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Barbara Flueckiger on Restoring Color Films

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

Restoring color films – shot in a variety of processes – is painstaking, delicate, and essential work.

As Peter Monaghan writes in the absolutely essential online journal Moving Image Archive News, “Barbara Flueckiger has run a series of projects to figure out how best to determine the original colors of films, throughout cinema history. She is developing means to more accurately replicate the colors in digital restorations. It’s a huge technical challenge: to understand not just the chemical and physical properties of film colors, but their origin in complex cultural predilections for certain color palettes. Her work promises to provide new shading to film interpretation and film history.

A 2014 state-of-the-art restoration of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari has been doing the rounds of art-house film venues, the result of work performed at L’Immagine Ritrovata, in Bologna, under the supervision of Anke Wilkening, of the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, in Wiesbaden. It’s a model collaborative project, and among those who worked on it was Barbara Flueckiger, whose applied research promises to be particularly important to the future of film appreciation and study.

Efforts had been made regularly since 1984 to restore Robert Wiene’s classic German silent film from 1919, which portrays an insane hypnotist who provokes a somnambulist to commit murders. Restorers had faced a quandary; it’s one that restorers always confront: How could they replicate the colors of the original? That is far from a simple challenge.

Even when restoring black-and-white classics, technicians have to deal with color complications. Early films had visual qualities that depended not only on the lighting used during the filming, but also on what film technicians — directors, art directors, film processors – did to the original camera negatives: how they tinted and toned them, or in some cases colored them by hand.

During the course of film history, explains Barbara Flueckiger, a professor of film studies at the University of Zurich since 2007, hundreds of cinematic color processes have emerged, many with roots in nineteenth-century still photography. But figuring out what those original colors and visual qualities were is no easy task. Yet, no comprehensive guide has existed to connect each color’s technical inputs to its contemporary reception and aesthetic and narrative uses.

As Flueckiger says, ‘film color is an issue that few film viewers think about consciously even though the material of film and the nature of color information play a key role in how we perceive film.’” This is essential reading for all who want to understand the ephemeral nature of film, and why it needs constant, unceasing preservation. It’s work that must continue, or the entire visual history of the 20th century – much of it missing already due to archival neglect – will cease to exist entirely.

A fascinating article – absolutely worth reading by clicking here, or on the image above.

New Article – Slaves of Vision: The Oculus Rift

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

I have just published a new article on the advent of the VR device, the Oculus Rift.

As I note in the article, the “Oculus Rift [VR headset] is a completely immersive experience, blocking out anything but the fantasy world that it provides for the viewer. There’s no one else in this Oculus world except for the game player, and the digital characters conjured up by the game makers – the rest of the real world has been effectively shut out. Thus, it doesn’t matter where you are in a genuine physical sense with Oculus Rift – you’re no longer part of actual existence, having traded it in for a fantasy world.

While it’s a predictable step in the evolution of digital technology – indeed, even in the evolution of cinema, was has sought to be an immersive and overwhelming medium since its first inception – I view a world in which a significant portion of the population are living in an alternative universe rather than contributing to the real one with some alarm.

It may be that life in 21st century, with its endless procession of terrorism, wars, famine, and ecological collapse is too much for the human mind to handle, and escape is the only option. The damage that we have done to the planet since 1950 is more than all the previous centuries of human existence combined, and in such an uncertain world, the urge to ‘check out’ is certainly understandable.

But, of course, it’s one more step in the direction of total human compartmentalization, something that started, arguably, with radio – so people didn’t have to go out to see performances of plays, operas, or symphonies or jazz bands – but reached its early apotheosis with the invention of television, which significantly cut down on human interaction on a local scale, as people could sit at home at and watch images that moved in their living room rather than trekking out to the local theater.

The web has only intensified this, as we spend more and more hours transfixed in front of our computer screens, whether through necessity as part of employment, or paradoxically, seeking escape from the everyday world. For the 21st century, it’s total immersion – and thus total escape from the real world – that really draws the spectator. Yes, VR is absolutely going to be addictive, and the proof is already right in front of us. What will happen when a large portion of society, increasing exponentially daily, is ‘tuned out’ from reality? We’ll have to wait and see – but I don’t think we’ll have to wait that long.”

Charles Eric Maine’s novel Escapement is my jumping off point here – required reading for the VR era.

Christophe Folschette on Visual Listening

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Christophe Folschette of Talkwalker has some interesting thoughts on the way we process images.

