Joy of Celluloid

Filmmaking Heavyweights share undying love for film

( via The Guardian, UK )

Oscar Nominee Cinematographer Roger Deakins recently came out loud and clear on his preference to shoot films with digital cameras for future projects, placing him amongst a host of filmmaking luminaries making the jump. As the film industry rolls with digital-imaging gear, several Hollywood  heavies rally behind their trusted, tried and true companion, Celluloid.

A wonderful collection of reflections from directors Steve Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Jean Luc-Godard, cinematographer Dick Pope ( The Illusionist ),  and even actor Keanu Reeves share a tribute to celluloid as the choice for filmmaking endeavors. Their collective musings prove poetic and eloquent, sharing concerns of a world making pictures without film, as we know it. Below, I’ve summarized their recollections and thoughts (from the original article) for brevity; the full monty can be found at The Guardian, UK.

Insightful, timely and a great read. What more to ask for?

Steven Spielberg, Director

‘… My favorite and preferred step between imagination and image is a strip of photochemistry that can be held, twisted, folded, looked at with the naked eye, or projected on to a surface for others to see. It has a scent and it is imperfect. If you get too close to the moving image, it’s like impressionist art. And if you stand back, it can be utterly photorealistic. You can watch the grain, which I like to think of as the visible, erratic molecules of a new creative language. After all, this “stuff” of dreams is mankind’s most original medium, and dates back to 1895. Today, its years are numbered, but I will remain loyal to this analogue  art form until the last lab closes.”

Martin Scorsese, Producer/ Director/ Writer

“… The cinema began with a passionate, physical relationship between celluloid and the artists and craftsmen and technicians who handled it, manipulated it, and came to know it the way a lover comes to know every inch of the body of the beloved. No matter where the cinema goes, we cannot afford to lose sight of its beginning?”

Dick Pope, Cinematographer

“Film? 1974, 27 years old, first break as a cameraman, major TV documentary, stone age tribe, expedition, only three of us, director, camera, sound, no assistants, incredibly remote, hauling  500 kg of gear across world, air, road, sea, river, hike deep into rainforest, scorching heat, intense humidity. 16mm, 200 x 400 ft rolls, stored in coolest place, every foot used, no waste, Eclair camera, three magazines. Arms in black changing bag, open can, lift out, peel off tape, load mag, close lid, pull out arm, unzip bag, finish lacing, snap mag on camera, lift on to shoulder, turn over, shoot! Is it there, did we get it? Will it be any good? No way of knowing, just wait, see and shoot… Later in the darkroom’s red glow, printing my stills, black-and-white portraits of the tribe conjure up and materialise in the tray, this wondrous photochemical reaction of liquid solution, emulsion, celluloid, silver grains, gelatin and again the very same magic. It’s film.

Keanu Reeves, Actor

“… The biggest difference I have found when working photo-chemically versus digitally on motion pictures is the length of time the takes can last. Broadly, a 1,000 ft roll of 35mm film lasts around nine-and-a-half minutes before running out, while a digital tape or recording card or hard drive can last from 40 minutes to over an hour and a half. This translates to a very different rhythm on the floor; the pressure to “cut” to save film is alleviated.

Archiving digital images is a technological dilemma. The idea of that discovered shoebox of pictures, or wedding album, will not exist digitally in your camera or on your computer or in a “cloud”: you should print them. I often feel a photochemical image contains the mass of the subject and dimension; a digital image often feels as if it is mass-less. This could be nostalgia or simply how I learned to see. Others will not have this learning: they will probably never experience a photochemical image. Is this loss a tragedy, a revolution, an evolution? What have we lost, and what have we gained?”

Mitch Epstein, Photographer

“… My greatest fear is that as a discarded medium and corporate outcast, analogue will no longer be essential to visual education. Many young people will not know the difference between hand and button, they will only know the button; and their use of technology will be constricted by their ignorance of hand work. They will not perceive the qualities of optical photography because their eyes will only know digital imagery.”

Heather Stewart, Programme Director- British Film Institute

“… Shooting digitally, David Fincher and Jeff Cronenweth in The Social Network (2010) created a claustrophobic world of low-lit interiors and shallow depth of focus, expressive of characters at ease with computers, not people. In Alexander Sokurov’s masterpiece, Russian Ark (2002), digital allowed him the artistic freedom to shoot his feature in a single shot. In Collateral (2004), Michael Mann and Dion Beebe created a digital world: modern, urban, blue-lit, nightmarish. Compelling works of art can be digital. But the qualities are not those of film. Digital can be fatiguing to watch (sometimes nauseating), as dead as mutton when not in the hands of a skilled director of photography.

Technological change brings gains and losses. I look forward to those who can transform digits into works of art, and to those who still use film in all its richness.”

As for me, I’d love to hear your thoughts on working with film-  in the shadow of the Digital wave of filmmaking. What say ye?


The Guardian, UK

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