fluid (of which more later), a sharp razor blade (you can get one-sided ones), vast stretches of free time and infinite supplies of patience.

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Although I have given up on 16mm features, I seem to have a number of silents and shorts in need of repair. I have therefore modified my 16mm splicer to help. First, I removed the blade as I find it is all too easy to cut the film as well, and care-and-repairnow just use a craft knife or single-sided razor-like thing. In order to help with sprocket repair, I have added the extra spools of pre-perforated tape. These are on a cantilever so I can still get the film to the splicer. I won't know until I've used it a bit whether it would be better to have the cantilever the other way round. The support is, of course, made of Meccano (TM) - why make if you have the wherewithal to hand? The tape spools are deliberately left very free, so either can be brought into position. My final mod is hard to see, so I have marked the ends in red. Basically, it is a strip of metal about 3mm from the front edge of the film bed. I pull tape out with a very small-bladed screwdriver and lay it across the sprockets on the front edge. The metal strip then provides an edge against which I can cut the tape at a convenient size to give a wrap-round. This sort of repair is useful because it does not encroach on the picture area, and I use it on most gauges.

Leafing idly thru some late 40's ACW's. I came across one comment that made me stop and think. The context was a discussion of the merits of centre versus edge perforations. The comment referred to the way a film gate is "relieved" around the picture area, ie cut back slightly so that, while the edges of the film are gripped to ensure the image is held steadily in the gate, the picture area should not be in contact with any part of the gate except at the aperture, so minimising the risk of scratching. The point was made that, for 9.5 with its central perfs, the film was not directly supported where the claw enters the perf to do its work. In 16 and 8, the sprocket hole is very closely supported by the side runners of the gate. The suggestion was made that this meant the 9.5 sprocket was more prone to damage and, on reflection, I think there could be something in it. If one imagines gripping a piece of film in a vice, with just an eighth or less of an inch protruding, it will seem very stiff to the touch, and strong enough to cut an incautious finger, A few inches of film would just flop around loose. It would seem logical that, albeit on a very much smaller scale, a similar effect could operate in a projector. There is certainly scope for the film to move in and out fractionally as the claw enters and leaves, which may contribute to splitting. I have often seen 9.5 projectors in which wear to the claw has resulted in the underside becoming notched, so that it may actually catch on the bottom of the perf on the out stroke. It would seem possible that the lack of support around the perf could be a contributory factor in any damage. It's interesting as much as anything because I would like to think that there is some reason for the appalling, incessant sprocket damage one sees in so many 9.5 prints, other than the sheer incompetence of projectionists.

Projectors

Care of films starts with the projector and the projectionist. One of the curiosities of the film world is the enormous amount of attention paid to Film with a capital F as an art form, to Directors, stars, etc, etc, etc, whilst almost totally ignoring the skill that brings it all to the screen. How many books on Film are there? Countless thousands. How many on projectors and the projectionist? If you run out of fingers counting them I would be surprised.

Good projection is pretty simple once you know how, though it is amazing how often even the most basic rules seem to be ignored.

-Make sure the projection path is clean, especially the gate. The gate MUST be cleaned after each reel of film. No buts or maybes or exceptions. We tend to think of film emulsion as fairly soft and easily damaged. This is a good attitude to start from, but it does not tell you how hard a "corn" of emulsion deposited on the gate can be or how devastatingly it can scratch your films. NEVER use anything made of metal or anything that might scratch to clean the gate (or, indeed, any part of the machine). I am suspicious even of the common sort of gate brush with a twisted wire core. Whats wrong with a small decorators paintbrush? A scar in the smooth surface of the gate is a disaster. Use wood or plastic or cloth; your fingernails can be handy too. In extreme cases, use some metal polish but never anything more abrasive, and clean it off thoroughly afterwards.

-Thread or lace the projector up correctly. Loops not too big (which can flop about and even get caught on the sprockets), or too small (which can cause the film to pull against the claw and get ripped). Film able to move smoothly in the gate. Retaining rollers all correctly positioned. And always, but ALWAYS use the inching knob God has provided to see that the whole film transport mechanism is operating as it should, loops staying the same size etc, before starting the engine.