As Folschette told Richard Sunley in the journal Social Media News, “visual listening is like social listening but for visual content. Up until now, social listening has mainly focused on text content like the text of tweets or the text of a blog post. Visual listening goes one step further and allows you to track logos within images and photos posted on social networks and online. From here, you can apply all sorts of advanced analytics to understand how a post spreads across the web, which images are trending at the moment, the top influencers posting photos of your products and much much more.

Over recent years the use of visual content – that’s photos and images – has exploded on all social networks and across online media channels. Reports suggest that almost two-thirds of all content posted on social channels includes an image. When you think that on Twitter alone, people are sending around half a billion tweets every day, that’s an enormous amount of visuals that audiences are consuming. Studies have also shown that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text which gives some indication as to why this type of content appeals to us so much.”

Folschette is concentrating on marketing here, but the same theory applies to the way we process images in art, or the visuals we see on the many screens we view everyday, as well as in daily  existence. Just one frame of film or video contains a multitude of information that has to be decoded if one if going to arrive at any reasonable approximation of the what that image really conveys.

This is why analytical viewing is such an essential part of film and video studies – more so today than ever – because the images we are confronted with are often so resolutely commercial, and we need to understand how they are trying to manipulate us. In short, we can’t be passive in the face of the images that inundate us – we have to strive to understand them. Otherwise, we’re simply letting these images enter our consciousness without thought – as Jean-Luc Godard famously observed, “it’s not a just image – it’s just an image.” An image we should seek – always – to understand.

Something to think about as you see more and more images – all carefully constructed – everyday.

Nothing Is Real – Hollywood’s Digital Facelifts

Friday, March 18th, 2016

Yes, Hollywood has found the “flawless” Fountain of Youth.

As Stephanie Merry writes in The Washington Post for March 18th, 2016, “Pee-wee Herman hasn’t changed a bit. It’s been three decades since his heyday, when he hammed it up in a snug gray suit for TV watchers every Saturday morning. But take a look at his new Netflix movie, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, and prepare to be stunned. Has actor Paul Reubens — who first played the bowtied character in 1979 — found the fountain of youth? Sort of.

The Peter Pan-ish Pee-wee was never meant to age, so tech wizardry intervened. In postproduction, artists digitally retouched his face to turn back the clock. It’s called beauty work, and it’s been around for more than a decade. But it’s a hidden craft, practiced by artists who make every frame look sublime by toiling for long hours — while remaining invisible. ‘In a perfect world, you will never see our work,’ says one expert, Howard Shur, who started the Los Angeles-based digital effects company Flawless FX three years ago. ‘It will just look natural and normal.’

In the early days, the effects niche was reserved for music videos, to make pop stars pop. But over the years, business boomed as commercials, movies and TV got on board. Now, plenty of actors have beauty work written into their contracts. Maybe you can guess which ones, but you won’t get confirmation from the people who fix A-list flaws.

Non-disclosure agreements are the norm. Unless it’s a conspicuous part of the story, like Brad Pitt aging in reverse in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or the flashback in Ant-Man that shaved 30 years off Michael Douglas’s face.

Click here to see Flawless Fx’s truly amazing demo reel – you’ll feel ten years younger!

Or if an actor like Reubens admits it, as he did in a New York Times profile, exposing this little-known — and pricey — process. ‘I could have had a facelift and we would have saved $2 million,’ he said in the interview. Commercials and music videos tend to get more treatment than movies and television, according to Culley Bunker, who runs Skulley Effects in Los Angeles. In the former case, ‘they’re selling you an image, they’re selling you a product,’ he says. ‘Movies are more artistic.’

One of Flawless’s specialties is fixing continuity errors — minor adjustments that result from fast shooting schedules or tight set budgets. Let’s say an actor has a cold sore for two days of his 10 on set. Because movies are generally shot out of order, viewers might be distracted if the blister vanished and then reappeared.

Of course, it’s not always about continuity. According to multiple artists, a popular job is to take care of those pesky eye bags. Artists can also add muscle definition, zap blemishes, fix teeth and tame rogue strands of hair. The request can come from a record label, a director, a producer or a movie star, depending on the situation.

It’s not easy, nor is it quick. Each frame is digitally hand-painted. New York-based visual-effects artist Nathaniel Westveer, who works mainly on music videos, estimates that it takes him an hour to work on 24 frames one second of footage.”

Read the whole article here – all is an illusion – especially in Hollywoodland.

Tom Cabela – UNL Film Studies Alumni – Builds Major Career

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Tom Cabela, a UNL Film Studies Alumni, has built himself a brilliant career in Hollywood.

As Erin Chambers writes on the UNL English Department website in an article posted today, “Tom Cabela was one of the first Film Studies Majors at UNL in the late 1990s, and has since gone on to a stellar career in Hollywood, with great personal and professional success.

