Global Recession Saves 35mm
Tradition dictates that this blog publish an end-of-year overview looking back on distribution trends and chronicling the fate of film exhibition. Compared to the past two years, we saw fewer signal events in 2013—no headline-grabbing bankruptcies, less saber-rattling ‘do it or die’ announcements from the studios, fewer (or, at least, less hysterical) media stories chronicling the fate of struggling, straggling mom ‘n’ pop operations. Generally speaking, 2013 was the year that digital cinema became so normalized as to be unremarkable.
With the wide-scale digital conversion of first-run movie exhibition accepted as a fait accompli, the belligerence and defiance have cooled considerably. Back in 2011, studios strongly suggested that 35mm prints would be unavailable after 2013. The message was clear: gobble up the carrot of 3D surcharges and labor-saving automation now, before we bring out the stick of absolutely refusing to accommodate your out-moded film equipment. This warning did its job: by the end of 2013, so many theaters had converted that threats as such were less necessary. The threats were also less credible: Kodak, newly emerged from bankruptcy, reports that the studios have contracted for raw film stock through at least 2015. Continue reading
Photo courtesy Lazara Stathes
Several of the shorts in our Wladyslaw Starewicz program (Screening Sunday 11/2 at 7pm at Cinema Borealis) are coming from film collector and animation historian Tommy Stathes. We exchanged a few questions with Tommy by e-mail about some of his ongoing projects and his role in keeping film alive.
For more information, visit Cartoons on Film & the Bray Animation Project
JA: What came first, your interest in film collecting or your interest in animation? How did you first get involved with both?
TS: I was definitely deeply interested in animation as a very young child, well before the moment when I understood that I could collect anything. Growing up in the early 90s, I was seeing most classic animation by way of VHS tapes given to me as gifts by older family members, and less occasionally, on television. As for why I gravitated toward animation so much at such a young age, I’ll never know, although it’s generally accepted that most infants, toddlers and older children simply love cartoons. My fascination and urge to see more and more and eventually learn about their history was the unusual aspect. Continue reading
Since avant-garde movies first attracted a substantial audience in America under the auspices of indecency and subversion of established ideas about politics, art, society, and especially sexuality, many don’t expect that such films can also be exceedingly gentle, even reverential towards their subjects. Continue reading
The emulsion is on the wall, so to speak.
Film is finished as a mainstream exhibition format after more than a century. Roger Ebert, a long-time video projection skeptic, proclaimed as much a little over a week ago.
One can see where he’s coming from. High-end digital projectors have overtaken 35mm in the multiplexes. Kodak shares briefly flirted with penny stock status. The only good news coming from the company lately was, ironically, the leasing of laser projection patents to IMAX, which will shortly replace its last remaining 70mm installations with digital machines.
As film’s share of the market shrinks, there will be increasing pressure to discontinue the format altogether. The studios would rather it had been discontinued yesterday.
At first glance, digital represents a clear cost-saving. No more laboratories, no more prints, no more warehouses, no more trucks—a frictionless distribution infrastructure without the grease and rust. The future is shiny: hard drives, servers, eventually satellite transmission without any physical medium whatsoever. The next time some fussy filmmaker is haggling over final cut a week before release, there won’t be any rush orders at Technicolor—4,000 prints by Wednesday. The newly conformed digital intermediate can be uploaded by supper. Continue reading
By Becca Hall & Kyle Westphal
Twenty years ago, or even ten, the place of home movies within film history and film culture was contested and precarious. Thinking about them was uncomfortable. You remembered posing for the camera, mom rushing into the shot to fix your hair, dad barking directions, your sister rolling her eyes while her camera-less friends enjoyed a real vacation. Even the archivist’s preservation instincts butted up against memories of interminable reels of last summer in Sedona and being held hostage in the den as dad recounted each detail to any passing interloper. Is it so strange that documents of such profound embarrassment and coercion came late to respectability? (At the box office a few weeks ago, a man was looking at the Home Movie Day poster we had on display. “Oh, are you going to come? Do you have any home movies?” His reply: “Looking at those things is always so sad…”)
Yet these films—posed, planned, rehearsed, fussed over, and haphazard nevertheless—often say and show a great deal more than their makers intended. They spur us to recognize the highly social character of our relationships and routines (our whole lives, really) in a distinctive way.
With Home Movie Day fast approaching, it’s easy to take the present stature of these films (itself very much a product of HMD’s laudable successes) for granted. In their heyday, home movie makers reinforced each other’s activities with an array of periodicals and hobbyist clubs–but outside of the insulation of enthusiasm, their type became well known and a frequent target for satire. An early example: in 1939, Robert Benchley made a short for M-G-M, Home Movies, that promised tips for the amateur. As Benchley’s audience falls asleep or gets up to make a telephone call, the cinematographer-editor-projectionist-narrator goes on about using red filters and attributing out-of-focus shots to bad lenses. Continue reading
We think Railroaded! is a very good film by a great director (Anthony Mann, who would claim the cinematic West like nobody else in the 1950s, elevating James Stewart to Shakespearean proportions in films like Winchester ’73 while maintaining the stark photography and relentless pulp of the noirs he made in the late 1940s) – but before it was saved by the auteur theory it was – and still is – at heart a Poverty Row flick, a cheap movie made by a broke studio looking to make a profit.
Which doesn’t diminish the film.
Perhaps the most impressive quality of B pictures was their formal and commercial malleability, present both in the infamously cheap way they were produced (as the old saying goes, in a B movie the sets shake when an actor slams a door), and in the ways they were exhibited – and re-exhibited, and re-re-exhibited. These qualities, originally products of commercial necessity, are what make these films worth watching now. Continue reading