There are of course those accursed inventions of the devil, so-called auto-threading machines. They are designed for people who don't know what theyre doing. You're not one of them, are you? You can rarely, if ever, trust an auto-thread. What they actually do is mince your leader, then, once that's gone, move on to your film. You can't stop and take the film out in the middle, correcting loss of loop is chancy and its all more stuff to go wrong. Sometimes you cant escape the auto-thread, but if you have to use one, watch it like a hawk. I always thread my Elmo GS 1200 with the side open so I can stop it if the film starts to follow the wrong path before it squashes the leader into a crumpled mess that will never go thru the machine again. The partial auto-threads you get on some 16mm machines are OK, but seem pointless. With slot-loaders you can't always get at the gate to clean it properly. What you want is a plain, straightforward manual thread machine where you are in charge, not a mechanism designed by a demented engineer on LSD who never showed a film in his life.

-If the projector makes an odd noise while running, stop at once and find out why. Don't just carry on damaging more and more film. A frequent fault is loss of loop, top or bottom, probably due to the sort of damaged film you won't have after reading all this. If the film jumps about on the screen, stop and fix the problem. Sometimes both of the above problems can be caused by film that is very new ("green"), slightly off size or too wet with cleaner/preservative. This sort of clattering in the gate can often be reduced by pressing the film just above the gate forwards or backwards with your finger to slightly increase pressure/tension as the film goes thru the gate. This can, however get very boring and uncomfortable after the first ten minutes. Do not be tempted to tweak the gate pressure unless you get this with all films and you really know what you are doing.

-If you spot possible damage during projection, eg a "jump" in the gate suggesting a bad splice, place a sliver of paper between the layers of film as it takes up to mark the approximate location so you can find and fix on rewinding. If this happens a lot, its because you haven't checked the film properly. Stop, and do it again. Only rarely will it be a fault with the projector. 

-Ensure neither feed from top/front reel nor take-up has too much tension. This can only weaken the film, pull it off the sprockets or whatever.

-Check frequently during projection to see all is well. Have a torch ready to do this. Think how foolish you will feel if you find hundreds of feet of film in tangled coils on the floor because of a bent take-up spool or belt breakage. I once saved myself much time and money when just such a routine check found the belt driving the cooling fan for the power supply to a Xenon lamp had broken and I could stop before it all blew up expensively.

-Dont project films you haven't checked first unless you can afford to throw them away, which would be a bad thing.

The reason for all of the above Grandmother-teaching is the heart-breaking scale of damage I have so often seen. Nearly all of it is avoidable. Film properly cared for can be projected on a machine in good order time after time with little deterioration.

Film Checking

Now for the hard work. You can't expect a projector to show films safely if the film itself is already damaged. Some projectors are more tolerant than others, but the usual result of damaged film passing thru a projector is that the amount of damage is increased. So, set up your rewinder in a comfortable position, as you're going to be here for some time. Make sure the two ends are actually aligned and that you have a good take-up spool, not a bent one that will snag the edges of the film.

The really detailed checking is most needed with 9.5 and particularly 17.5 and 28, but the general points are universal. To check a film properly, you wind it at a speed that lets you, if you concentrate, see each individual sprocket. You don't need to do this all the time (it makes your eyes go funny), because your principal checking tool is your fingers. Thumb and fore-finger (or middle finger) go either side of the film, on the perforations. Some other bit goes on the edge of the film. Don't grip too tight, to avoid making any damage worse. Now train your fingers to detect the minor variations in feel that say something is wrong. This might be a "snick" at the edge suggesting a split, or a change in the rhythm of the feel as the sprockets pass thru your fingers, or the solid thump of a horrid mediaeval cement splice. Often, it will be a false alarm such as a slight crease in the edge of the film, a blob of emulsion built up where the film has been scratched by some other idiot or, very occasionally, a cement splice that doesn't actually need some attention. 

