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Film is Dead, or So We've Heard. Then Again, We've Also Heard of Zombies

11.24.12 @ 7:14PM Tags : , ,

We’re all, I’m sure, very familiar with the phrase “Film is Dead” and the like by this point. And that very well seems to be true, because of a perfect storm of emergent technologies — between the high-quality digital acquisition now possible and the the distribution possibilities offered by the internet, celluloid may finally be uttering its climactic guttural death-rattle. What some of us (including myself) may not think about as much, though, is how many times cinema itself has supposedly been finished in the past. An article by The Village Voice highlights how many times over each decade since its inception film has been declared deceased, and why.

Fittingly, the subtitle of the article is “The sky keeps falling!” Due to the sheepish, maybe tongue-in-cheek, maybe more-clever-than-thou style the article is written in (welcome to The Village Voice), it’s actually kind of hard to tell whether we’re looking down on all those who have historically voiced the death knell or now (finally, and accurately) voicing it ourselves. After all, if we’re going by history, all the cries of “it’s dead” were proven pretty spectacularly wrong. In the ’30s, the advent of sound may have incited riots, the ’50s saw the onset of the alleged “worst era in the history of art,” the ’60s saw the birth of Michael Bay (a watershed moment, in my opinion), the 80s proliferation of home media threatened to draw viewers away from theaters and turn ‘movie-goers’ into ‘movie-renters,’ and the 1990s elicited this response:

Cinema’s 100 years seem to have the shape of a life cycle: an inevitable birth, the steady accumulation of glories and the onset in the last decade of an ignominious, irreversible decline.

If history’s taught us anything, it might be that kicking the bucket may not be the final word, to mix metaphors pretty badly. Granted, and it’s worth restating, that filmmaking (and totally so, from back to front) has never been so democratized or affordable. If film was ever truly ousted or murdered by a particular era, that era is surely now. On the other hand, and it might be a little too soon to say for sure, but I think its pretty likely some kind of critical mass in creatives will see a major resurgence to celluloid and some kind of traditional filmmaking/movie-going model at some point. Or I’m totally wrong and everyone (particularly, the theaters themselves) will switch to digital and never go back, and only a fringe few will ever care to even consider shooting on film again.

What’s your interpretation of this state of affairs? Do you think I’m totally off the mark, or do you think a future film renaissance is somewhere in our future? What do you think of what this article tells us?

Link: A Short History of Cinema’s Long Passing — The Village Voice

[via FilmmakerIQ]

[Image Courtesy of Bart Everson on Flickr]


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  • Austin Mace on 11.24.12 @ 7:25PM

    Kind of a side note but Dave, what kind of video do you do? I tried Googling you and nothing came up!

    • Dave Kendricken on 11.26.12 @ 1:19AM

      My IMDb lists some of the more major things I’ve worked on, most of the other things I’ve done have been made private for reel-only purposes or are otherwise unavailable because they aren’t yet ready for viewing. Don’t worry though, you’ll see things from me soon :)

  • Cinema is dead, long live cinema

  • Brian Brookshire on 11.24.12 @ 8:04PM

    I thought the Village Voice was Dead!

  • I’m tired of the amount of ‘film is dead’ sh*t going on. Everything you use is just a medium to convey what you want to to others, be it film or digital. Film has survived so many ‘potential deaths’. Compare film stocks now and the ones from 10 years ago, film has advanced a long way. I shoot digital in commercials for obvious reasons (money, time) but I still strive to push for film whenever I can. I shoot film photographically in all formats and digital too in all formats.

    If anything, cinematographers/filmmakers should learn both film and digital. Knowing film or digital only is not gonna get you very far honestly. Deakins, Okada, Lubezki are all well versed in both formats. 16mm gave a voice to independent filmmakers for a long time and is now continued in the form of digital.

    Film still has its place and it will live on along side digital. So please, stop saying film is dead.

    • no no, film isn`t dead, 100% of movies for cinema and tv is shot on 65mm, the cheaper ones on 35mm and the no budget guys use 16mm, and don`t forget the amateur folks shooting super 8…isn`t it great living in the 1950`s?

