Fighting for 35mm…and Our Cinematic Heritage

There’s no doubt that the future of cinema is going to be digital rather than film (as a physical format). Theatres are converting to digital projection right and left, with fewer and fewer 35mm film prints struck all the time, and the major camera manufacturers are ceasing production of film cameras to focus solely on digital cameras instead. It’s where the demand is. But this shift to digital doesn’t only affect new films, which are likely to be shot, edited, and projected digitally, never spending any phase of their creation on physical film – it also affects older films, which were shot on 35mm and meant to be projected on 35mm. Many Hollywood studios have declared their intention to stop producing 35mm prints of older films for use in repertory cinemas, museums, film forums, universities, etc, instead presenting those films only in digital formats as well.

On the one hand, it’s easy to see why this makes sense to them. Digital copies are much easier and cheaper to store and transfer to theatres than bulky 35mm film prints. And many people will argue that digital looks better anyway, or at least consumers won’t be able to tell the difference. I heartily disagree with that – I love the tactile, physical look that 35mm has vs. the sterility of digital. But my point of view is quickly labeled romantic and old-fashioned in a world where cinema is a business and 35mm is antiquated technology. To some degree, it is a romantic perspective. I certainly get a rush of emotion every time I walk into the Silent Movie Theatre and see the film canisters sitting there, ready to be lovingly threaded through the projector by the seasoned projectionist for the evening’s screening. I smile when I see the cigarette burns signalling a reel change. I feel a connection to other audiences when a print is flawed through its many uses in other cinemas, screened for other audiences in other places. But what do my emotions, certainly the emotions of a minority of cinemagoers, matter in this equation?

I’m definitely not alone in my love for seeing films projected on 35mm (or 70mm or whatever format was originally used to shoot them) – Julia Marchese of Los Angeles’s New Beverly Cinema, one of the foremost repertory cinemas in the country and one that would certainly feel the loss of 35mm prints, has started an online petition to Fight for 35mm. It currently has nearly 6,000 signatures of a hoped-for 10,000. Here’s the bulk of her plea:

I firmly believe that when you go out to the cinema, the film should be shown in 35mm. At the New Beverly, we have never been about making money – a double feature ticket costs only $8. We are passionate about cinema and film lovers. We still use a reel to reel projection system, and our projectionists care dearly about film, checking each print carefully before it screens and monitoring the film as it runs to ensure the best projection possible. With digital screenings, the projectionists will become obsolete and the film will be run by ushers pushing a button – they don’t ever have to even enter the theater.

The human touch will be entirely taken away. The New Beverly Cinema tries our hardest to be a timeless establishment that represents the best that the art of cinema has to offer. We want to remain a haven where true film lovers can watch a film as it was meant to be seen – in 35mm. Revival houses perform an undeniable service to movie watchers – a chance to watch films with an audience that would otherwise only be available for home viewing. Film is meant to be a communal experience, and nothing can surpass watching a film with a receptive audience, in a cinema, projected from a film print.

I feel very strongly about this issue and cannot stand idly by and let digital projection destroy the art that I live for. As one voice I cannot change the future, but hopefully if enough film lovers speak up, we can prove to the studios that repertory cinema is important and that we want 35mm to remain available to screen.

Pleading that digital takes away “the human touch” and devalues the “communal experience” may be a romantic argument, but I think it’s a true and valid one. Step by step we’re moving away from that, as we see more films isolated in our homes, individually on our computers and tablets, and in small groups of never-interacting people in multiplexes. The only places I’ve really had what I’d consider communal moviegoing experiences are festivals, where passholders generally spend 8-10 days bumping into each other constantly in lines and theatres, and in rep cinemas – and rep cinemas are far better at it even than festivals. Sure, you can get that with digital prints, because that doesn’t change the audience, does it? But it does, subtly, and a lot of rep cinemagoers are avid 35mm fans. I know people who won’t go to see screenings at Cinefamily if they weren’t able to get a 35mm print for it. Silly, perhaps, but on some level I understand their argument. Going digital is a loss, and it’s part of the loss of the specialness of going to the theatre. You can see digital versions of films in an isolationist bubble at home, so why go to the theatre for that? In a roundabout way, studios are killing their own business, by making the theatrical experience too close to the home experience. On a different but related note, there are many smaller cinemas spread throughout the country, both repertory and first-run, that simply don’t have the money to convert to digital. They’ll close, leaving small towns with few or no alternatives for moviegoing.

