THE ORIGINAL RESTORATION OF HONDO
Daniel L. Symmes
I was operating a company called 3D VIDEO in the early 1980’s. We had developed the first successful anaglyph method for broadcast television (later patented). In August of 1980 I received a call from Ron Kowall, assistant to Michael Wayne, owner of the John Wayne company BATJAC. They owned HONDO, John Wayne’s one and only 3D film, and wanted to know about our process.
Over the months I got to know Ron very well, and before long, I was a bit of a fixture at the BATJAC office in Beverly Hills. Michael Wayne was as passionate about film and film history as I so we had many wonderful conversations, and had common friends in the business.
Michael’s way of doing business was a bit “out of sight, out of mind” so while I was around, the idea of broadcasting HONDO in 3D was hot. When I was off on other projects, it was not. Ron kept the flame going, though.
In 1983, Michael wanted to screen his one and only 3D print of HONDO and I arranged it with Tom Cooper, then owner of the Tiffany Theater on Sunset Blvd. The Tiffany was the 3D revival house in LA. About 40 people attended and it looked great.
Michael had the hope of releasing HONDO theatrically, since there was a mini-wave of 3D at that time, though of the single projector variety, which I warned him wasn’t good enough technically. He had the hope of finding a theater on Hollywood Blvd. to have a grand 3D “re-premiere.” He imagined Klieg lights and all. Classic Hollywood. And in the meantime, TV. But he had some tests printed from the negative and found considerable deterioration, so the only existing print might have to do for TV use.
Another interesting idea Michael would discuss was shooting a new beginning to the film. He didn’t like the film’s beginning, and had in mind a scene of his father being chased by Indians (shot from a hill so as not to see the stand-in), and see his horse being shot out from under him, which would then connect to his walking at the beginning of the film. I was hoping to be able to shoot film with Michael, but I was very concerned about rewriting film history. While this idea stayed in his mind for a while, he eventually agreed to preserve and restore was WAS.
Some months later, he screened the film at a small screening room on Sunset Blvd., and the print was damaged. This stopped progress for literally years. I stayed in touch with Ron mostly as time dragged on.
In 1987, I put on a major 3D TV broadcast in LA, and Michael was reawakened to 3D. We started discussing the steps to assure the best possible tape transfer technologies, and eventually he chose Image Transform (North Hollywood) as the best lab of the time.
We did the transfer at Image in August of ‘88, using camera negative, and recording onto 1”, NTSC which was the best at the time. A considerable portion of HONDO is internegative, because most scenes were fade in, fade out or dissolves. Intermediate film didn’t age well, so the colorist at Image Transform had a very difficult job timing the left and right views.
Complicating things was that the Warner Bros. emblem was missing from the head and tail of the right eye negative. It was replaced by a TV distributor’s emblem, Medallion Enterprises, which had the TV rights in the late 1950’s into the 60’s. Shocking that they would cut the original negative!
I contacted someone I knew at Warner’s as I observed the Warner emblem was the same as used for DIAL ‘M’ FOR MURDER. Warner sent over a then new print of the first reel and we “restored” the Warner start of the film, but had to do some clever video magic to cover the cut to the main title.
The tail couldn’t be restored, as it featured a scene of the wagons driving off into the sunset, cutting to the Medallion emblem. So Michael just did a freeze frame for the remainder of the sound track. Not ideal, but all we could do at the time.
We did the anaglyph “encoding” in the middle of September ’88, and eventually broadcast HONDO on an “ad hoc” network of 151 stations in June of ’91. It was rated no less than third, mostly second, and often first in all TV markets. Michael was pleased with the broadcast, but still hoped to see it again in theaters with polarized projection. Again, the big dream was the Klieg light premiere.
Michael and I went to London to arrange a broadcast with a major charity being the beneficiary of proceeds from the sale of the 3D glasses (as the Leukemia Society did in the U.S.). We got close, but the charity could never get its act together. Subsequent conversations with Channel 4 also fell through.
Finally, Michael decided to bite the bullet and do a film restoration of HONDO. He did his research and chose to again work with Cinetech in Burbank, with Sean Coughlin in charge. Sean had recently restored MCLINTOCK.
