THE END

In case you haven’t heard; 2012 will be known as the official date when most celluloid projection will be tossed into a fiery and remote pit.  Film, “reel” film, the stuff made of organic emulsion that unspools through a projector at 24-frames-a-second, is going the way of the dodo bird. Roger Ebert wrote a eulogy on November 2nd (Chicago Sun Times; The sudden death of film). A.O. Scott followed his lead a couple weeks later on Nov 18th (N.Y. Times; Film Is Dead? What Else Is New?). Leo Enticknap, a cinema director at the University of Leeds in the U.K., went even further on Nov. 20th (INDIEwire; The 35mm Battle Continues) when he facetiously ridiculed a recent petition to save 35mm film with this opening salvo: “OK, and let’s petition Ford to reopen the Model T production line, and ban all performances of Mozart’s piano concertos on anything other than an eighteenth century fortepiano while we’re at it.” (Links to all three essays are provided at the bottom of my post.)

Respected cinephiles from all walks of life have been covering the topic of digital projection’s eminent domination for over a decade. The writing has been on the wall for a long time. In this case, that wall is that screen in your local cinema. Did you notice the change? Or, I should say, the disappearance of the change-over cue from one reel to the next? Most people did not, and many said it was overdue. Few seemed to notice lens issues that radically dimmed the brightness in many digital venues. (See Ty Burr’s link at bottom.) They also didn’t seem to care when the full range of shadows and darkness that were easily captured on celluloid transformed into flat blacks that bled like ink-splotches between raincoats and dark spaces.

Audiences did, however, notice glitches when they were paying film festival ticket prices only to be subjected to a standard DVD projection with watermarks due to hardware issues related to machinery in need of updates. (See link at bottom.)

Despite many pitfalls, ultimately, there is no stopping convenience, speed, and the new high-definition palette that is the mark of contemporary work.

Put another way: when director Nicolas Winding Refn released Valhalla Rising in 2009, it was shot digitally with the Red One camera and was pretty fantastic – but all the mud, blood, and darkness was, well, kinda muddy. It was obviously not film. Two scant years later he comes out with Drive, and his 2K digital cinematography looks almost exactly as rich as film. I’m pretty sure I’ll always be able to single out the distinct beauty that is evoked from either Technicolor or Kodachrome film, to name but a few memorable film stocks, but the point is that digital enthusiasts have finally gotten to the point where the majority of people don’t know the difference at all.

But in their rush to push film to extinction, they seem to have forgotten that there is also a third option. Let some of us keep it alive, like the dedicated bibliophiles at the end of Fahrenheit 451 – only we’ll do for film what those literature-loving holdouts in Bradbury’s story did for books.

Film projection will, soon enough, be an endangered species. Moving Picture Machine Operators – like J.T., pictured above – are already near-extinct. For precisely this reason there should be incentives, now, for their preservation and survival. Instead, the opposite is happening; digital profiteers want to kill film projection completely and then get rid of the body as quickly as possible. It’s like burying the corpse of an art-collector without checking the pockets for the keys that might open up various treasure troves. (Note: I wouldn’t trust murderous thieves with artistic legacies but, still, …. what a waste.)

The treasure-troves I refer to are domestic, foreign, private, and other rare film collections that should only be put through reel-to-reel projectors and handled by experienced projectionists who won’t scratch or otherwise damage the print. The reels pictured above are for five, rare, feature-length films by Yasuzo Masumura that ran recently at the International Film Series in Boulder (which I program), and which were made possible by both the Japan Foundation and the Consulate General of Japan at Denver. None of them are on DVD or otherwise available. Attendance over the course of those five nights numbered at over 500.

Now, unfortunately, those rare prints don’t normally bring in huge crowds, which is why having access to contemporary foreign and indy hits on 35mm is so important to the independent arthouse venue. They keep us alive.

Most small exhibitors already do digital, but they’re not necessarily full-on Digital Cinema Package compliant (I’ve heard  both “Package” and “Projection” – the latter being more intuitive). To qualify for D.C.P., you need money. A lot of money. Multiplexes get help with Virtual Print Fee money, but only if they run “first-run studio content” – which is exactly what a quality arthouse should avoid. Furthermore, V.P.F. money is not paid out to individual theaters, but rather meted out to third parties who help package the loan. Who’s making the money? Hollywood studios provide the V.P.F. money because the digital transition saves them a lot on shipping and film processing. People selling the digital equipment and providing the loans for theaters to buy (or lease) the digital equipment are the ones who get the V.P.F. cash – so they have quite an incentive to sell, install, and handle as many transactions as possible.

How can these digital profiteers make even more money? Well… they could structure their financial arrangements in such a way as to require theaters to remove their 35mm gear. This has been done, and it answers the question of why a transition that seemed to be taking such a long time suddenly went into hyper-drive. The way I see it, Old Man Film survived several heart-attacks and was in good hospice care putting together his last will and testament when, suddenly, he got bundled up into a wheelchair and rolled down the hill. I’m calling it out; this is foul play.

