The NPR News item What's The Issue With Nitrate Film Stock? It's Combustible describes substantial effort made at the 2017 TCM Film Festival to upgrade a projection booth in order to more safely project nitrate prints of some selected films.
TCM wanted to screen some of the nitrate prints that exist in archives at its festival, so it worked with Martin Scorsese's The Film Foundation. Together with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Academy Film Archive and the American Cinematheque, they brought the projection booth of The Egyptian Theater up to fire code, and Bartok says they also modified two vintage 35mm projectors.
My question is not about the physical dangers associated with nitrate film stock, but about the perceived quality of the images that may have been part of the motivation for these extraordinary efforts to project nitrate film safely and up to code. For example:
Nitrate film stock has been praised for the beauty of its images and for truly allowing cinematographers to paint with light — whites pop off the screen, blacks are deep and rich, and grey tones shimmer.
Color nitrate has been described as equally breathtaking. Dennis Bartok manages the Egyptian Theatre, where the films are playing. He says his single most unforgettable screening experience was watching a Technicolor nitrate print of the movie Black Narcissus. "So, people will compare them to an illuminated manuscript or something like that. All I can say is watching Black Narcissus really is a spiritual experience for people who love cinema."
Did or does nitrate film stock have some physical or chemical properties that leads to superior (shimmering) black-and-white and (breathtaking Techni)color? Was this ever measured and quantified in some way?
below: From the NPR article; Nitrate film stock is extremely flammable — it was replaced by more stable stock in the 1950s. credit: Beth Accomando.