The other side of this coin is in the area of preservation. Digital preservation can be a wonderful thing – it provides a backup for fragile 35mm film that’s more stable, doesn’t deteriorate, and is easily reproduced and distributed as necessary. Unless the file becomes corrupted, or the data center crashes, or file formats change. In addition, it’s a fact known to archivists, scholars, and cinephiles that every time a format changes – from 35mm to VHS to DVD to Blu-ray to digital – more and more films are actually left behind. The myth is that once everything goes digital, everything will be available to everybody, but that’s not true. There are more films right now on 35mm than on any other format, because choices have to be made with every format what’s worth money to the studio to produce in the new format. Maybe the things left behind aren’t very good, or maybe no one’s interested in seeing them anyway. But that’s our cinematic heritage, and it is ALL worth saving – that is the backbone of preservation and restoration. Many people get interested in preservation through seeing 35mm prints of films and realizing that this is something special that ought to be preserved. Denying the importance of 35mm film is denying the importance of our cinematic history.

Movieline’s Jen Yamato brought up the issue in a discussion-generating post a couple of weeks ago, and generate discussion it did – with people both for and against. Taking on a few of those commenters, Dennis Cozzalio posted a lengthy but well-worth reading article. He covers a lot of different approaches to the subject, cogently and passionately but also with a lot of balance and understanding for the financial issues at stake. Please read it, he does a much better and more thorough job talking about this than I have. Admittedly, even if Marchese gets the 10,000 names she wants on the petition, how much are major Hollywood studios going to care about 10,000 people, however passionate, against their bottom line? Still, there are reasons enough to make our voices heard, and if 35mm is important to you, sign and share the petition, but also write about it on your own blogs and social networks, attend screenings in 35mm whenever you can (especially at rep cinemas – the New Beverly, Cinefamily, American Cinematheque, the Nuart, LACMA, the Academy in Los Angeles; Film Forum, Walter Reade Theatre, and MOMA in New York; TIFF Lightbox in Toronto; Pacific Film Archive and Castro Theatre in the San Francisco area; Alamo Drafthouse in Austin; and others), aid film preservation foundation and archives like UCLA, Eastman House, Film Foundation, the Academy, etc., and help preserve the love of actual, tactile, physical, visceral 35mm film in any way you can.

 

42 comments

  1. It’s a weird thing to march against progress. I agree with almost all the aesthetic arguments offered here, but I’m a fatalist enough to simply know that Business will trump Art in this case. I’ll enjoy things while i can, this process will probably take a full decade to completely tail out for rep houses. For me, personally, the 1990s, early 2000s have been really good for my own consumption of film at rep houses: The Princess Theatre in Waterloo, The Ontario Cinematheque, the Bloor Cinema, The Revue, The Royal and eventually The Underground and Lightbox have made me feel that Rep Cinema is still alive enough….

  2. Yeah, I don’t really have high hopes for standing against digital for very much longer – the best we can hope, perhaps, is that studios will entrust their 35mm masters to archives that will take care of them and hopefully play them in their own outlets when possible. Still, I know that puts a lot of financial burden on the archives. I just trust them more than I trust the studios to do what they can.

  3. As nice as 35mm projection is, wouldn’t it be more beneficial to rep houses if money was saved on prints and shipping costs, and especially if some of that money could go to properly digitizing the vast studio archives? Why should a rep house have to search high and low for a crappy 35mm print of a movie when a studio could have it transfered and digitized in high quality. That’s the future of film preservation, and I would that that rep houses would support the goal.

  4. I have to admit that I wouldn’t all out stop seeing films theatrically if 35mm is discontinued and I’ve seen a few digital prints of old films at the Bell Lightbox and they looked pretty decent.

    That said, there is a certain “authenticity” to 35mm films that can’t be duplicated. I love everything from the reel changes (which sometimes results in a slight skip in older films) to the static hiss of the soundtrack.

    I believe I signed that petition a few weeks ago and even if studios decide to convert all old films to digital, they should still keep the 35mm prints and give theatres a choice.

  5. Kurt Halfyard

    I will tell you this, any time CINNSU, THE UNDERGROUND OR LIGHTBOX shows an older film and specifies that it is 35mm (or 70mm) print, my interest in attending is higher than if they said, brand new digital version.