I love the moving picture show, and I won’t stop loving it just because it’s no longer a physical object moving through a projector. But the full-breadth of the moving picture show that can transport us to so many places is best served by variety. As a music lover I still listen to vinyl albums, cassette tapes, and – sure! – over 300 gigs of MP3′s that I cycle through on my hard-drive. Actually, it’s now only 150 gigs of music because the last time I tried to reformat my computer I lost half of my digital music collection. My vinyl? All of it still there. Even the Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band album I was listening to when I was five-years-old. The digital dictators who are taking over our nation’s projection booths don’t want you to have that analog luxury of comparing something side-by-side, or even simply to have it as a backup. Profiteers will say this is the free market at work. Really? What comes to my mind are corporate bail-outs and monopolies, not free markets.

The oft-made analogy that compares celluloid film to vinyl albums would infer that independent arthouse exhibitors are like the brick-and-mortar record shops that have sadly dwindled to a very small number. While this may be true, such exhibition houses are also like museums, where you can go see works of art – a lot of it unavailable in any other format. They are worth saving and supporting. If such venues are not going to qualify for V.P.F. cash incentives because they refuse to be forced into running a bunch of first-run crap, and also because they refuse to get rid of their 35mm projectors, then – at the very least – there is one thing the studios could do to help us out: keep striking a small number of 35mm prints. Help us buy us as much time as possible. We can then both save up money and wait for current digital projection systems to come down in price, or at least wait for second-hand D.C.P. systems to become more widely available.

For the reasons mentioned above I both signed the petition to keep 35mm alive (see link at bottom) and I took exception to Leo Enticknaps’ analogy comparing me to someone who would petition Ford to reopen the Model T production line. Exactly one week ago I posted my response in an Art House Convergence email thread, which goes out to other independent and arthouse exhibitors. My Keelsetter TCM handle is a literal translation into English of my Norwegian last name and was never meant for anonymous trolling (even though we Norwegians do seem to have a lot of ‘em), so I freely sign off on the response below with my actual name in full.

Enticknap makes a lot of valid points, but to compare a small handful of people who are signing a petition to keep 35mm alive to a group petitioning Ford to reopen the Model T production line provides a false dichotomy. It’s also a cheap-blow carefully designed to make celluloid enthusiasts look like a bunch of ridiculous and doddering old fools.

A more apt comparison would equate 35mm film lovers to the silent-film enthusiasts who bemoaned the advent of the talkies during their day – which he also mentions, albeit as an aside. The Enticknap’s of that time were correct in their assumption that talkies were as viable a movie-going communal experience as their predecessors. They were also correct that this new form would dominate the landscape and become very artful in its own new, and uniquely beautiful way.

But the silent-film enthusiasts also had a point: their particular art-form was at the pinnacle of its expression while the early talkies were crude by comparison – especially with once-fluid camerawork suddenly being chained to microphones hidden in flower-pots, among many other early problems. Still, it was as easy to make silent film enthusiasts look like a bunch of ridiculous and doddering old fools, then as now. Back then, such ridicule paved the way for a tragic negligence of many great actors, directors, film libraries, archives, etc. – and this resulted in losing a huge body of work for all time (with some estimates regarding the silent films we’ve lost over the ages being as high as 75%).

Enticknap shrugs this off when he writes how “The emphasis now has to be on developing ways to produce high quality DCPs of existing titles cheaply…” (etc.) Which sounds “great” – but we all know that’s bullshit. It won’t happen. There will always be a bunch of rare, cool, 35mm archive prints (domestic and foreign) that will not get the Blu-Ray treatment or similar other upgrades. So why not hang onto our 35mm projectors to keep our venues flexible and also provide business for the aging archives located all around the world? At my venue, instead of getting rid of our 35mm projectors, we’ve even begun salvaging projectors from various ‘plexes to cannibalize them for parts down the road. Yeah, the future is now – but to keep the past alive, you’ve sometimes got to look ahead in ways Leo has already abandoned.

The silent-vs-talkies format “war” occurred over 80 years ago, and yet here in the 21st century we still have various cinema shrines and specialty festivals that cater to silent film lovers, often-times using actual 35mm or 16mm prints. Of course, Enticknap knows this, which is why he is careful to couch his essay with specific wording, ie: “…nostalgia is not a valid reason for keeping an obsolete technology on life support in the mainstream.” (Emphasis mine.) Well, we’re not the mainstream – we’re better and cooler than that – and who wouldn’t rather be Radiohead over Justin Bieber in this group? Also: Enticknap builds his essay on one lone quote from the 35mm petition, using that to launch off on other points that aren’t in dispute.

Nobody is against variety. But if we’re too quick to dump our 35mm projectors, a lot of once active archives will quickly go dormant and thus lose their ability to convince investors of their worth. Small independent exhibitors barely surviving on the thinnest of margins are also anxious to wait as long as possible before making big investments in the digital realm – which is another salient reason for our desire to have 35mm prints available to us.

