Late last year, Paramount Pictures stated that Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues would be the last movie to be shown on physical film and distributed to theaters in that format. With this in mind, it seems that digital has gained the upper hand. Or has it?
Through a series of interviews and visual aides, Keanu Reeves, James Cameron, David Lynch, and a host of others discuss how the digital form came about and where the film-making format is going, how strong digital cameras have become, the aesthetic of film, even how films are edited today.
Now, I’ve never shot a video on film. I have only used a Canon Powershot A2300HD because it’s portable, affordable, and can get the job done. I do however own some film for a Super 8 camera, never been opened. I also have several independent movie trailers from the early 2000’s on film. I would love to make at least one movie on film. I realize how scarce this material is, regardless of era and I will not throw it away. There is a physical and tangible quality of film that you can’t get with digital. With film, you can touch and feel the weight of the medium; with digital, the lightweight manner and the ease of replication makes it more impersonal.
Take A Trip to the Moon. I was fortunate to see this on both film and digital. When I saw the digital version, I was aware that it was just a digital version and I can access it anywhere at any time I want. With the film print, I was ecstatic that I was within the same room as the print and that this would most likely be the only time in my life to do that. You can’t get that with digital.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate what can be done with digital. It’s immediate and is limited in only the size of the memory card, the battery charge, and the vision of the artist. But, like everything else, it degrades. You can see the artifacts, the pixels, or a lot worse depending on the codec used as well as the resolution used. Because of that, it can disrupt the viewing experience to the point where you give up trying to watch and buy another copy if available.
I’ve noticed, looking at my film diary with DayOne, that when I notate what I watch I distinguish between print and copy. I use “print” when I watch something on film or on tape because of variable the quality can be; “copy” is when I watch something online or a DVD. I guess it’s a personal preference of mine, like using the word “film” to describe the action of what you are doing with a camera in a public space instead of “shoot.”
Martin Scorcese, about an hour into the film, mentions that he’s not sure if young people today believe what they see on the screen. I’m in the same boat with him. I point to 2001 as an example of special effects and suspension of belief. I’ve watched that film many a time and even though I know how the effects were done, it still impresses me that they were done before the use of CGI. I’m not disregarding all of the effort that is put into CGI and related fields but it is becoming more and more difficult to surprise me. There are some exceptions, like Gravity, but when I see something heavily involved with CGI, I perceive a flatter image and my mind shuts off.
I believe that’s why I haven’t been to the theater as often as everyone else I know of. Besides the question of money, it’s about quality of content. So far, I only go to the theater when I want to see something truly amazing. Months later, I’ll go and borrow a DVD copy of a film but I know the experience is vastly different. People assume that because I am a film major that I have seen everything that’s currently playing. It’s not true; in fact, I’ve probably have seen more films that I enjoy that were made before I was born than what I have seen since then. It’s a question that I’m still trying to work out and don’t have the words for yet.
I strongly recommend this for any film buff and historian. If there is any time to be involved in the history of film, this is now.