Quentin Tarantino has not been shy about his distaste for all things digital. He has stayed true to shooting on 35mm film, but most theaters and distributors are moving away from projecting in the format. Speaking at the Cannes Film Festival (where a 20th anniversary screening of Pulp Fiction is the only film showing in 35mm), Tarantino again reiterated his displeasure about digital projection, going so far as to say that the loss of 35mm projection means that what he knew as cinema is dead.
Here is the entire press conference from Cannes, skip to 5:22 for the conversation about 35mm and digital:
Yeah as far as I'm concerned, digital projection and DCPs is the death of cinema as I know it. It's not even about shooting your film on film or shooting your film on digital, the fact that most films now are not presented in 35mm means that the war is lost and digital projections -- that's just television in public. Apparently the whole world is okay with television in public but what I knew as cinema is dead.
Skipping to 42:15, Quentin talks about the good side of filmmaking, that young filmmakers can actually buy their own camera and put together a small crew and an interesting story, and actually make a film. He mentioned that back in his day, it took at least 16mm to make a movie, and that was just a mountain that not as many were able to climb. Even though there is a lot more work being made when things are democratized, he mentioned that there will be that one "flower in the dust bin" that wouldn't have had the tenacity to make a film in the old days. He finished by saying that while he understood why you might choose digital if you're just starting out, "why an established filmmaker would should on digital I have no fucking idea."
Speaking about this subject before, here is what he said in 2012 during the Hollywood Reporter roundtable of directors:
Tarantino: No, I hate that stuff. I shoot film. But to me, even digital projection is — it’s over, as far as I’m concerned. It’s over. So if I’m gonna do TV in public, I’d rather just write one of my big scripts and do it as a miniseries for HBO, and then I don’t have the time pressure that I’m always under, and I get to actually use all the script. I always write these huge scripts that I have to kind of — my scripts aren’t like blueprints. They’re not novels, but they’re novels written with script format. And so I’m adapting the script into a movie every day. The one movie that I was actually able to use everything — where you actually have the entire breadth of what I spent a year writing — was the two Kill Bill movies ’cause it’s two movies. So if I’m gonna do another big epic thing again, it’ll probably be like a six-hour miniseries or something.
Watching a movie shot on 35mm and projected on 35mm is certainly a different experience, and for a lot of older films that have (ironically) been restored digitally and then printed back out to 35, they look amazing. I've seen lots of these restored films, which probably look better than they ever did due to improvements in technology. While there are plenty of movies still shooting on film, pretty much none are finished on film -- they've got some sort of digital intermediate going on in-between.
More to the point though, the real source of his disdain is the loss of the magic of the theater experience. While it's hard to describe the amazing experience of seeing a brand new print of a cinema classic (I saw The 400 Blows the first time this way), 35mm prints don't stay pristine forever, and after many showings can degrade significantly. Projecting digitally might not have the same feel, but after the 1000th screening, it still looks like the same movie you started with.
I think what might be most interesting about the conversation is that if Tarantino was a new filmmaker starting out in 2014, his first major film Reservoir Dogs, which cost $1.2 million, would probably have been shot digitally, and it also probably would have been distributed through digital means -- if it got theatrical distribution at all. Any great art form goes through periods of significant change, and we happen to be in one right now. I think there is a time and a place to respect and cherish what has come before, but in the end the majority of the viewing public doesn't really care how a movie is made or projected, they just want to be entertained.