Interested in film since childhood, Cabela started making his own films in while attending Lincoln Southeast High School, where he helped found Southeast’s first film program. He soon realized he wanted to pursue a career in filmmaking, and decided to come to UNL after graduating.

Cabela joined the Film Studies Program at UNL, where Professors Gwendolyn Audrey Foster and Wheeler Winston Dixon helped shape the way he viewed and analyzed cinema. They also helped prepare him for the rigors of the industry and in finding his own artistic voice.

‘Professor Foster was always so encouraging and supportive, and really helped shape me intellectually and as a person,’ says Cabela. ‘Thanks to her I was one step ahead on post-modern and feminist film theory when I got to the University of California. Professor Dixon also helped prepare me for the demands and high expectations of the industry. His lessons have always held me in good stead.’

After graduating from UNL in 2001, Cabela moved to Santa Cruz and completed the production program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked briefly for production designer Jennifer Williams. Williams introduced him to a friend, Oscar nominated editor Peter Honess, who soon hired Cabela as a Post Production Assistant.

Honess and his team trained Cabela, got him into the union, and brought him up to assistant editor. As a part of that team, Cabela worked on films like Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Aeon Flux, and Poseidon. He also worked on Blades of Glory, Get Smart, and Red Dawn under editor Richard Pearson.

Eventually he went to work for James Cameron’s company C.P.G., where Cameron and his partner Vince Pace trained him as a stereo (3D) picture specialist. There, he worked on Transformers 3, Sin City 2, Walking with Dinosaurs, Cirque Du Soleil, and others.

However, the 3D ‘bubble’ soon burst, and he found himself looking for work elsewhere. His background in 3D/VFX as well as editorial made VFX Editing a perfect fit. Since becoming a VFX Editor, Cabela’s editing and visual effects work has appeared in Entourage the Movie and the new Todd Phillips film War Dogs.

He continues to make his own films, which have shown at festivals like Mill Valley, Sarasota, and South by Southwest. You can view samplings of his work on Vimeo. But for Cabela, this is only the beginning. “Who knows what the future holds?” Cabela wonders. “The possibilities are limitless.”

Indeed they are – this is just the beginning for Tom – who knows what will come next?

CBS News Video: MoMA’s Race to Preserve Classic Films

Sunday, February 28th, 2016

The Museum of Modern Art has one of the world’s largest film archives - click on the video above, and see.

In this CBS news video, Anthony Mason reports that “important work in film history is being done by Museum of Modern Art in New York. A team of film technicians has earned an Oscar of their own. They find and preserve classic films, many of which were made 100 years ago.” And indeed, MoMA’s work is invaluable, in saving the works of the past, in a format which is becoming increasing fragile.

Here, MoMA works on preserving the silent film Rosita, directed by Ernst Lubitsch in 1923, restored under the supervision of Katie Trainor, film collections manager at the Museum. In this case, this is the only surviving print of the film, which was recovered from a Russian archive in the 1970s. Trainor supervises the 4K scanning of the film, and then sees that Rosita is returned to film – not stored digitally, so that it can be projected in its original 35mm format.

Working under the supervision of Rajendra Roy, The Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film and Dave Kehr, Curator, Department of Film, Trainor and her staff are bringing the film back to life as part of the continuing work of the museum, which has a long and celebrated history.

As MoMA’s website notes, “in 1932 Alfred Barr, the Museum’s founding director, stressed the importance of introducing ‘the only great art form peculiar to the twentieth century’ to ‘the American public which should appreciate good films and support them.’ Museum Trustee John Hay Whitney—who, in addition to collecting modern painting, produced films in partnership with Hollywood’s David O. Selznick—was chosen as the first chairman of the Museum’s Film Library, a distinguished position he held from 1935 to 1951.

Whitney knew the collection could be assembled only by those who made the movies. He sent film curator Iris Barry to Hollywood to persuade industry leaders to donate prints, a radical concept that startled stars and producers alike. At a reception and screening in the Hollywood’s famous Pickfair mansion, Barry illustrated film’s brief but important history, demonstrated the fragility of the medium, and argued that it should be safeguarded. Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century–Fox, Samuel Goldwyn, Harold Lloyd, Walt Disney, William S. Hart, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and David O. Selznick, among others, soon responded with donations of prints.

In 1936 Barry traveled through Europe and the Soviet Union to acquire international films and meet filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein. So successful was this initial assembling of the collection that in 1937 the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences commended the Museum with an award ‘for its significant work in collecting films . . . and for the first time making available to the public the means of studying the historical and aesthetic development of the motion picture as one of the major arts.’