In November of ’93 Michael directed me to set up an editing bench in my dining room and he sent ALL the existing footage over for my examination and logging. I literally examined every foot of everything to determine what we had, what we needed, and determine the best course of action – mostly from the 3D point since Sean was otherwise highly experienced in restoration. I might note that there were outtakes in the footage which might not be known.
I was quite surprised to find that 22 minutes, 26 seconds of HONDO was intermediate stock, and was very off color. That’s nearly 1/3 of the film. The intermediate stock was fair to poor, quality-wise.
Actual restoration work commenced in April of ’94. Tests by Sean showed the left and right camera negatives were in “decent” shape, though with color matching issues.
And then we had the extreme good fortune to find color separations for virtually all the intermediate footage. We were blown away when Sean projected a reel of restored (from the separations) footage. It was as if it was shot yesterday. The color was nearly Kodachrome. Sadly, this new footage had to be “dumbed down” a bit to intercut with the negative.
Sean worked over perhaps a three month period (just my recollection) and we watched it coming together reel by reel. Again luck was with us, and separations of the head of the film (the Warner emblem) were found, so Sean could reconstruct the original head of the film. The tail wasn’t so lucky.
I then went to Pacific Title and had them recreate the end titles (using the uncut left eye reference), coming up with the “candy cane” lettering of the original (which Michael disliked) and, using separations of the live action behind the titles, reconstructed the tail.
Another problem area were 2-D shots. Apparently there was a camera malfunction, specifically to the left camera. Warner’s remedy was to duplicate the right eye and give it a very slight horizontal shift to the left. Another duplicate of the left was shifted slightly to the right. This shifting helped give a slight 3D impression. But, they were flat nonetheless and sometimes easily spotted, such as a very long (2+ minutes) scene with Wayne talking in a tent to actor Paul Fix. As all the flat shots were duplicates, the quality was very poor. But original elements were never found.
Someone recently suggested “3 dimensionalizing” the 2-D shots, which other than being inferior to real 3D, would be changing the way the film WAS. Tough call with George Lucas on one side of such a proposition, and film historians on the other.
Over the years, Michael wrestled with the sound track. All that exists is the optical negative made by Warner Bros. All mag material was dumped. Many visits to Chace helped improve things somewhat. But Michael directed Chace to create a stereo track, and even added sound effects (arrows, gun shots) to “help.” To these ears, the “improvements” weren’t acceptable, though this wasn’t my call.
Thus HONDO was complete. We viewed a final print of the left and right from the new negative and it looked great.
Next was to do a video version of this restoration, which was done over several weeks at Vidfim in Glendale, starting in the middle of July ’94. We mastered to D1, then the highest quality video. Michael had excellent eyes for color and spent way more time than usual making Sean’s film restoration even better, and before actually laying the footage down, we did a 3D alignment which improved that aspect of the film, for later exhibition.
After doing the feature transfer, I got Michael interested in putting a 3D short on the HONDO disk. MOTOR RHYTHM was available, and Bob Furmanek provided prints which were mastered to D1 at Vidfilm.
An anaglyph test was done of the entire feature (November ’94) which, while only a test, was judged by Michael to be very good.
Michael was then focused on a laser disk release, and a deal was proposed with Image Entertainment. Ultimately time passed and nothing happened. (There are many holes in the timeline since, like I said, for Michael, out of sight, out of mind. He got distracted by other business so MANY months would go by between progress spurts.)
At the end of 2002 I finally got Michael to say “go” to get the film ready for DVD release, and he said I should “soon” get with him to go through the vault to find the D1 tapes, including “my” tapes of MOTOR RHYTHM, since many were apparently mislabeled.
I was out of the country when I heard, to my utter shock, that Michael Anthony Wayne had died, 2 APRIL 2003. I sent condolences to Michael’s widow, Gretchen, who I knew in better times. For reasons known only to Gretchen, I became an outsider and she has never since talked to me nor acknowledged my attempts to help with HONDO these past years.
Imagine my surprise and dismay hearing about all the fuss it has been getting lately, and with the waste of time and money to rediscover the wheel by people with no or little understanding of 3D and this film’s unique aspects.
What a business.