No, not that one…this one.

            In early 1985 Gordon Willis, ASC was tasked with filming a short scene that was to appear in a Broadway stage production of the classic film, Singin’ In the Rain; I once again had the good luck to serve as an assistant cameraman on his crew.  If you’ll recall the 1952 movie that starred Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, toward the end a film-within-the-film appears that lampoons the style of the early talkies.  What we were shooting was essentially the same device, though adapted for this modern presentation.

            The stage show was directed by famed choreographer Twyla Tharp.  It opened at the Gershwin Theater on July 2, 1985 and ran for 367 performances before closing on May 18, 1986.  This short film appeared during each one of them, also to much comic effect.

            Photographically, it was pretty simple stuff: a locked off camera that emulated the feel of the late silent era.  Though the diagram only lays out the specs of the wardrobe test that preceded our principal work, the lighting and other details didn’t vary much from the actual photography of the scene.

            It was always exciting when Willis shot in black and white.  Eastman Kodak Double-X Negative 5222 was his monochromatic flavor of choice and he knew exactly how to expose, develop and print it.  DuArt Film Laboratory in New York City handled those chores.  Under the watchful eye of one of the great lab managers of all time – Mr. Don Donigi – there was little to do except follow the instructions Willis provided.  In keeping with the period nature of the piece, it was photographed in 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

            Unfortunately, I don’t have any stills to support the diagram.  As for the short film itself, I have no idea where the negative and few copies that were made might have ended up.  DuArt no longer exists as a film lab; if they still maintain any sort of archive, perhaps they’re buried there.  Who knows?  Maybe one day some film scholar will dig up this obscurity and it’ll be added to the Willis canon.  Until then, this entry will have to suffice as proof that it really did happen!



  1. “Dev. to .60 gamma” — what is the “normal” gamma development value for b&w negative?

    Awesome information, judging from the diagram, he went for the softer, shallow-focus look of late 20’s / early 30’s movies.

  2. David – you made me go deep into my notes! At that time, DuArt Lab considered the following normal:

    Camera Negative: .65 gamma
    Fine Grain Positive: 1.40 to 1.45 gamma
    Dupe Negative From Fine Grain: .55 gamma
    Check Print: 2.60 gamma

    Theoretically, normal exposure and development of the camera negative should lead to normal print and dupe gamma. Unfortunately, in the real world it doesn’t quite work like that. I hope this answers your question!

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