Faults I have known:- 

-sprockets holes enlarged by the claw. I have seen whole reels of 17.5 with each and every hole enlarged.

-as above, but with the bit of film hanging on in there, not quite detached, or maybe just strained, ready to go later if not treated (a "Chad" I call it).

-straining of sprocket holes, with cracks starting in any direction, or more then one. 9.5 seems particularly prone to splitting from both sides of the sprocket, ultimately even splitting right across the film. With 16, 17.5 and 28 (and 35), a split doesn't have to go far to reach the edge next to the sprocket hole. The risk with this, and the less frequent splits found on the opposite side, is that it will catch somewhere on projection and rip the film badly. You sometimes see old-fashioned attempts to deal with this by cutting on the slant from the outer corners of the sprocket hole, but it leaves a big hole in the side of the film and a source of future weakness. And it may still catch anyway.

-creased film, eg caused by treading on a loop of film. Where this extends across a sprocket, it can initiate a split.

-out and out tears, where the film has been ripped or torn across.

-sprocket tooth punching. Seen most on 17.5, this is a line of dents running the length of the film, caused I assume by the film not being correctly on the sprocket. Ugly on screen and, where it meets a sprocket hole, can easily lead to splitting and sprocket hole enlargement.

-claw scratching. Seen more on 9.5, deep scratching/indentation down the length of the film caused, one can only assume, by loss of loop so the film is displaced in the gate and scraped by the claw.

-bad cement splices. They may be warped/bowed (often at the start of a film), so dry they come apart when you look at them, partly dry so they will wait to come apart until you show the film, out of line so there is a protrusion on both sides waiting to catch on something, out of register (the sprocket hole is in the wrong place or too small because the film has been cut too long or too short or joined badly) or just generally awful with pints of cement sloshed over the surrounding frames making them illegible.

-sellotape. Never ever use it. It can spread itself across several layers of film on the spool and is difficult to remove. But do so.

All the foregoing should make it clear that care is needed in the checking process to avoid making things worse. It is also why you should never clean a film before checking you can so easily snag it or displace bits that might otherwise have hung on. 

The speed and degree of checking obviously depend on what you are dealing with. Many films will be in self-evidently good condition and can be run through fairly quickly, relying on fingers to detect any anomalies. Others can take hours - I have spent 3 hours checking and repairing 1000' (2 reels) of 17.5, and that was in moderately good condition. That was pretty much a frame-by-frame inspection.

Film Repair

 

There is no doubt that the tape splicer has revolutionised the possibilities of film repair for the amateur. I tend to work from the assumption that a film should be rescued if it is reasonably possible, and with the minimum possible loss of frames of film. The overriding consideration is that the film must be projectable, without further damage, even if the appearance on the screen or results from the soundtrack are below par. There is no point in spending time on any but the most exceptional narrow gauge films if they are unusable and likely to remain so.

Let's start with the splice, since it is quite possible to make a tape splice that will simply fold in the middle and be unlikely to go thru without trouble. This is an inherent problem of the butt splice, but diagonal splicing is unnecessarily ugly. The solution I have adopted is to make a very slight overlap at the join - fractions of a millimetre. This can be achieved in two basic ways. The "professional" version of the 16mm CIR splicer has one variant which has an adjustable pin on one side of the join. The Super 8 one has under-size pins on one side, which also allows a degree of adjustment. The other way is to put a slight tension on the film when cutting, so as to leave it very slightly longer. Applied to both cut ends this can give just enough extra to give the overlap. The result still has most of the advantages of the tape splice and the extra thickness does not seem to make any difference on projection. As all film shrinks to some extent, the amount of overlap you get varies and you just have to experiment. I only use two sizes of tape for narrow gauge film - about 9mm wide for 8 and 9.5 and about 15mm for 16 and 17.5. 28mm is one gauge I don't got; (I do now, and the next bit is wrong) youd probably want to use one of the larger tapes designed for 35mm for this.