    Recent viewings of HARD CORE LOGO, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE ROCKETEER and EUROPA all confirm this…

  6. Corey, yeah, there’s advantages for rep cinemas to going digital too, like you say. That would certainly be a good use for the savings from ceasing 35mm production – but isn’t it more likely that the studios would just put the money toward Smurfs 3? I don’t know. Maybe I’m not cutting them enough slack. But then, that still requires the initial conversion cost that a lot of rep and smaller cinemas won’t be able to manage.

    Sean, I’ve seen some good digital restorations, too – saw King Kong at Grauman’s Chinese last year in digital restoration and it looked solid. But it didn’t feel “real.” It’s a nitpick to be sure, which is why pleas like this likely won’t go anywhere – I still gave Kong 5/5 stars when I reviewed that screening.

    I have to say, one of my favorite rep cinema experiences, though, was seeing a beat-up grindhouse print of Deep Red that Cinefamily flew in from Italy. It looked terrible, and I loved it.

  7. Kurt Halfyard

    You’re getting ahead of yourself, Jandy. The Studios would have to make Smurfs 2, first.

  8. Kurt, hyperbole. :) Also, I think Smurfs 2 is already in production. They probably won’t see savings on 35mm till after it’s already done.

  9. Kurt Halfyard

    Seriously though, I’m a big fan of ‘damaged prints’ (if that makes any sense) seen in the right context. A print of THE THING that the arctic was BLOOD RED due to print fading. All the reel-change noise on a recent screening of 12 Monkeys. Hell, I saw Cronenberg’s SHIVERS projected in the wrong aspect ratio (actually, square) and thought it looked cool as a ‘peep show’ in that format.

  10. I think that’s what I maybe fear about things like this. It’s not that I would stop going to screenings if they weren’t in 35mm, but it’s one step closer to movies simply being products carted around on a thumb drive, always in pristine condition, never needing any care in handling, not needing people at all. And the more movies become a product, the less they’re an experience, and without 35mm prints, experiences like the ones Kurt and I just mentioned will never happen again. I’ve seen a lot of cartoon programs at Cinefamily; you know one I remember the best? The one where a Technicolor print had some Metrocolor sections spliced in because the Technicolor parts were lost, and the print went all faded blue every time a Metrocolor part came up. That was FASCINATING. I didn’t realize other color processes faded so much, and I never would’ve known that if it hadn’t been for that particular 35mm print.

  11. A few thoughts:

    1) A good, great, or wretched movie can be enjoyed or indulged on both 35mm and digital. We all have our preferences and experiences, but the format is not the only thing that defines a film.

    2) Jandy, your point about everything not being available to everyone is, I think, slightly off. I agree to a point, but a less costly means of preserving film means it’s easier to preserve films. If all we had were 35mm prints and not VHS, DVD, laserdisc, or my beloved BetaMax, there’d be far fewer films preserved at all.

    3) Movies have always been a business, and rep cinemas are businesses, too. I’m sure M. Marchese is very proud of the fact that The New Beverley doesn’t turn a much of a profit, but perhaps if she charged more for admission, her theater could stay in business longer, and everyone would be happy. (Then again, the bulk of the petition reads more like an ad for The New Beverley, so maybe Marchese has some business savvy after all.)

    4) Having someone in the projection booth or seeing film canisters may add to many people’s viewing enjoyment, but it doesn’t add to mine.

    Nor do I think movies are “meant to be a communal experience.” What the Hell does that even mean? I don’t go to movies to fling woo at the busty blonde sitting next to me or join in a chorus of Christian revival songs once the flick’s ended. If anything, I’d prefer to be the only one in my theater; well, no, if anything, I’m trying to ignore the busty blonde next to me who’s been texting her boyfriend Scutch the entire time or preparing to tell the sassy madame in the fourth row to shut the Hell up. And yes, there are many things that surpass watching a film with a receptive audience, especially when that film is a screening of The Change-Up and they’re laughing their communal asses off.

    5) Do we really need to preserve everything? Especially when there’s so much that no one will ever (nor have any intention to) watch?

  12. The moment I decided seeing a film in a theatre, with a crowd, was the preferable way for me was when I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in a rep cinema after many solo viewings of it on VHS. There’s no substitute for a theatrical experience.