In 1939, the same year Whitney and Selznick’s Gone With the Wind premiered, The Museum of Modern Art opened its permanent home on Fifty-third Street in Manhattan and launched the first film exhibition program in America. With crucial assistance from Lillian Gish, D. W. Griffith had been persuaded to deposit his films and papers at the Museum, facilitating the first major retrospective of a film artist—an exhibition that set the standard for the presentation and analysis of the masters of this new art form.

Today the collection includes more than 25,000 titles and ranks as one of the world’s finest museum archives of international film art. Works by the inventors of film language—the creators of its form, genres, and technology—form the cornerstones of the collection. Every major artist of the silent era is represented: Griffith, Porter, and Ince; and the Edison, Biograph, and Vitagraph studio filmmakers; Lumière and Méliès from France; Chaplin and Keaton, DeMille and Fairbanks, Dreyer and Stroheim, Eisenstein and Flaherty.

The innovators and masters of the sound era are represented, too: Warner Bros., Fox, and Selznick studios; Walt Disney and Lubitsch; Ford, Walsh, Wyler, and Capra; Sternberg, Lang, Welles, Hitchcock, and Renoir; Rossellini and Ophuls; Kurosawa and Ozu; Truffaut and Bergman. Films by artists Fernand Léger, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, László Moholy-Nagy, and Paul Strand enrich the collection, as do the works of animators and contemporary experimental filmmakers such as Jane Aaron, Stan Brakhage, Bruce Connor, Ken Jacobs, Yvonne Rainer, and Andy Warhol.

In recent years, directors such as Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, John Cassavetes, Francis Ford Coppola, Joel and Ethan Coen, Oliver Stone, Kathryn Bigelow, John Sayles, Stanley Kubrick, and Tim Burton and producers such as Ray Stark, Albert Broccoli, Irwin Winkler, Edward Pressman, and Joel Silver have donated films to the collection. The Turner Entertainment Company has donated original materials of RKO and Warner Bros. films of the 1920s through the 1940s, to the tune of more than 629 features, including Citizen Kane and Casablanca.

American classics like It Happened One Night, Dodsworth, Nothing Sacred, Love Affair, Meet Me in St. Louis, Notorious, My Darling Clementine, On the Waterfront, Bonjour Tristesse, and Taxi Driver have been preserved in the course of collaborations with studios and distributors to safeguard surviving materials and restore damaged films, enabling new and international circulation of major examples of American film.

The collection allows the Museum to sustain an unparalleled study and exhibition program for the public, scholars, and filmmakers. This program in its varied forms has provided an education for modern artists in all mediums, and individual films have been studied by filmmakers at every level, from writers, directors, and producers to costume designers, production assistants, and grips.”

There’s no other museum quite like it in the world; MoMA is leading the race to save film history.

UNL Film Studies Alumnus Matt DeGroot at Buzzfeed Motion Pictures

Monday, February 15th, 2016

UNL Film Studies grad Matt DeGroot oversees three producers at Buzzfeed Motion Pictures.

As UNL English Department Media Specialist Erin Chambers writes, “Matt DeGroot has been obsessed with film for as long as he can remember. ‘Very early on as a kid I was fascinated by the movie making process and soaked up everything I could possibly find,’ he writes. In the days before DVDs came packaged with featurettes and behind-the-scenes material, DeGroot turned to his favorite filmmakers’ biographies. There, he would learn what films most inspired them, and then track down those films to watch, discovering a whole new set of filmmakers to study.

When it came time to choose a major as an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, DeGroot was immediately drawn to film studies. ‘It was a no-brainer.’ After graduating from UNL in 2006, he received his Masters in Media and Public Affairs from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Time spent working for a D.C. public relations and production company earned him his first job as a producer of educational media content for universities around the world. Then, last year, a unique opportunity presented itself: a managment position with the popular social news and entertainment company, BuzzFeed.

Now a year into his job as Production Manager with BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, DeGroot finds himself functioning as a jack of all trades. ‘It has been thrilling to see the company grow and evolve as my own position continues to morph with it. It’ll be fascinating to see what we’re doing another year from now.’ Currently, DeGroot oversees three teams of producers who create content focused on a specific subject, from food to identity and diversity issues.

He not only assists his teams with their ‘creative slate,’ but also the physical process of production; he finds locations, manages casting needs, arranges for equipment, and supervises post-production and distribution. ‘All in all, this process helps crank out 60-70 new short videos each week, as if it were the old factory method of film production on steroids,’ says DeGroot. ’Needless to say, I don’t suffer for things to keep my days occupied.’