Another reason why you should repair before cleaning is that proprietary cleaners/preservers leave a lubricant that may interfere with the tape sticking. If you have to tape a cleaned film, wipe the area clean.

The second point before we really start is leader. It is readily available. Do not skimp; use lots at the start and a fair bit at the end. A good long head leader gives you chance to check all is well and to let the machine settle down before the actual film starts to go thru. My Heurtier Universal has a pressure roller that you lower onto the sound drum after starting the machine and it takes a second or two for the film to settle down to a steady speed that will not distort the sound. You can replace leader but not the film. It therefore makes sense to replace the leader when you need to. You often get told not to splice leader; this is a counsel of perfection and most relevant where you are relying on the countdown numbers being actually an exact second apart. In most cases of amateur use, if you can make a good, sound repair, that will be fine and it can be better than cutting a frame or two from the start of the film. At the end of the film, any curling or creasing at the very end can cause the film to catch as it goes thru and so result in damage a foot or two before the end - far better that this should happen to a longish end leader than to the end of the film itself. Leader also protects the film from dirt and dust - it's always the start and end of film that is dirtiest and from drying out.

Particularly for 8, do make a point of keeping the original leaders (and reels) if you join up on to bigger spools. It's so easy to put them back when you sell if you have a tape splicer, and you don't want to keep on buying those big reels, do you?

It's the repair potential of tape that really makes the difference. A range of damage can be treated by simply proceeding as tho' making a splice, but without cutting the film. This can reinforce weakened sprockets, re-join torn film, strengthen splits etc. You may be able to get away with putting tape only on one side. I don't really like to do this as a split, for example, could peel away from the other side and cause a problem. If you are covering an actual hole in the film, then you don't want to leave tape exposed that can attract dirt or even catch on the gate.

Not all repairs call for this treatment. On 9.5, for example, I frequently find pairs of sprockets in patches or in isolation have been strained or split to a greater or lesser degree. These can be repaired two at a time as the tape will extend from the bottom of one hole to cover the next (the second is the one that gets the tape punched out. 9.5 tape splicers only punch one hole, so don't cover two). This means moving the tape to one side of the splicer bed and can make the built in tape cutting blade balk as it is not designed for this. Your razor blade comes into its own here just give the cut a start and the splicer can then take over. (Or you could just forget the built-in blade and use a blade for all cutting, as I do for everything bar 35mm)  In this way, the life of a stretch of film that would otherwise fall apart quite soon can be extended indefinitely. This can prevent an entire film being a basket case because a key section (all too often the end) is damaged and save it from the skip.

In extreme cases, I have had success in using tape to cover one or two sprocket holes where a chunk has been picked out by the claw. You can still see the hole on projection (tho you could reduce the appearance with blooping ink perhaps) but at least it goes thru. This can be preferable to losing frames from a sound track. I have been reluctant to try it for any more than one or two in a row, tho.

Sometimes the claw will rip a sprocket in such a way that the piece of film stays in place by a thread. If this "Chad" can be retained, I think it makes a much stronger repair. I have seen the displaced fragment bent right back to lie flat against the film. With care, this can sometimes be bent back into place. I find you have to proceed very slowly to have a chance of not breaking it off where it is bent - try to re-position it quickly and it just snaps.

On 16 and 17.5 (and 28), I often repair sprockets and side splits with a short piece of tape wrapped round the edge. This way, it extends very little into the picture area. You need to exercise your ingenuity to find a way to do this without having to handle the sticky side of the tape too much, tho' I have found PEC tape quite tolerant of this, marks fading or disappearing if the tape is well rubbed down on the film. I can usually find a way to do this on the splicer somehow. You want spoonfeeding?

One word of warning with all these tape repairs. You have to punch the sprocket holes after each repair, not wait until youve done a whole series. Otherwise , the film won't fit over the pins on the splicer, cos you've taped over the holes. You may end up punching extra holes, not normally regarded as a good thing.