    There’s no substitute.

  13. Opps. Didn’t mean to type “there’s no substitue” twice.

  14. Nat, I totally agree with your point #1. A good film is just as good no matter how it’s presented. What’s changed isn’t the quality of the film, but the quality of the experience. Judging from your other points, that may not be as important to you as it is to me.

    And you’re right, also, that without a home video market (or previously, a television market), studios would have little incentive to preserve anything at all. That’s why there are so many silent-era films lost – they were seen as worthless and discarded. But thousands of films that are preserved NOW on 35mm are not available in any other format. I don’t think that’s ideal either, as they’re only really available to scholars and the occasional screening by the archive, but if the ultimate intention is to get rid of 35mm altogether, I worry that these films won’t be preserved digitally.

    Frankly, the New Bev doesn’t have much to worry about financially, which is why their argument is so very aesthetically-based. The theatre is owned by Quentin Tarantino – I don’t know whether their $8/double feature pays for their operation or not, but it doesn’t really have to.

    I totally disagree with your #4, though I know a lot of people agree with you. Whenever I hear arguments like that, though, I always feel like the person hasn’t been to a really great rep cinema screening with a great audience. The things you mention? Don’t happen at the New Bev or Cinefamily. It’s a great experience. Now, is that experience based solely on prints being shown on 35mm? Of course not. But for me, hearing the whirr of the projector during the film and shooting the breeze with the projectionists before it starts is part of the experience, and when Cinefamily shows something on DVD or Blu-ray as they occasionally have to do, it feels a little more mundane.

  15. Regarding point 4, I think you have to accept that it works both ways, and the audience you see a film with, more often than not, hinders the experience rather than enhances it.

    Though I have been to rep cinemas (we have one the best here, The Music Box), and I recently saw Raiders of the Lost Ark there, which was an awesome experience. However, I went to it because I wanted to see the film on the big screen, not because I wanted to observe the audience’s reaction to it (which amounted to little more than some laughs at Belloq eating the fly and a little kid who wouldn’t shut the hell up).

    But of course, it’s all subjective. You and many others may like seeing movies with a big group, and I don’t. We all have our preferences, and, contrary to what M Marchese believes, not all of us need that “human touch” to enjoy a film to its fullest.

    • In regards to #4, I too think it totally depends. I remember Gamble and I fighting about this on a Cinecast in which he claimed seeing The Social Network is so much better seeing it with a packed audience. I COMPLETELY disagree. For something like The Social Network or Another Earth or Take Shelter, I want to be as involved in the film as much as possible. That means not being shoulder to shoulder with some schlub or trying to see over the head in front of me or seeing a cell phone light coming from row two in front of me.

      But, when I go to see 13 Assassins or District 13 or Hobo with a Shotgun or something, then yeah, seeing it with an audience adds to the experience. I would say most comedies are this way too. Laughter can be contagious (unless you find the movie very unfunnny and everyone else is laughing in which case you kind of feel like a dumbass (Rush Hour 3 or Bruno).

  16. There’s a reason Robert Rodriguez likes putting Audience Reaction tracks on his DVDs.

  17. I love the idea that 35mm brings something special to films but I have seen enough damaged prints to know that I would have rather watched a new digital restoration when the print is terrible. This is not always the case as some movies feel right when they are damaged but in most cases give me a clean digital print over a damaged one any day.

    As someone who mainly screens digital due to the costs involved with shipping 35mm I can say without a doubt I have seen some digital screenings that looked as good if not better than 35mm. What it really comes down to is having a good projectionist and a good system. If both are good you will not for one minute miss 35mm.

    I’m going to guess that the majority of people here who saw Hugo and really loved it, dug it because of the story, and what was on the screen. The fact that it was a digital copy probably did not lessen the impact of what was on the screen.

    For me it all comes down to nostalgia. Yes, 35mm prints can be beautiful but so can digital.

  18. I’m so glad Row Three is vehemently defending that Torque must only be seen in 35mm.

  19. At a recent meeting for the local community owned theatre the guy who runs a midnight series made a comment about not carrying on with doing screenings if 35mm were no long available as a format. I just think of how it would suck to no longer to be able to catch the movies he shows just because of being tied to a format when really the content and the level of audience enjoyment would really be the same.