  • Ironically, because film is the best proven long term archival medium, all the stuff that is shot digitally that is deemed worth preserving will be transferred to it.

    Until they start encoding movies to DNA sequences, that is…

    • Austin Mace on 11.24.12 @ 9:21PM

      Really? A couple of years ago by some off-chance I had the pleasure of meeting the wife of the director of the Film side of the National Archives in an airport in Spain and she said that they transfer everything to hard drives… Hmmm

      • From the ‘IPI Storage Guide for Acetate Film’:

        “The Time Contours show the extreme range of life
        expectancies that are possible with acetate film. They
        range from very short (only one year at 130°F, 50%
        RH) to very long (more than 1000 years at 30°F, 50%
        RH). Even longer life expectancies are possible at still
        lower temperatures, but time periods of more than ten
        centuries seem a bit unreal to us —even though many
        objects survive that are three or four millennia old.”

        So if you treat film correctly, it’ll last potentially thousands of years. To view the images, you need only shine light though it.

        Hard drives, not so much.

        • I also was told at film school everything gets stored of film, but I have to wonder with storage being as cheap as it is and the advanced methods of redundancy used in places like banks I can’t see how digital archiving is not feasible.

          At least we are not using tape anymore!

          • Digital archiving is absolutely feasible in that it can be done, but there are more factors at play than those which simply concern storage.
            As deanareeno posted, the life span of film can be immense, while every digital archival medium has a significantly shorter shelf life. CD-based media degrades after about 10 years under regular circumstances, hard disk drives use magnetized platters which can become un-magnetized over time (20+ years) and contain electric motors which can seize up after long periods of inaction, etc. Another concern has to do with file encoding/containers: in which format do you store the video? What if that format becomes irrelevant or unviable in a decade or so? It would at least have to be a lossless video format, and there are few, if any, standardized options.

        • Thyl Engelhardt on 11.26.12 @ 3:07AM

          Maybe, with way more light?

  • One thing of note. Didn’t Kodak stop making film? Now, I know they are not the only brand. But that’s one less manufacturer and a well liked film stock that’s gone. Do they have hordes of film reels stored somewhere?

  • Film is near death. There is no disputing that anymore. Kodak is bankrupt, and whomever takes over the reigns at Kodak most likely will see the extremely slim profit margins of the film division and eliminate the motion picture film division entirely, or sell off the film patents. Fujifilm isn’t making motion picture film anymore. ALL of the major manufacturers have ceased film camera production. So film isn’t dead, it’s just resting, to paraphrase a parrot sketch.

  • While i appreciate the fundamental arguments and points made by the village voice, they are in a way null, the reason i say that is because for almost the first time, everyday people can actually own a decent DSLR or cinema camera without selling an “arm and leg”. In the past this was not possible and its only going to get more affordable with the release of BMCC possible future cameras.

    if it aint dead then its on life support

  • Just to give perspective me and some crew members tried to rent a few years back from one of the few major Rental houses at the time in MIAMI FLORIDA, basically the go to place for FILM CAMERAS, it was around the peak time of 7d indi flicks. Not only did we have budget to get fim and film camera rentals, but what was funny , was that the sales rep /employee not only talked us out of getting film but persueded us to do digital.

    Now here is a rental house that sees the new light and digital world and if anything they should be trying to squeeze every penny out of old film cameras before inevitable but still he chose not too, Film is damn near gone and in my opinion is in the state for using on as “artisitc experiment ” purposes.

  • Film is going to be used primarily for archiving, instead of film making, so in a way it won’t die, but it its primary use will shift.

