Yesterday we screened THE SHINING at our ADULT HORROR movie series. We had promised “radiant 35 mmm” and were looking forward to it very much ourselves. But when we discovered that the print and projector weren’t really up to the job we decided to go for digital. No scratches, much better sound. Should we have gone for the grindhouse effect instead? After watching the film I believe maybe we should. For one, the digital version wasn’t so perfect either. There was a coldness and flatness to the images that wasn’t there in the digital versions of THE TALL MAN or THE DESCENT we also screened as part of the series. It was even more noticable because Kubrick’s film is already extremely cold and constructed as such. The warmth that comes with 35mm colouring and even with the unavoidable “flaws” of analog projection – the scratches, the slight lack of definition the almost imperceptble but constant movement of the polyester strip of film – might indeed be vital to fill these mental concepts turned images with life.
So I sat there, mortified that we decided against 35mm, and started thinking about the magic that is optical filmmaking. With optical you know that what you see on screen has once really existed in front of the camera. It might have been manipulated with stop motion, mirrors, colouring, lighting … but it was really there. And in a magical aka optical-chemical process it is recorded and made repeatable. It is the kind of resurrection so many horror films are about. We are really able to witness the past and see people who are long dead or much older now when we see analog film. With digital you do not get that, it might be all imagined images, individually arranged pixels on a screen. In that way digital cinema is much closer to painting than to classical film making.
However, digital is coming. Whining about the end of 35mm is like whining about the invention of technicolour (although maybe the black and white purists had a point, and possibly film should have stayed silent too) and there are great examples already of what digital can do. MELANCHOLIA is one of them and so is the upcomig amazing RUST AND BONE. Both films find really innovative ways to fuse recorded realities with cgi fantasies. Without technicolour we wouldn’t have THE WIZARD OF OZ and we wouldn’t have HAUSU either, or THE SHINING.
So it’s not the end of the world but it also isn’t just a new way of showing films, it is the end of an era. So I think it’s Ok to burn a candle and get melancholy for a bit (it’s started to snow now, too).