Years later when I was working at a theater booking service in Seattle I had another encounter with Lawrence of Arabia. A client of the service wanted us to book a summer retrospective series of 70mm films at one of his theaters in downtown Renton Washington.
For the first of the series we played “Ben Hur.”
The print was gorgeous. I remember sitting in one of the performances and marveling over the detail on display in the courtyard scene. It was winter and dead leaves were strewn everywhere. One felt all you needed to do was stretch your hand out and touch them.
When LoA, the second film in the series arrived, however, I received a panic call from the owner. After a test run with the print of LoA, they discovered that almost all of it had faded, the color was drained to such an extent that little was viewable other than the bright light from the projector.
I hung up and called the distributor to ask if another print were available. There wasn’t. I was starting to panic myself. Someone there suggested that I call the MPAA, who in turn gave me the number for the cinematographer’s guild.
I had in mind that there might be some filter to place over the projector portal that would give some definition to the people and objects in the frame. The person from the guild thought about it a minute and came up with filter with a green tint.
It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it did give a modicum of definition, so that you could actually make out something in all that whiteness.
Sometime after this event I heard that a major push was undertaken to rescue films like LoA that were in danger of disappearing forever.
And I often wondered after that, if I had had some small part in it.