In sum, I think it’s a bit weird for Enticknap to expend so much energy berating a relatively small pocket of film enthusiasts when he’s already on the winning side. It gives me flashbacks to Jr. High when I was getting beat up by a bunch of jocks and I suddenly see that one other geeky A.V. kid appear in the distance. I think he’s going to come to my aid and, instead, he starts kicking me while I’m down. Et tu, Leo?

Either way, I’ll happily watch King Kong on Blu-Ray, DCP, 2K, 4K, 16mm, laser disc, VHS, and whatever other format you care to toss my way. (Any port in a storm.) But, man oh man, if somebody told me they had a nitrate 35mm print they were going to screen? I’d cancel all other appointments – even Thanksgiving dinner with the folks – to see that spectacle. The caveat is that I’d be sitting in the front row, and as far away from the projection booth as possible. ( – Pablo Kjolseth, International Film Series Director, Boulder, Colorado.)

Links to…

Roger Ebert’s essay:

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/11/the_sudden_death_of_film.html#more

A.O. Scott’s essay:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/20/movies/film-technology-advances-inspiring-a-sense-of-loss.html?_r=2&tntemail0=y&emc=tnt&pagewanted=all&fb_source=message

Leo Enticknap’s essay:

http://www.indiewire.com/article/the-35mm-battle-continues-lets-petition-ford-to-reopen-the-model-t-production-line

Ty Burr’s essay:

http://articles.boston.com/2011-05-22/ae/29571831_1_digital-projectors-movie-exhibition-business-screens

Projectionist’s commenting on problems with DCP:

http://www.film-tech.com/ubb/f16/t000912.html

The petition site asking studios to keep making 35mm prints:

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/fight-for-35mm/

I’d like to thank David Bordwell for bringing to my attention his excellent essay (which answered many questions). He provides a link within the comments section, but I want to make sure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle so highlight it here as well:

http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2011/12/01/pandoras-digital-box-in-the-multiplex/

 

THE END?

(*cough*)

What? Still here past the credit sequence even with the lights on? For you, a small reward. This from colleague and friend Alex Cox as excerpted from his blog at alexcox.com which he wrote when talking about two films of his: Searchers 2.0 and Straight to Hell Returns. It can be found under the entry titled I Was Shane MacGowan’s Plastic Surgeon:

Vittorio Storaro has estimated that there are a minimum of 6000 x 3000 bits of information in one 35mm celluloid frame – in other words, eighteen million bits of pictorial information. In our HD transfer, there are roughly 2000 x 1000 bits of information per frame (or there would be, if we were working in Storaro’s ideal but theoretical 1X2 ratio) – i.e. about two million bits of information.

In other words: celluloid = 18,000,000 bits of info, and HD = 2,000,000 bits of info. Sure, that celluloid-to-digital ratio keeps changing, with huge improvements in the digital domain coming our way with each passing year. But when you think of our rich cinematic past, doesn’t all the celluloid information we’ve reaped so far seem worth saving from the fire?

50 Responses THE END
Posted By dukeroberts : December 4, 2011 11:36 am

I would gladly be Guy Montag in this Filmenheit 451 scenario.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 4, 2011 11:36 am

I would gladly be Guy Montag in this Filmenheit 451 scenario.

Posted By pamtish : December 4, 2011 1:51 pm

Wow… I’m in awe! I hate to ask such a trivial question here of all places, but you seem to be so knowledgeable! I’m a 24/7 TCM watcher (Ok.. I fall asleep at some point and wake up to go to work, but between those hours that’s usually what I’m watching!)

I saw a short today about Warner and the beginning of capturing sound, Edison, the beginning of the “talkies”, etc. It included scenes from many early films, including synchronized swimming scenes, a clip of “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, a close up of Warner’s grave, etc. It was on right before Fitzwilly (1967) on TCM this morning. Could you answer ANY of these questions for me?

Is there a way to find, watch, or purchase shorts of this sort? Such as a “shorts” database, through TCM or any other organization?

Are you familiar with the clip I’m describing, and if so, do you know of any way I can find it to watch it again?

I’m a teacher (HS, Sped BD/Psych disorders, etc.) and many shorts would make WONDERFUL lessons. Any suggestions? I’m at this point thinking that I just need to figure out a way to keep a VCR running and ready to tape at a moment’s notice.

Which in a roundabout way leads back to your post. I don’t think many people mention some of the advantages of tape vs digital being the ease with which one can isolate and locate a small clip for viewing. I love technology, but sometimes digital formats are NOT the most user friendly.

THANKS for all of your knowledge, research, and perspective!

Posted By pamtish : December 4, 2011 1:51 pm

Wow… I’m in awe! I hate to ask such a trivial question here of all places, but you seem to be so knowledgeable! I’m a 24/7 TCM watcher (Ok.. I fall asleep at some point and wake up to go to work, but between those hours that’s usually what I’m watching!)

I saw a short today about Warner and the beginning of capturing sound, Edison, the beginning of the “talkies”, etc. It included scenes from many early films, including synchronized swimming scenes, a clip of “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, a close up of Warner’s grave, etc. It was on right before Fitzwilly (1967) on TCM this morning. Could you answer ANY of these questions for me?