Cement splices, too, can sometimes be fixed. If a join is partly dry, it often wo'nt come apart completely without tearing the film, so a repair is indicated. A little cement judiciously introduced at the right point will usually spread by osmosis into the dry areas of the join. Quickly wipe off the excess (do not be afraid to use fingers for this), apply pressure and, Hey Presto!

If a cement join is so dry it comes apart easily, it can be converted to a tape join without loss of frames. Simply trim to length in the splicer but, before joining, apply a touch of blooping ink to the narrow strip of scraped emulsion left over from the cement join. When dry, splice as usual and it will barely be visible on screen.

Sometimes you will find that trimming the film does not leave a perfect end eg on 16 the outside edge of the sprocket hole may be missing. This usually only affects one side of the join. Probably better in this case to sacrifice one frame, still a gain on making a new cement splice. Alternatively, add a small patch of tape wrapped round the edge of the film. A lazy but sometimes necessary way to fix a cement splice is simply to go over it with tape. Again, the extra thickness doesn't seem to matter too much.

Another possibility, where the sprocket hole is too small or a little out of register, is to re-punch on the tape splicer. You can get a slightly enlarged hole, but projectors seem fairly tolerant - they have to be, some of the rubbish that gets put thru them. You can also strengthen the adjoining sprocket holes to avoid them getting damaged - I often see the holes on one side or another of a cement splice weakened because of defects in the splice.

9.5 notched films present a few problems of their own. Pathescope foolishly supplied lamps for some notched projectors that were too powerful. People were told only to use the lower power lamps for notched films, but of course they never listened. The result was lots of films with cooked titles, shrunken and buckled - I call them Kentucky Fried titles. Sometimes youre lucky to have even a single frame of title left. This is an area in which tape splicing comes into its own in salvaging the otherwise irredeemable. It's also handy to have a notcher, so you can make your own notches when the proper ones are gone, or if you have to do a tape repair over a notch. Just remember, its notch, one frame then the next frame is the still. Cleaning needs great care as its so easy to catch the notches and even easier to catch the slight nicks Pathescope cut into the opposite side from the notch on some films. (there is an explanation for this phenomenon - notches were made before the film was cut into its three 9.5 strips; and misalignment of the punch could lead to encroachment into the edge of the adjoining strip - on two of the three copies.

I tend to err on the side of trying to save films, even if it involves a lot of hard and fiddly work. I just hate seeing any film thrown away. But one has to be realistic sometimes it's just not worth it. What is worth it does however depend on the film/gauge. 17.5 was only produced for the rental market, so few copies were ever made, (in bands of two from 35mm stock). With the regrettable process of attrition that affects film, what you hold in your hand may be the only copy on 17.5 left in the world. It may well need more care than other gauges - I seem to recall it used a di-acetate base, rather than the tri-acetate used for other films. Certainly, it seems to be more brittle and subject to shrinkage. It also seems subject to oily patches on the surface, which can leave a sort of tide line that is difficult to remove. On 9.5, some of the British Lion films no longer exist on any other gauge. Pathescope also produced a handful of copies of Disney films with a soundtrack. One of these would be worth a bit of time and effort. Some films have survived on 28mm that would otherwise have been lost (Perils of Pauline).

Film Cleaning and Preservation

We are talking here strictly for the amateur and for narrow gauge films. Major conservation and long term storage of 35mm film is something quite different.

The objective here is to conserve films so as to maximize their life and minimise damage. So we want to avoid mechanical damage, avoid scratching, prevent drying out, colour fade and sound loss and present the best possible image on the screen.

First, keep your films in a proper container. The minimum requirement is a proper box that will not allow the film to fall out or the end to trail out to get damaged. Better is a close fitting metal box that will help to prevent drying out or accidental damage. In all cases, label the bloody thing clearly and in a position that enables it to be easily read when it is stacked away. Delete old markings that could confuse. You can have pretty and neat and uniform etc if you want, but you must have CLEAR! You can use those clips to hold the end of the film on the reel tidily, but if you are storing with only a modicum of care, you don't really need them. There is a school of thought that says metal cans are bad and only proper, plastic, ventilated archival cans should be used. But this is a counsel of perfection; conditions of storage are about what you can common-sensibly do in the average home. Avoid dust (proper boxes). Avoid damp - better to keep inside even a centrally heated house than a damp shed. Do not transfer from cold to hot temperatures - condensation may form, leading to damage. I suppose it will all get more difficult as films get older, but I've had no problems just keeping them in the house.

