Original photo by Gizmodo. Photo manipulation: Eren Gulfidan
In today's world, where online film distribution is getting more and more accessible, can digital and film co-exist?
The names Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott should be extremely familiar to all those NYTimes readers and must ring a bell for all the cinephiles in the world. For those who are not familiar with the names, Dargis and Scott share the most coveted "Chief Film Critic" seat at the New York Times. Moviegoers from all over the world listen to the words of these two critics before they decide whether they should see that most awaited new release or not. But last week, Dargis and Scott sat down to discuss the much debated question, "Is Film Dead?" and, I'm afraid, left the question unanswered once again. Nevertheless, it was an interesting discussion that raised some important questions.
Last week, I ended my blog, Online Film Distribution - An Introduction, with the following sentence: "Instead of worrying too much about the feud between film and digital, it’s time to tell our stories, and online film distribution makes this possible. All you need is a computer, Internet, and to find the upload button." Today, I realize that I published this blog a day after Dargis and Scott's article. The realization that I was thinking about the endless fight between film and digital at the same time that these critics voiced their opinions about the subject made me pleasantly surprised. I must be thinking about the right questions, I thought to myself.
In the discussion held between Dargis and Scott, I kept getting the impression that Dargis tended to somewhat dismiss digital and side with film, while Scott gave digital the benefit of the doubt, listing several positive attributes this medium has. The question of whether film is dying or not came to light once again thanks to the fact that master filmmaker, P.T. Anderson, shot his new film The Master on 70mm film. Films previously shot in this format include Lawrence of Arabia, West Side Story, and Cleopatra to name a few. The two last films shot on 70mm before The Master had the priviledge was The Samsara (2011) directed by Ron Fricke, which was output to digital, and Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996), the four-hour epic that I can watch over and over again, just because Kenneth Branagh was born to play Hamlet, and I've had a crush on him since I was 12.
During one of his arguments, A.O. Scott (as he plays devil's advocate) compares film to painting and says, "Throughout history artists have used whatever tools served their purposes and have adapted new technologies to their own creative ends. The history of painting, as the art critic James Elkins suggests in his book 'What Painting Is,' is in part a history of the changing chemical composition of paint. It does not take a determinist to point out that artistic innovations in cinema often have a technological component. It takes nothing away from the genius of Gregg Toland, the cinematographer on “Citizen Kane,” to note that the astonishing deep-focus compositions in that film were made possible by new lenses. And the arrival of relatively lightweight, shoulder-mounted cameras in the late 1950s made it possible for cinéma vérité documentarians and New Wave auteurs to capture the immediacy of life on the fly." Of course, using different lenses on a film camera is different from shooting on a completely different medium. The image still moves, but the composition and how this movement happens is completely different in film vs. digital. Nevertheless, it is a change that made people's lives easier, and I think both critics admit to that. And just like Godard and Truffaut "captured the immediacy of life on the fly" and made Nouvelle Vague my favorite cinematic wave ever, perhaps the filmmakers (or pixelmakers?) of the 21st century will capture other exciting moments and change the way we document our lives and emotions.
Dargis argues back, saying, "We’re not talking about the disappearance of one material — oil, watercolor, acrylic or gouache — we’re talking about deep ontological and phenomenological shifts that are transforming a medium. You can create a picture with oil paint or watercolor. For most of their history, by contrast, movies were only made from photographic film strips (originally celluloid) that mechanically ran through a camera, were chemically processed and made into film prints that were projected in theaters in front of audiences solely at the discretion of the distributors (and exhibitors)." And with this, the word that gets stuck in my head is, of course, disappearance. I ask myself, "Does film have to disappear in order for digital to have its moment? Is digital's moment forever, or can film and digital co-exist?"
I'd like to think so. Throughout the discussion, Scott and Dargis pose many interesting question about "film vs. digital" and list the pros and cons of each medium. "An interesting philosophical question is whether, or to what extent, it will be the same art form," says Scott. But, perhaps a more applicable and relavant one is the following, "Can film and digital live happily ever after?" Or does one have to cease to exist for the other one to reign? While studios and well-established filmmakers may have the luxury to choose between film and digital, based on their preference of look, feel, and quality, most, if not all, newcomers can't afford to buy film. That said, I have been witnessing the return of film, especially in short films and music videos by filmmakers today. Here's one of my latest favorites by young director, Emily Kai Bock. It's a music video for Kool Music's Running Back to Everyone.
As I wrap up here, I'd like to think that film and digital can co-exist, and easy access to digital should not hinder filmmakers from going out and shooting their work on film if they can afford it. There's of course always the question of what will happen to a movie shot on film during distribution. If the output is digital, how does the experience of watching it differ from projecting the film itself? All questions to consider as we learn to love digital and keep making our movies.
Till next time,