  • hilarious. kodak went into insolvency because of the combined declined usage of analog photography and motion picture stocks, fuji even directly terminates it`s production, agfa, orwo and lots of other companies stopped even earlier and these people are comparing the slight bumps that happened for cinema when other entertainment media came up over the last century. it`s like saying: cathode ray tubes don`t die out because the internet didn`t kill tv…which is wrong in any way thinkable…

  • Mark Morris on 11.25.12 @ 12:06PM

    After seeing Skyfall’s washed out colours its pretty clear digital still has a long way to go on how it renders colour. Thats why Sony are putting new technolgy into the F65 F55 to better implement the CFA. Films process just makes images more beautiful. I did a test a while back with an EX1 and footage shot on an old 16mm Arri BL try as I might in post I couldn’t get the HD footage to the same or even similar colour rendition In order to do so you would have to correct each item in every frame individually which I dont think will be possible for many years.
    Some of the grainier day images were colour corrected from Tungsten film,
    Any true DP if they have any sense and for future proofing will shoot on film if they can at least until digital can truly catch up. Personally I think people will watch films shot on digital and know something looks worse but not understand what it is and in the end will lead to the demise of cinemas altogther. Those shooting on digital today will kick themselves when digital truly comes of age and those who shot on film can transfer to future digital technology that gives more resolution and better colour rendition

    • I don’t think anyone expects the EX1 to have the same quality of color reproduction as film. As for Skyfall, it may not have been my favorite in terms of color but “washed out” definitely isn’t how I’d describe it.

      Also, the “you’d need to color correct every frame individually” doesn’t really make sense – after all, if you can do that, it means that enough information IS there. And if that’s the case, as long as your digital files store the exposure, aperture, ISO etc. that means that, at least in theory, there’s an algorithm that could do the necessary steps for each frame automatically.

    • I’ve seen plenty colorful and damn near filmic movies shot on Alexa, it’s so obviously the “washed-out” grade of Skyfall that you have hard time with.

      • If it looks a certain way, it’s because Mr. Deakins wanted it that way. The overall cinematography of the film was pretty amazing. It’s a shame he hasn’t won an Oscar. As for film, I watched The Master on 70mm and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had watching a film. My words would do the presentation no justice. If you had a chance to watch it, then you know what I mean.

  • Film isn’t dead as long as it’s being manufactured, exposed, developed, as long as people like PTA, Nolan and Pfister sticking to it…

    but the times, they are a-changin’

    • I fear Nolan and PTA don`t generate enough revenue for Kodak, a complete lab, well maintained film camera rental equipment and all those associated skilled people…similar issues with super8 force people to send their film to those few labs all over the world…

      • Film isn’t dead. People like PTA, Nolan, Pfister, are just the tip of the iceberg. There are companies that make just commercials that still only used film. I know directors that shoot more film on music videos than some indie projects. Film won’t die because it is still a better product then digital. The worse case is that film because the medium of hard copy storage for films.

        • There is a lower limit which makes it unfeasible to continue production of any given thing – this limit already has been reached because otherwise Fuji wouldn`t stop producing shooting stocks. Both, Kodak and Fuji, just like all those vendors of peripheral equipment like scanners, film recorders etc. are concentrating on archival. And there`s another issue: This is the first time ever where not a single 35 or 16mm camera is actively developed and produced anymore, that means we won`t ever see a new film camera or any innovation in this area again.

  • We are getting to the point now where digital is getting pretty comparable to film and unfortunately in the not to distant future digital will be seen as superior product and that will put the nail in the coffin.

    Although I love to flexibility and look of film. There are some things that suck. Aside from cost:

    Film is pretty inefficient, you only get so long in each can and there is allot of wasted tails.

    Longer turnaround (try getting something developed and telecined in my town when there is a big production happening).

    From a ethical perspective I’m trying to stop using products derived from things I couldn’t or wouldn’t kill myself.

    I just went through film school and though there was much love for film but everyone was shooting digital because of financial and accessibility reasons and when it comes down to it these are the film makers of tomorrow.

  • To paraphrase the great Pete Townshend:

    “Film is dead” they say

  • i thought skyfall looked beautiful. my local theatre converted to 4k and the colors looked great! if you think otherwise, try another theatre…yours probably isnt operating the projector correctly

    • Daniel Mimura on 12.3.12 @ 12:40PM

      Yup. I saw it in 4k…but the idiot theater (the Thorton Place Regal in Seattle…yes, i’m publicly shaming them…I’ve talked to managers about this before) leaves the polarizer on on the lenses for 3D, meaning that the image is underexposed b/c 1 1/2 stops (I believe), making it dimmer and losing vibrancy in the colors.