Cleaning films is mainly needful for the dirty gauges, ie 9.5 and the really filthy 17.5. I suspect 17.5 projectionists were actually told to put oil on films - I can't see how they got that much on accidentally. Cleaning is also good for eg mag stripe films, as they do tend to shed some mag particles over time and maybe muddy the sound. There is also the preservation issue - you may even delay colour fade.

There has been a range of products over time. Carbon Tetrachloride (now banned as too poisonous - now you tell me!), Perklone and other such stuff are simply solvents you can use as cleaners.  Then there are various proprietary products-: 2.22, Renofilm, Cresclean, Thermofilm, Permafilm, Permanew and maybe others. These all claim to a greater or lesser extent that they preserve, lubricate, improve sound or reduce scratches or all of the above. Trouble is, nearly all of them are able to dissolve the adhesive in tape, so care is needed. I mostly use Perklone for cleaning, and whatever I can lay my hands on otherwise. 

SAFETY NOTICE

All the above products must be used with good ventilation, not for long periods and not drunk.

(Sorry, you have to do this sort of thing nowadays.)

They are of two main types. Some are what I would call the persistent type, that is, you get a wetting of the film and a residual film of stuff on the film. If you use a lot the film can get quite wet. I have tended, not terribly logically, to prefer these as at least you can see yo'uve done something. I also find them better at removing eg sellotape residues. Excess applications may however be visible on screen, and they won't be everyone's cup of tea. The others (can't speak for Permanew - never used it) seem to be more volatile and evaporate off the film more rapidly, hopefully leaving good stuff behind. Actually, Ive used nearly all of them fairly indiscriminately. I've never done controlled double-blind tests on a sample of films over thirty years, but I just feel these things do help to keep film in better condition. Mind you, I also believe that the elephant powder I put by the back door is what has kept my house free of elephants. What they will all do successfully without doubt is help to remove dirt from your films. This is a good thing - it can show up on the screen and build up in the gate and cause scratching.

My cleaning method is simple. I take an ordinary cheap tissue. The more expensive ones may be more linty) and fold it in half four times. This gives a square about 1.5 inches on a side. This is enough clean surface for two passes with 8 and 9.5, one with 16 and 17.5. Wet it with your chosen fluid, fold it round the film and wind. When it gets dry or dirty, stop, refold as necessary to expose a clean surface and repeat. By folding and refolding, I reckon to get at least 8 clean surfaces per tissue. Yes, I am mean enough to save tissues but I also save time and expensive cleaning stuff.

Care is needed to get the correct pressure. If you find damage you missed at the repair stage, you may find the tissue snags and this could do damage. How soon you need to stop and recharge depends rarely on 8, but on 17.5 I may get a maximum of four turns of the rewind at the start and as little as one at the end before there is so much filth I have to stop. I have repeated this as many as four times without getting all the dirt off.

It may seem somewhat surprising, but this doesn't seem to scratch the film. I suppose it might if you just use the same surface or the same piece of dirty cloth all the time. One thing it does do is to wind the film up very tight. I make a point of finishing with a normal rewind before putting the film away.

With narrow gauge film, we don't get the problems of deterioration that afflicts 35 nitrate, but we can get vinegar syndrome. I recently acquired my first ever 9.5 films with this problem and believe me you can't miss it. The current received wisdom is that some form of absorption thingy may help. I got some from Classic Home Cinema, put them in with the films and sealed them up tight in cans. Can't tell you the result haven't opened the cans.

Well, that's about it. I hope there are some things in here that will help a few novices along the way.