  20. John, it is a tough issue, for sure. I certainly don’t think that if the choice is between digital and nothing at all we should choose nothing. Seeing something in a digital print is certainly better than never seeing it on a big screen at all. I more lament the mindset that truly believes that digital is better and that nothing is lost by leaving 35mm behind.

    Matt, I just double-checked, and Torque was indeed filmed on 35mm, so yep! :)

    And I just realized I forgot to reply to Nat’s #5 point. Yes. Everything ought to be preserved. /future archivist

  21. Totally agree, but I also feel that as technology progresses we will get digital that is better quality and can have the same “feeling” as a 35mm print. I’ll have to find the screen capture I found from the new Red Epic camera. It is truly stunning.

    I don’t think we should separate two of the points though of having a projectionist who is skilled and 35mm. They are not truly tied together. Having a good projectionist means the difference between a good screening and a bad screening no matter what format.

  22. What Camera did I Use…

    Make sure to click on the photo to show it at full resolution. Just imagine… 96 frames per second at this quality.

  23. At what point, though, are we just introducing technically unnecessary elements in order to preserve the “feel” of analog for older films (again, I do not care about projecting digital films like those shot on RED on 35mm – that’s just as artificial, if not more so, than projecting 35mm digitally). Like, adding a whirring noise to a digital projector to simulate the sound of film running through the gears. Or adding cigarette burns every 10 minutes or so where there would be a reel change if there were reels. That would bother me, too, but those are the things I miss when seeing a digital print projected. Those are the things that make digital feel less physical to me. I guess in one way I’m hanging onto imperfections, but imperfections are what makes things feel real to me. The scratchiness of vinyl. It’s like digital cameras now that simulate a shutter sound – there’s no reason in the world why my iPhone should make a shutter sound. It’s artificial. It’s not real. Real question: What can we do with digital projection that captures the physical reality of film without being merely a simulacrum?

  24. the more I think on this the more I realize the things we are losing are not tied to the format but to our (society’s) attitudes.

    1) Make everything easy and not need skill is complete bull. It takes skill to make movies and it takes skill to show them properly. Anyone can buy a camera and make a movie but not everyone can make it good. Anyone can set up a home theatre but not everyone can calibrate it properly this is 10 times true with a real theatre.

    2) We are assaulted constantly with entertainment and this creates a sense of lessening the true works of art. It just becomes another movie out of the 1000 that are being created and screened.

    3) Why should I check out an older movie when I can catch one of the newer ones that are readily available. My time is valuable and I shouldn’t waste it tracking down those movies that might be a hidden gem.

    4) Why can’t I use my phone, iTouch, email etc during a movie. My time is important.

    All of these are are something that we should try to be fighting and railing against. I would much rather see effort going into educating and encouraging people to try different movies, to spend some time thinking about them. We should be willing to pay the cost required to have a good projectionist and not a teenager making $8 an hour.

  25. John, I definitely agree with all of that. The sentimentalization of the format is tied in with a sense of value that we seem to be losing as a society. Focusing on the format is probably missing the point to some degree; I can’t help it completely, though, because I do love the format itself. But the sense of attachment to the format is at least partially driven by a feeling that digital devalues content. I don’t intellectually think that’s true, but on the other hand, I will pay $20-$25 for an album on vinyl, but I won’t pay more than $8 for the same album in MP3 form. EVEN THOUGH the MP3 form is much more flexible and useful to me. But it doesn’t feel as valuable. It doesn’t feel scarce or special.

  26. I guess, I don’t see the things you have listed as being part of the movie. I see them as being part of the film stock which has deteriorated. I also don’t really get anything from the digital movies that try to mimic film and how it deteriorates. I would much rather see the time and energy go into storytelling as opposed to making something look like it is old and beat up.

    The imperfections I want to see are the imperfections in peoples faces, in the environment around them and also the imperfections in the story.

    I can’t help but think of someone like Ti West. I just saw the InnKeepers and loved it. It had a classic old feel to it yet I don’t remember him once resorting to making it look like an 70s or 80s movie. His story was a throwback and showed a love of cinema. That is what I care about not the technical format.

  27. I’m certainly not talking about making new films look old. I have little interest in that either. I’m talking about allowing old films to look old (i.e., how they would’ve looked when originally projected).