      A friend who I saw it with had just seen it the week before in Real IMAX™ had said how incredibly worse it looked as he and I saw it. I had only gone to the theater b/c someone I know who works there had promised me they started removing it each time…it takes like 3 minutes—removing the 2 lenses to install one lens takes like an hour…technically, it won’t be as sharp since you have two identical images (since it’s not 3D) shining through two different lenses onto the same screen, but at least it will be just as bright. Projection errors are a huge problem, and I wouldn’t say the Alexa is inferior just based on a seeing one movie in a particular theater.

  • @ alex

    ethically, film is much less dangerous than film. we dont see this too often in the usa, but the byproducts of sensor and computer chip manufacture are far more toxic to the individual and environment. check out edward burtinksys “manufactured landscapes” documentary.

  • All of the prior examples of people predicting film’s demise were oriented towards the consumption and industry side of the equation. They were focusing on elements like competition from alternative media and artistic pollution of the content. Modernly, however, when people speak of film as dying, more often than not they are referring to “film” as a physical recording medium as opposed to the viability of the motion picture industry.

  • Mark Morris on 11.26.12 @ 3:55AM

    If you accept film and digital both have different looks and why wouldn’t you when even Roger Deakins himself says so. He also says he prefers the look of digital. So clearly the two look different The argument that many make that digital looks the same/better/can be made to look like is just flawed unless you think professionals have got it wrong. There are many who own nice digital cameras who want their camera to be better than film but it doesn’t make it right.
    The first rule of the debate is that film and digital are not the same and have different looks so therefore at the very least are different tools in the toolbox.
    My point is WHY does film look different they both capture light one organically and one electronically. Sony think they have the answer and pushing towards development of the CFA So if a big player like Sony can see how things can be improved then they know digital is not the same level as film.
    I know instantly the differnce between something shot on film or something shot on digital and I much prefer film. I do appreciate and understand though the convenience of digital Film is a lot of waiting and work. But then there is a difference between painting with crayons and oil A difference between a racing car and a hatchback. and for most of us film is just unnafordable and lenghty. Of course the two can co exist. Of course there will be great films made on digital BUT the Gold standard is still 35mm film and is still not beaten in terms of its outstanding colour and defination. Maybe the Sony F65 and F55 might make a dent with their new CFA’s I hope so. I have a feeling though more has to be done in digital development before film can be matched. If I was a hollywood DP right now I would be using film for sure.

    • Give it a rest. Your desire for things to be one way doesn’t make it true, and your “crayon” analogy is a cheap exaggeration given all of the digital options we have today. If film is still a working preference for anyone I would encourage them to continue using it by all means, but at this point, at least for mere mortals (I realize you are an exception), it is quite difficult to tell the difference between high end digital capture and film in a finished picture. This is true at least enough so that this entire debate over format should be waning by now and people can continue to focus on aspects of cinematography and moviemaking that actually matter.

      • Mark Morris on 11.26.12 @ 4:34PM

        I only care about image quality. I know digital is still not on par with film and tried to reason why. Your comments on the other hand to give it a rest and that state what you see is true is typical of the mindless digitial is better caveman argument. Unless you have anything to back up what your saying why dont you give it a rest. Unfortuneatly though your kind never do.

      • jime, very good point. this constant “film ain`t dead” and “another tool in the palette” is getting tiring. the average movie goer doesn`t see these differences nor can most professionals. but ALL professionals see the much more cumbersome aspects when shooting on film, especially the film producers. actually digital IS the new film, period…

        • and the “palette” analogy is getting embarrassing because of a different thing, too – it`s like saying that email is just another tool in the palette of communication, just like a telegram, a fax or some printed snail mail (I am not talking about handwritten letters, just those plain texts for information or bureaucratic purposes) and some moron pretends it makes a difference to the information (for example: “obama is president again”) if I send the text through any of the above mentioned ways.