Is there a way to find, watch, or purchase shorts of this sort? Such as a “shorts” database, through TCM or any other organization?

Are you familiar with the clip I’m describing, and if so, do you know of any way I can find it to watch it again?

I’m a teacher (HS, Sped BD/Psych disorders, etc.) and many shorts would make WONDERFUL lessons. Any suggestions? I’m at this point thinking that I just need to figure out a way to keep a VCR running and ready to tape at a moment’s notice.

Which in a roundabout way leads back to your post. I don’t think many people mention some of the advantages of tape vs digital being the ease with which one can isolate and locate a small clip for viewing. I love technology, but sometimes digital formats are NOT the most user friendly.

THANKS for all of your knowledge, research, and perspective!

Posted By keelsetter : December 4, 2011 2:28 pm

Duke, FILMENHEIT 451 would have been a better title for my essay. Nicely done.

Pam, I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable as the TCM viewers out there who I rely on to correct my many mistakes. As to what came on before FITZWILLY that was MR SOFT TOUCH, but I’ll bet you’re referring to what was on before that: MGM PARADE SHOW #15. The MGM PARADE SHOW can be found as part of a DVD box set:

http://www.amazon.com/Classic-Musicals-Factory-Ziegfeld-Follies/dp/B000EBGE5U/ref=pd_cp_mov_4

Hope that helps!

Posted By keelsetter : December 4, 2011 2:28 pm

Duke, FILMENHEIT 451 would have been a better title for my essay. Nicely done.

Pam, I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable as the TCM viewers out there who I rely on to correct my many mistakes. As to what came on before FITZWILLY that was MR SOFT TOUCH, but I’ll bet you’re referring to what was on before that: MGM PARADE SHOW #15. The MGM PARADE SHOW can be found as part of a DVD box set:

http://www.amazon.com/Classic-Musicals-Factory-Ziegfeld-Follies/dp/B000EBGE5U/ref=pd_cp_mov_4

Hope that helps!

Posted By Jenni : December 4, 2011 10:03 pm

Question. Aren’t colleges and libraries, like Library of Congress, museums saving these celluloid films?

Posted By Jenni : December 4, 2011 10:03 pm

Question. Aren’t colleges and libraries, like Library of Congress, museums saving these celluloid films?

Posted By suzidoll : December 4, 2011 10:42 pm

We showed a 35mm print of Vertigo today at Facets in a special screening. It was a beautiful print, and I haven’t seen anything shot digitally that can compare. To see a new 35mm print on the big screen is to be reminded of what is being lost as we push the format out the door like some outdated technology. When our programmer reminded everyone we were seeing Vertigo in 35mm, the audience burst into applause.

Posted By suzidoll : December 4, 2011 10:42 pm

We showed a 35mm print of Vertigo today at Facets in a special screening. It was a beautiful print, and I haven’t seen anything shot digitally that can compare. To see a new 35mm print on the big screen is to be reminded of what is being lost as we push the format out the door like some outdated technology. When our programmer reminded everyone we were seeing Vertigo in 35mm, the audience burst into applause.

Posted By suzidoll : December 4, 2011 10:45 pm

And, Pamtish: I am also a teacher who uses VHS clips to teach with. They are much easier and less time consuming that showing clips on DVD. It always frustrates me that tech-heads think only new technology is valuable and older formats must be destroyed in their wake because they are “outdated.”

Posted By suzidoll : December 4, 2011 10:45 pm

And, Pamtish: I am also a teacher who uses VHS clips to teach with. They are much easier and less time consuming that showing clips on DVD. It always frustrates me that tech-heads think only new technology is valuable and older formats must be destroyed in their wake because they are “outdated.”

Posted By keelsetter : December 4, 2011 11:07 pm

Jenni – Yes, our college archives a small collection of 35mm prints, as do many others. The Library of Congress has an impressive collection that you can see here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Film_Registry

Suzi – What a treat! And now that I know a beautiful 35mm print of VERTIGO is readily available, that prods me to book it (while I can). Here at the IFS we also get applause from appreciative crowds when we announce a mint-condition 35mm print of some past gem. Apologies to Pamtish for a link to a DVD when she was specifically asking for VHS. I still have a ton of VHS tapes too, which can also be found on Amazon (and Ebay, etc.)

Posted By keelsetter : December 4, 2011 11:07 pm

Jenni – Yes, our college archives a small collection of 35mm prints, as do many others. The Library of Congress has an impressive collection that you can see here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Film_Registry

Suzi – What a treat! And now that I know a beautiful 35mm print of VERTIGO is readily available, that prods me to book it (while I can). Here at the IFS we also get applause from appreciative crowds when we announce a mint-condition 35mm print of some past gem. Apologies to Pamtish for a link to a DVD when she was specifically asking for VHS. I still have a ton of VHS tapes too, which can also be found on Amazon (and Ebay, etc.)

Posted By Jim Vecchio : December 5, 2011 8:37 am

I like a little flicker with my movies.

Posted By Jim Vecchio : December 5, 2011 8:37 am

I like a little flicker with my movies.