    EDIT: Also, you’re right, they’re not part of the MOVIE. But they’re part of the theatrical EXPERIENCE. Those are separate but related things, and it’s the experience that’s being threatened, not the movie itself. The movie itself is independent of format, but I think the theatrical experience shifts slightly depending on many things, projection format being one of them.

  28. Jandy, I agree with most of what you’ve written. I have seen many old films projected digitally and it’s definitley not the same. The moment I sit down and watch a film, if it was not shot on 35mm I know, and it’s irritating as hell. I spend the whole time getting annoyed.

    Despite the fact that digital doesn’t look as good, the studios will not care as they know the majority won’t even notice that they’re paying for something inferior and that’s a real shame. As with most filmmakers, they will give their everything when it comes to making the film, whereas the studio will give the least amount that they can get away with.

    I just got back from watching ‘Rock Of Ages’. When I arrived the curtains were open and there was no music playing. When the trailers finally started, the screen was in the wrong ratio: not only that it kept changing. We started off with two black lines at the side of the screen, to letterbox ie: a square in the middle of the screen. Most of ‘American Werewolf in London’ had those black lines at the sides of the screen as well, instantly revealing we were watching either a file or blu-ray disc. Plus the clarity of the picture wasn’t as good. I knew it was digital – I didn’t need to be told. That’s just shoddy presentation, another complaint I have about recent theater exhibiton.

    Projectionists have been laid off and whatever chimpanzee is pressing the button on the hard drive, they don’t care anymore. The attitude seems to be “just stick the film on and don’t worry about how it looks”. I might add don’t bother to even open and close the curtains either.

    Professional projectionists are artists, bringing the print in taking it apart, sticking it back together, threading it through the projector. There is unquestionably something severely missing now….. And don’t get me started in the case of ‘ The Dark Crystal’. It was Blu-ray…and I had been told before the film started that it was 35mm film. Another small thing that no one’s mentioned is the wobble you get when the film goes through the projector gate, a very distracting thing if you’re used to it being there. It’s totally smooth with digital, not better. With the Dark Crystal, I was right up the front thinking it was 35mm to get the best experience – and I could see the bloody pixels, so got the worst experience. No way in hell is that better than the fine grain 35mm would’ve provided. Needless to say I got a refund when it was over. They tried to convince me “oh it’s so much better watching a shop bought $13 blu-ray disc compared to a $3,000 35mm film”. They’re right, it is – if you’re watching it on a 100 inch TV set, not a 50 foot cinema screen! Those discs were not designed for threatrical use they were designed for home use.

    Then there’s the other side to the agument: we are no longer watching a ‘film’, we’re watching a video file. So why are people still calling it a film? Much like when you said why does the phone have a shutter sound to it? Because it makes people happy to identify with it that way. The fomat is dying but for some bizarre reason people are still calling the format ‘film’ which it isn’t anymore.

    I will take the opportunity to see as many films as I can, before all the prints are destroyed. Will be seeing ‘The Shining’, ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’, ‘The Warriors’, ‘The Lost Boys’ and ‘Enter The Dragon’ all on film soon, so it’s nice to know that there are still cinemas that will show them, for the moment. I noticed that ‘Jaws’, another one which I’ve always wanted to see in a big auitorium is re-released, but it’s digital. I will pass until a print becomes available, otherwise I won’t bother. If it’s between watching classics digitally or 35mm I’ll watch 35mm or I won’t bother. I’m pretty adamant about that!

    • I definitely agree that film is wholly better than showing a Blu-ray at a theatre. And I do, as I said in the article, much prefer the warmness and tactility of film. That said, I do think it’s important to distinguish between a theatre just slapping on a Blu-ray and showing a 4K digital print – yes, it’s still digital and yes it’s still a computer file instead of a physical print, but 4K prints can look absolutely gorgeous. You can still tell them apart from film, but I’ve been pretty happy with some of the 4K prints I’ve seen.

      In further reading about this subject (especially the LA Weekly’s recent article), my main concern remains with archival preservation and rep cinema presentation. According to that article, it cost as much as 8x more to store digital archives than film – a surprising figure since most people (including me, when I wrote this article) that digital would be cheaper to store. But thanks to the possibility of hard drive failure and changing file formats, it actually takes more time and effort to store digital copies in a useful way than it does 35mm, which once preserved to a safety print, can pretty much just be left in a temperature-controlled vault and ignored.