        • Mark Morris on 11.26.12 @ 6:13PM

          Another tool in the Palette? As I said typical of the mindless caveman argument.that goes on and on and on demeaning belittling Its kinda good really because it proves you have run out of any coherent argument and have to make sweeping statements. Film is dead cos you say so. Great debate I dont think.

          • Oh don`t start crying because not everyone looks at film like it`s the holy grail and most people don`t get aroused because of the nearly invisible differences between film and digital. But hey, if the world is a flat disk to you, then just don`t get near the edge. Case closed, I`m not reading whatever you`ll write from now.

          • Mark Morris on 11.27.12 @ 6:08PM

            Well actually Mariano of you read my post I dont like film very much and I would rather work with digital for the easier workflow and the fact I can only afford digitial I dont want to wait weeks for the film to be developed then maybe months for it to be scanned. But you know even though I owned an EX1 and now a GH2 I know for a fact my arri BL gives a better picture then either of them. I also know that I dont like this thats why I try an lobby camera manufacturers to do something about their crappy CFA’s they have on the large sensor cameras including the Alexa. I’m trying to do something about it get them to up their game. What are you doing? Your’re in denial You have a digital camera and its better than 35mm film cos you say so and try to pigeon hole me as a die hard film fanatic who needs to change with the times.. Thats pathetic.
            It’s not my fault 35mm is way ahead of digital in the way it renders colours. I would love to have a digital camera that beats that But so far there isnt even a high end one. As for me I will buy a BMC camera because I cant afford a 35mm workflow. But because I work in digital I wont stand here like a football supporter and support my camera its just a flipping tool nothing more nothing less.

  • Digital is the new king in town and I’m all for it. No way is lack of money going to stop me from telling visually driven narratives known as movies.

    Even with an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA in my pocket; more than enough solid spec samples in different genres / budgets; 3-4 solid years of crewing on many good and bad student short films…I had a multitude of doors slammed in my face.

    Even when I was willing to sweep floors and dump garbage to get my foot in the door; the doors still stayed closed. For one with my diverse degree and background who is more than WILLING enough to push a broom and empty garbage; and still can’t get in the studio system or at a large enough prodco So, in the end, it wasn’t me. It was crap I have no control over at all: personalities and politics; and a 40 -60 year financial wrangling film was more than happy enough to stay chained to.

    What digital is doing for me…even 4 years after leaving LA, and going back with 3 prodcos reading 2 of my specs; is allowing me to really make my own stuff. to suceed or fail with my own hands.

    Film just cost too much on too many levels.

    Digital creations I can send right to my audiences which are global and diverse; communicate with my fellow moviemakers in other countries and bypass all the financial b.s. that used to stop me.

    Anyone that cannot truly understand my point of view on this?

    Has simply not been in my shoes…and is in the system that still has a hold on the financial strings of “film whatever”. Stay there. Good luck.

    I know where I’m meant to be.

    My success in digital is my responsibility and mine only.

  • Yes film may be used less than ever – but I’m happy I held onto my 16mm Lens’s – They are coming in useful now knowing that – I’m hanging onto what I have just in case someday cinematographers are called on once again…

  • To me, it seems that film grain is in our grain. It is so overwhelmingly part of our blood stream that we are never tired of using the phrases to push the best available digital technologies of today with the odd metaphors such as ‘film grain’, ‘filmic’, ‘filmmaker,’ ‘film making’,’film footage’, ‘cine camera’, ’24P’ and so on for all the stuff which is all digital to its backbone. We probably still think that we’d cut a sorry figure if we called ourselves a ‘videographer’ instead of a ‘filmmaker’ It all goes against the grain, doesn’t it? That is the psychological side of it. On the aesthetic side, I would simply say this: i wish from the depth of my heart that I could have afforded 16mm filming instead of using modern day digital cameras. But may be I am a little too conservative with a small ‘c’.