Posted By David Bordwell : December 5, 2011 10:57 am

This is a wonderful, pointed essay. I wrote a more historically-based account of the digital conversion as it affects multiplexes here:

http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2011/12/01/pandoras-digital-box-in-the-multiplex/

I plan to follow it up with some ideas about arthouses, repertory houses, and archives as repositories of film history, along the lines Keelsetter indicates here. But this essay really crystallizes some important issues, especially with the analogy to silent film/ sound film. Thanks!

DB

Posted By David Bordwell : December 5, 2011 10:57 am

This is a wonderful, pointed essay. I wrote a more historically-based account of the digital conversion as it affects multiplexes here:

http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2011/12/01/pandoras-digital-box-in-the-multiplex/

I plan to follow it up with some ideas about arthouses, repertory houses, and archives as repositories of film history, along the lines Keelsetter indicates here. But this essay really crystallizes some important issues, especially with the analogy to silent film/ sound film. Thanks!

DB

Posted By rjz : December 5, 2011 12:00 pm

I still have not been convinced that celluloid is *necessarily* better than digital. That is not to say that it might not be in one circumstance or another. Some examples:

The director and cinematographer made their film specifically with the shortcomings of film in mind.

The film specifically benefits from some of the strengths that film still maintains over digital as Cox states.

The viewer just plain likes the color gamut of film better (even if this is only true to the film and not to anything the director intended).

Still, just because I’m not convinced in this magical superiority of film (yes, it is just like the vinyl album comparison and even if you deny it, you made this very comparison in your favor), still, I agree that this is a fallacy of false choice. The film may be economically difficult to maintain (just as live music in support of silent films would make them too expensive for most movie goers today) but it doesn’t mean enthusiasts (even if they’re misguided) should be prohibited from enjoying them . I’m not convince of celluloid over digital, but I’m glad IFS and other art house venues are still around to at least exhibit the difference so that I might at least try to see the difference.

Posted By rjz : December 5, 2011 12:00 pm

I still have not been convinced that celluloid is *necessarily* better than digital. That is not to say that it might not be in one circumstance or another. Some examples:

The director and cinematographer made their film specifically with the shortcomings of film in mind.

The film specifically benefits from some of the strengths that film still maintains over digital as Cox states.

The viewer just plain likes the color gamut of film better (even if this is only true to the film and not to anything the director intended).

Still, just because I’m not convinced in this magical superiority of film (yes, it is just like the vinyl album comparison and even if you deny it, you made this very comparison in your favor), still, I agree that this is a fallacy of false choice. The film may be economically difficult to maintain (just as live music in support of silent films would make them too expensive for most movie goers today) but it doesn’t mean enthusiasts (even if they’re misguided) should be prohibited from enjoying them . I’m not convince of celluloid over digital, but I’m glad IFS and other art house venues are still around to at least exhibit the difference so that I might at least try to see the difference.

Posted By keelsetter : December 5, 2011 1:52 pm

David, thank you very much for providing your link. That might be the single most informative essay I’ve read yet – and it answered many questions. I’ve added it to the links within my post and consider it mandatory reading for anyone interested in the subject.

R.J. – I think you’ll find David’s essay quite illuminating. But I’ll add my two cents by saying that film remains the archival format of choice for many reasons. I wish there was a Blu-Ray for Bela Tarr’s WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES that I could screen on our 4K projector to compare against a 35mm print. That would be very interesting to watch (for both of us). Now, when it comes to talking about “the magic” of film, that puts me in the uncomfortable position of seeming like a man of faith being shoved into a debate with an atheist, but perhaps this link will help:

http://indiekicker.reelgrok.com/?p=112

Posted By keelsetter : December 5, 2011 1:52 pm

David, thank you very much for providing your link. That might be the single most informative essay I’ve read yet – and it answered many questions. I’ve added it to the links within my post and consider it mandatory reading for anyone interested in the subject.

R.J. – I think you’ll find David’s essay quite illuminating. But I’ll add my two cents by saying that film remains the archival format of choice for many reasons. I wish there was a Blu-Ray for Bela Tarr’s WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES that I could screen on our 4K projector to compare against a 35mm print. That would be very interesting to watch (for both of us). Now, when it comes to talking about “the magic” of film, that puts me in the uncomfortable position of seeming like a man of faith being shoved into a debate with an atheist, but perhaps this link will help:

http://indiekicker.reelgrok.com/?p=112

Posted By suzidoll : December 5, 2011 2:37 pm

Here’s my account of our Hitchcock screening at Facets. It was an amazing success; pretty much sold out the house.

http://moviemorlocks.com/2011/12/05/on-watching-vertigo-on-the-big-screen-in-35mm-with-an-audience/#more-43893

Posted By suzidoll : December 5, 2011 2:37 pm

Here’s my account of our Hitchcock screening at Facets. It was an amazing success; pretty much sold out the house.

http://moviemorlocks.com/2011/12/05/on-watching-vertigo-on-the-big-screen-in-35mm-with-an-audience/#more-43893

Posted By swac : December 5, 2011 4:41 pm

I consider myself lucky to have been able to see Technicolor and nitrate prints at places like George Eastman House’s Dryden Theatre in Rochester (the birthplace of celluloid film!) and Cinefest in Syracuse. Nothing quite compares to those cinematic experiences, and now that my local multiplexes have converted to 95% digital (I think there’s one 35mm screen left, because we have a local theatre festival that needs at least one film projector) I seem to notice every pixel and grey-ish black area when I go to see the newest Hollywood fare.