      In any case, I think there are clear advantages to digital, and it CAN look very good, but the studios’ denial of the value of 35mm is detrimental to independent cinemas, rep cinema culture, and the history of film itself.

      • Kurt Halfyard

        Whatever source that Cineplex showed BLAZING SADDLES in one of their large screens on the weekend, it looked spectacular. I’m assuming it was BLURAY because the interpol warning came up after the credits, but I was surprised with how darn good it looked. Bright, warm, and the technicolor looked like technicolor.

        • Yeah, the TCM Festival showed mostly 4K restorations in the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre this year – I saw Vertigo and Chinatown there, and Jonathan saw those plus The Searchers. I can’t remember if we saw any other 4k films in that theatre this year, but those all looked gorgeous. I’ve seen Vertigo a dozen times at least in various formats (VHS, DVD, 35mm), and I’ve never seen the colors pop like that. I can’t really fault digital on how it LOOKS. I’m less concerned with the addition of digital prints to the mix and more concerned with the elimination of the option to rent 35mm if a theatre wants/needs to do so.

        • I know where Paul is coming from, but as Jandy said, with 4K you don’t get any pixelation or any of those digital distractions. So as long as it’s been kindly remastered and not overly scrubbed it can look just as intended. I watched the new 4K remastered version of Lawrence of Arabia in Cannes where the projectionist certainly wasn’t a ‘chimpanzee pressing a button on a hard drive’ and that was staggeringly good looking.

          Unfortunately film is much more difficult to preserve than digital stock, so it’s all going to be lost eventually whether we like it or not, so the important thing now is to ensure that as many of these old prints as possible are remastered properly.

          • The archivists interviewed in the LA Weekly article above suggest that it’s actually more costly and time-consuming to maintain a digital collection than a 35mm one. It seems counterintuitive, but once they start talking about hard drive failures and file format changes, it kind of makes sense.

          • I read a Wired article once that talked about the death of personal/family archives. Pictures are no longer in physical format and will therefore slowly degrade and eventually be lost. Unless someone takes the time to make sure all of their digital “stuff” is backed up on at least one extra hard drive, then every couple of years get another hard drive and backup everything again, eventually posterity will not enjoy the same nostalgia and archiving that we do today. Doesn’t seem that hard, but I bet there are tons of people out there everyday whose hard drive melts and they say, “damn! I wish I had all of those family photos from the last 5 years backed up somewhere else!”

            Or something like that.

          • All my photos are currently on an external drive and I also upload them all to Flickr. I also still make prints from time to time.

            A general rule of thumb is that if I drive is coming close to 5 years of age, it’s time to start thinking of backing up to a new one (of course, backing up sooner doesn’t hurt)

          • Kurt Halfyard

            I print photobooks. I even use Keepsy to print a goodly portion of my instagrams. I do not think that we need to archive the sheer volume of digital photos we take, but I do like to have hard copies of either ‘my best photos’ as well as a healthy sampling of the more casual stuff.

          • Once solid state takes over I think the lives of drives are going to increase massively though, but yeah I guess it’s still not perfect and backups are required.

            Like Kurt, I too like to make photo books of my favourite pics as I very rarely go back and look through my digital archive, but if I’ve got a pretty hardback book on my shelf I’ll pick it up every couple of months.

      • Actually, I should probably back up a little bit. I’m not well-versed enough on the technical issues to state so categorically the divide between Blu-ray and 4K, because I don’t actually know the resolutions in question. I’ve seen Blu-ray presentations and 4K presentations in theatres, and my feeling is that the 4Ks look better. But that could also be affected by the different theatres I was in. Blu-ray and DCP are definitely different media, though, so I would hope that a DCP hard drive direct from a studio would be better than a Blu-ray from Best Buy. Someone like Gamble who knows more than I do could distinguish them better, I’m sure, or blow my argument out of the water entirely.

        • Matt Gamble

          Even 2K is superior to Blu-ray, let alone 4K. That being said, Blu-ray still looks surprisingly good on the big screen.

          • Thanks, Matt. I realized as I wrote the earlier comment I actually didn’t know how Blu-ray and 2K/4K corresponded to each other. The 4K presentations I’ve seen looked essentially flawless. Glad to know I wasn’t just imagining that.

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