CLOSE-UP : This Old Film

While other kids were trading baseball cards, Robert Gitt spent his time screening movies for his friends. When he wasn't happy with the quality of the film, he'd get two copies and splice together the best parts. "An early film perfectionist," he says.

Now years later, the obsession continues. As preservation officer for UCLA's Film and Television Archive and one of the world's premier film restorers, Gitt spends much of his time at the old, cavernous Technicolor Building in Hollywood putting his tireless techno-magic touch to mangled, faded and gnarled film. He has helped restore more than 500 films in the past decade, and has spent years lecturing on his craft in Berlin, Paris, London, Helsinki, "anywhere that loves film, which is just about everywhere," he says.

Film preservation, which still must be learned on the job and apprentice style (there is no formal educational program in the United States), sounds achingly tedious--viewing the snips of the same film thousands of times over several years until a complete movie can be assembled from various versions. But Gitt sees it as re-creating archeological gold--and at $50,000 per color film and $15,000 per black-and-white, it might just qualify.

Before his job at UCLA, Gitt worked as a technical officer for the American Film Institute in Washington, helping restore films such as Frank Capra's "Lost Horizon." One of his early restorations for UCLA was the 1922 "Toll of the Sea," one of Hollywood's first feature color films.

Still, one must wonder whether he gets tired of watching the same piece of film over and over and over. "I never get tired of looking at a piece of real art," he says. "Who would?"

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