I might as well stay home and just watch my Criterion blu-rays on a new 50″ plasma screen. The quality’s just as good, and I can have a beer or scotch while I do so.

Posted By swac : December 5, 2011 4:41 pm

I consider myself lucky to have been able to see Technicolor and nitrate prints at places like George Eastman House’s Dryden Theatre in Rochester (the birthplace of celluloid film!) and Cinefest in Syracuse. Nothing quite compares to those cinematic experiences, and now that my local multiplexes have converted to 95% digital (I think there’s one 35mm screen left, because we have a local theatre festival that needs at least one film projector) I seem to notice every pixel and grey-ish black area when I go to see the newest Hollywood fare.

I might as well stay home and just watch my Criterion blu-rays on a new 50″ plasma screen. The quality’s just as good, and I can have a beer or scotch while I do so.

Posted By Fireman Cox : December 5, 2011 6:01 pm

I like digital editing a great deal; it is easier than messing with reels of film and I can preview my effects, colour corrections, and listen to many different audio tracks, premixed. But video (even when shot with a high-end camera like the Alexa) lacks the amazing latitude and dynamic range of film. This abrupt transition diminishes visual possibilities for filmmakers and audiences alike, but it makes money for the one percenters who are steamrolling the change.
DCP is the WORST POSSIBLE FORMAT. It has only one frame rate, 24p, which is really a ghastly fudge of NTSC’s 29.979 frames per second. Any sane person shooting video professionally uses PAL, which is an authentic 25 frames a second. Unfortunately their film is then projected at the wrong speed, courtesy of the brain-dead decision to lock DCPs into into the 24p format.
Two years ago I screened a film, shot by Steve Fierberg on HD video at 25 glorious frames a second, on a DCP. The image blacked out every five minutes or so. When we complained to the projectionist, he said, “Oh, don’t worry. That’s been happening with all the DCPs.”
Film isn’t dead yet. Not as long as we can still get the bulbs for our projectors…

Posted By Fireman Cox : December 5, 2011 6:01 pm

I like digital editing a great deal; it is easier than messing with reels of film and I can preview my effects, colour corrections, and listen to many different audio tracks, premixed. But video (even when shot with a high-end camera like the Alexa) lacks the amazing latitude and dynamic range of film. This abrupt transition diminishes visual possibilities for filmmakers and audiences alike, but it makes money for the one percenters who are steamrolling the change.
DCP is the WORST POSSIBLE FORMAT. It has only one frame rate, 24p, which is really a ghastly fudge of NTSC’s 29.979 frames per second. Any sane person shooting video professionally uses PAL, which is an authentic 25 frames a second. Unfortunately their film is then projected at the wrong speed, courtesy of the brain-dead decision to lock DCPs into into the 24p format.
Two years ago I screened a film, shot by Steve Fierberg on HD video at 25 glorious frames a second, on a DCP. The image blacked out every five minutes or so. When we complained to the projectionist, he said, “Oh, don’t worry. That’s been happening with all the DCPs.”
Film isn’t dead yet. Not as long as we can still get the bulbs for our projectors…

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Posted By rjz : December 8, 2011 3:02 pm

Keelsetter: this link: http://indiekicker.reelgrok.com/?p=112, that’s really an argument? Charming poetry, interesting read, but worthless, and, without testing it, I find incredibly unlikely hypothesis. The difference in film vs. projection is the black time? Really? That’s the argument?

Posted By rjz : December 8, 2011 3:02 pm

Keelsetter: this link: http://indiekicker.reelgrok.com/?p=112, that’s really an argument? Charming poetry, interesting read, but worthless, and, without testing it, I find incredibly unlikely hypothesis. The difference in film vs. projection is the black time? Really? That’s the argument?

Posted By keelsetter : December 8, 2011 3:17 pm

R.J. – If you find something that is charming, poetic, and interesting “worthless,” all I can say is that, in my humble opinion, you sound like the kind of grouchy engineer who only uses his left-brain when looking at the world. But the world needs grouchy engineers to make all the cool gizmos that will help tell tomorrow’s stories in new ways. So, tempted though I am to push you off my magic carpet ride, I’ll accept your limitations. Or, put another way, let’s disagree to disagree.

Posted By keelsetter : December 8, 2011 3:17 pm

R.J. – If you find something that is charming, poetic, and interesting “worthless,” all I can say is that, in my humble opinion, you sound like the kind of grouchy engineer who only uses his left-brain when looking at the world. But the world needs grouchy engineers to make all the cool gizmos that will help tell tomorrow’s stories in new ways. So, tempted though I am to push you off my magic carpet ride, I’ll accept your limitations. Or, put another way, let’s disagree to disagree.

