Theo Kalomirakis: Is Film Dead?
But as I wrote recently, digital is a mixed blessing. Try to see a movie projected decently in digital in a commercial theater, and you are out of luck. The experience can range from baffling to infuriating. Most theater exhibitors refuse to invest in decent projectors, and careless projectionists add insult to injury.
But watching a movie on a freshly-minted 35mm print isn’t always better. Actually, it can be worse. Since new movies open simultaneously in 4,000 or more theaters, the prints they get from the studios are usually many generations removed from the original camera negative. As a result, the picture quality is often so grainy and coarse that it makes you wish you had waited to catch the movie on Blu-ray instead.
Two of our contributors, John Siacca and Andrew Robinson, commented recently on the documentary Side by Side, which deals with film versus digital. Film has remained unchanged since its invention more than a hundred years but it is now challenged by digital cinematography.
Being so interested in the subject, I was waiting for the right opportunity to catch the documentary, and got around to it yesterday. Side by Side paints a rather gloomy picture of film’s future. But, even though it’s informative about the old and the new technologies, I was rather disappointed by how “balanced” it tries to make its point of view.
Keanu Reeves interviews a number of film directors and cinematographers with contrasting opinions. Some of them praise digital technology and are ready to write film’s obituary. Others have a problem with the built-in obsolescence of the various digital formats and wax rhapsodic about film’s permanence. Predictably, James Cameron, George Lucas, and Steven Soderbergh are pro-digital, while Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, and a number of cinematographers are defenders of celluloid’s supremacy.
I don’t know what I expected but I certainly missed a more passionate point of view on the subject—whether a pro-film or pro-digital one. The director, Christopher Kenneally, tries to strike the right balance between the two opposing views; but I would have preferred if he had allowed us to see what is his choice.
Personally, I remain a believer in the future of digital technology. Thirty years ago, who could have predicted a future where you could pull off the shelf a copy of Lawrence of Arabia on Blu-ray, pop it in the player, and instantly experience the splendor of David Lean’s visuals captured by Freddie Young’s breathtaking cinematography. The digital revolution has made it possible for us to indulge in our passion for movies with instantly gratifying results. What other aspects of our rushed, stressed-out lives can make a similar claim?