Posted By rjz : December 8, 2011 5:50 pm

Ha! I was trying to be kind to the article’s author by at least admitting that this rather impractical view is at least a charming perspective. Do I think charming and poetic are worthless? Hardly, but when applied to an argument, they are, at best uninteresting, and at worse distracting in an effort to win without reasons.

I’m sorry, but this rather unsupported argument that the black time is the reason that cinema is better than digital is really quite silly. If you really could see it, if you’re brain really was doing something in that time, then you’re saying we really, actually, see and perceive of many still images and that we’re not talking about *moving” pictures at all.

No, it’s pretty well shown that the brain *does not* see this black time, nor the individual images of moving pictures, but that the magic happens in that the best it can do with such rapidly changing images is to assume that they represent movement.

On to another link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/20/movies/film-technology-advances-inspiring-a-sense-of-loss.html?_r=3&tntemail0=y&emc=tnt&pagewanted=all&fb_source=message

In this case, I think the author very rightly points to what essentially amounts to a confirmation bias. We think of old films as being better than today’s crap, simply because we’re comparing not the body of work from a bygone era, but instead only those classics which survive to today’s complete population of soon to be classics and the majority which, now as then, is likely to be crap.

I believe the word is “romanticizing” which is, until I’m shown otherwise (still waiting) is exactly what the celluloid lovers are doing. (which, I’ll repeat, is you’re right and I’m glad you’re fighting for it so that I may actually be shown the difference.)

Posted By rjz : December 8, 2011 5:50 pm

Ha! I was trying to be kind to the article’s author by at least admitting that this rather impractical view is at least a charming perspective. Do I think charming and poetic are worthless? Hardly, but when applied to an argument, they are, at best uninteresting, and at worse distracting in an effort to win without reasons.

I’m sorry, but this rather unsupported argument that the black time is the reason that cinema is better than digital is really quite silly. If you really could see it, if you’re brain really was doing something in that time, then you’re saying we really, actually, see and perceive of many still images and that we’re not talking about *moving” pictures at all.

No, it’s pretty well shown that the brain *does not* see this black time, nor the individual images of moving pictures, but that the magic happens in that the best it can do with such rapidly changing images is to assume that they represent movement.

On to another link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/20/movies/film-technology-advances-inspiring-a-sense-of-loss.html?_r=3&tntemail0=y&emc=tnt&pagewanted=all&fb_source=message

In this case, I think the author very rightly points to what essentially amounts to a confirmation bias. We think of old films as being better than today’s crap, simply because we’re comparing not the body of work from a bygone era, but instead only those classics which survive to today’s complete population of soon to be classics and the majority which, now as then, is likely to be crap.

I believe the word is “romanticizing” which is, until I’m shown otherwise (still waiting) is exactly what the celluloid lovers are doing. (which, I’ll repeat, is you’re right and I’m glad you’re fighting for it so that I may actually be shown the difference.)

Posted By keelsetter : December 8, 2011 7:34 pm

If you’re waiting for me to get romantic with you, you’re barking up the wrong tree – you’re not my type. Besides, you’re so focused on the question of “celluloid vs digital quality” (clearly oblivious to the warmth of the former and enthralled with the clarity of the latter) that you’re sorta sidestepping the bigger point I raise in my post regarding the mountains of archives out there that risk being neglected due to the ruthless way 35mm projectors are being discarded.

Posted By keelsetter : December 8, 2011 7:34 pm

If you’re waiting for me to get romantic with you, you’re barking up the wrong tree – you’re not my type. Besides, you’re so focused on the question of “celluloid vs digital quality” (clearly oblivious to the warmth of the former and enthralled with the clarity of the latter) that you’re sorta sidestepping the bigger point I raise in my post regarding the mountains of archives out there that risk being neglected due to the ruthless way 35mm projectors are being discarded.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 8, 2011 11:16 pm

Is the clarity of digital better? I occasionally notice pixillation in various digital forms, whether it be digital music, television, projectors and possibly film. It’s something I like to call “digitus”, or “digital detritus”. It’s hard to explain exactly, but sometimes you can hear a weird electronic sound on a CD or see an inky, blurry black smear in a digital film. Those both fall under the “digitus” umbrella.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 8, 2011 11:16 pm

Is the clarity of digital better? I occasionally notice pixillation in various digital forms, whether it be digital music, television, projectors and possibly film. It’s something I like to call “digitus”, or “digital detritus”. It’s hard to explain exactly, but sometimes you can hear a weird electronic sound on a CD or see an inky, blurry black smear in a digital film. Those both fall under the “digitus” umbrella.

Posted By rjz : December 9, 2011 3:17 am

@keelsetter: Nope, I agreed with you already about the archives.
So far, I’ve failed to express an opinion as to the *difference* between digital and film–that seems to be the claim of all the film buffs. Warmth is a digital filter away and a choice the director gets to make with digital but is forced upon him in film (if I understand you correctly).
And too bad we’re not flirting…who knows where this relationship could have gone.
@ dukeroberts: I totally agree: crappy digitizing and poor bit rate play back are ugly and the fault of immature technology. A well digitized blu-ray doesn’t do this, as for the rest, I think it’s as annoying as scratches on film and static soundtracks.

Posted By rjz : December 9, 2011 3:17 am

@keelsetter: Nope, I agreed with you already about the archives.
So far, I’ve failed to express an opinion as to the *difference* between digital and film–that seems to be the claim of all the film buffs. Warmth is a digital filter away and a choice the director gets to make with digital but is forced upon him in film (if I understand you correctly).
And too bad we’re not flirting…who knows where this relationship could have gone.
@ dukeroberts: I totally agree: crappy digitizing and poor bit rate play back are ugly and the fault of immature technology. A well digitized blu-ray doesn’t do this, as for the rest, I think it’s as annoying as scratches on film and static soundtracks.

Posted By Alex : December 9, 2011 11:29 pm

Guys, at the risk of being crucified or burnt at the stake, I have to ask a question. And it may make some of you slam your heads on your desks. In my defense, I’m asking this because I’m fairly new to learning about the technical side of film, so forgive me!

Exactly how different in quality are we talking about when we compare a 35mm print to, say, a blu-ray release of something shot on film, such as King Kong like Keelsetter brings up in the article? Is there a specific change in the picture you can quantify?

Again, sorry for the dumb question. But I hate falling into the “can’t tell the difference,” crowd and would like to correct this.

Posted By Alex : December 9, 2011 11:29 pm

Guys, at the risk of being crucified or burnt at the stake, I have to ask a question. And it may make some of you slam your heads on your desks. In my defense, I’m asking this because I’m fairly new to learning about the technical side of film, so forgive me!

Exactly how different in quality are we talking about when we compare a 35mm print to, say, a blu-ray release of something shot on film, such as King Kong like Keelsetter brings up in the article? Is there a specific change in the picture you can quantify?

Again, sorry for the dumb question. But I hate falling into the “can’t tell the difference,” crowd and would like to correct this.

Posted By keelsetter : December 12, 2011 3:10 pm

Hi, Alex – No need to worry about burning stakes, lighters, or matches (after all, we’re not supposed to yell “fire” when in the theater).

The reason it’s hard to give a simple answer is because we’re talking about two very different formats, which is why – when comparing the color, “density,” and/or tonal range between the two formats – most people are obliged to interject the word “theoretical.”

However, to answer the question of how to “tell the difference,” there are three giveaways; the absence of cue marks to mark the change from one reel to another; digital artifacts (which are much more noticeable in theaters not graced by either high-end equipment or knowledgeable staff); and – most importantly – a very shallow palette of blackness that doesn’t give a satisfying sense of depth or separation between shadows and objects. To my eye, it’s not just the blacks and I find that all colors seem to lack a density which I associate with celluloid prints. In other words, it has a certain “flatness.”

Data-delivery enthusiasts are quick to point out that true black is only a few years away, and that when faced with the choice between watching a dirty print, with the myriad of issues that may accompany it, and a clean, digital version that will be crisp, rock-steady, and free of scratches or splices, they always prefer the latter.

Me? I’m a visual person who can shrug off a few scratches and pops on the soundtrack if it means watching something with a deeper spectrum of both color and black-and-white. It’s a preference that has been shrugged off by data enthusiasts as nostalgic – which is a point with some merit. Still, I remain an unapologetic “film-hugger,” to use a term I heard yesterday while touring the very impressive Indiana University Cinema booth, which has a veritable treasure-trove of high-end equipment to handle every format imaginable.

Posted By keelsetter : December 12, 2011 3:10 pm

Hi, Alex – No need to worry about burning stakes, lighters, or matches (after all, we’re not supposed to yell “fire” when in the theater).

The reason it’s hard to give a simple answer is because we’re talking about two very different formats, which is why – when comparing the color, “density,” and/or tonal range between the two formats – most people are obliged to interject the word “theoretical.”

However, to answer the question of how to “tell the difference,” there are three giveaways; the absence of cue marks to mark the change from one reel to another; digital artifacts (which are much more noticeable in theaters not graced by either high-end equipment or knowledgeable staff); and – most importantly – a very shallow palette of blackness that doesn’t give a satisfying sense of depth or separation between shadows and objects. To my eye, it’s not just the blacks and I find that all colors seem to lack a density which I associate with celluloid prints. In other words, it has a certain “flatness.”

Data-delivery enthusiasts are quick to point out that true black is only a few years away, and that when faced with the choice between watching a dirty print, with the myriad of issues that may accompany it, and a clean, digital version that will be crisp, rock-steady, and free of scratches or splices, they always prefer the latter.

Me? I’m a visual person who can shrug off a few scratches and pops on the soundtrack if it means watching something with a deeper spectrum of both color and black-and-white. It’s a preference that has been shrugged off by data enthusiasts as nostalgic – which is a point with some merit. Still, I remain an unapologetic “film-hugger,” to use a term I heard yesterday while touring the very impressive Indiana University Cinema booth, which has a veritable treasure-trove of high-end equipment to handle every format imaginable.

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