DeGroot continues to flex his creative muscles on the side, as well, writing film reviews and honing a stage play he hopes to soon have performed. Through it all, he offers encouragement to his fellow film nerds and students of film studies. [As he notes,] ‘there are definitely jobs out there!’ You can learn more about the BuzzFeed Motion Pictures production team at Buzzfeed.com. Interested in a Film Studies major or minor? Check out the intro video and degree information on our Film Studies page.”

Great job, Erin, and yes, as Matt says – there are definitely jobs out there!

Artificial Intelligence is Transforming The Web

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

As Cade Metz writes in a great article in Wired, AI technology is transforming the web – and the world.

As Metz writes, “yesterday, the 46-year-old Google veteran who oversees its search engine, Amit Singhal, announced his retirement. And in short order, Google revealed that Singhal’s rather enormous shoes would be filled by a man named John Giannandrea. On one level, these are just two guys doing something new with their lives. But you can also view the pair as the ideal metaphor for a momentous shift in the way things work inside Google—and across the tech world as a whole.

Giannandrea, you see, oversees Google’s work in artificial intelligence. This includes deep neural networks, networks of hardware and software that approximate the web of neurons in the human brain. By analyzing vast amounts of digital data, these neural nets can learn all sorts of useful tasks, like identifying photos, recognizing commands spoken into a smartphone, and, as it turns out, responding to Internet search queries. In some cases, they can learn a task so well that they outperform humans. They can do it better. They can do it faster. And they can do it at a much larger scale. If AI is the future of Google Search, it’s the future of so much more.

This approach, called deep learning, is rapidly reinventing so many of the Internet’s most popular services, from Facebook to Twitter to Skype. Over the past year, it has also reinvented Google Search, where the company generates most of its revenue. Early in 2015, as Bloomberg recently reported, Google began rolling out a deep learning system called RankBrain that helps generate responses to search queries. As of October, RankBrain played a role in “a very large fraction” of the millions of queries that go through the search engine with each passing second.

As Bloomberg says, it was Singhal who approved the roll-out of RankBrain. And before that, he and his team may have explored other, simpler forms of machine learning. But for a time, some say, he represented a steadfast resistance to the use of machine learning inside Google Search. In the past, Google relied mostly on algorithms that followed a strict set of rules set by humans. The concern—as described by some former Google employees—was that it was more difficult to understand why neural nets behaved the way it did, and more difficult to tweak their behavior.

These concerns still hover over the world of machine learning. The truth is that even the experts don’t completely understand how neural nets work. But they do work. If you feed enough photos of a platypus into a neural net, it can learn to identify a platypus. If you show it enough computer malware code, it can learn to recognize a virus. If you give it enough raw language—words or phrases that people might type into a search engine—it can learn to understand search queries and help respond to them. In some cases, it can handle queries better than algorithmic rules hand-coded by human engineers. Artificial intelligence is the future of Google Search, and if it’s the future of Google Search, it’s the future of so much more.”

A perceptive look at the future we all share; read the entire article here.

More Movies in 2016 To Be Shot On Film

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

More and more, filmmakers – both mainstream and indie – are returning to actual film for production.

As Ashley Lee wrote in The Hollywood Reporter on January 28, 2016 – just two days ago – “Star Wars: Episode IX will be shot on film, not digital, said [director] Colin Trevorrow . . . The director of the upcoming installment stated his case on Thursday during a Sundance Film Festival panel called ‘Power of Story: The Art of Film‘ alongside Christopher Nolan and Rachel Morrison, and moderated by Alex Ross Perry.

‘The only place where I tend to not be able to attach myself entirely to something shot digitally is when it’s a period film. There’s something in my brain that goes, “Well, they didn’t have video cameras then,” he said. “[Film] tends to remind us of our memories, of our childhoods, the way we used to see films.” Trevorrow — who shot Jurassic World on film because ‘this can’t look like two computers fighting, that’s what we kept repeating to ourselves’ — humorously noted that signing on to helm Star Wars: Episode IX ‘gets back to my issue of shooting digital for period films. I could never shoot Star Wars on anything but [film] because it’s a period film: It happened a long time ago!’ . . .

[Director Christopher] Nolan, a major advocate of the preservation of film, called to dissolve ‘this artificial industrial distinction that’s been made that shooting on video is of the future and practical and is the way forward; shooting on film is impractical and of the past. It’s simply not the case. … You just have to say they’re different.’ Trevorrow then stressed the importance of accessibility for young directors to film — ‘It gives you a respect for the shot and for the edit’ — and called on film schools to take responsibility to do so.

‘They’ve all dropped the ball on us,’ agreed Nolan. ‘They have to be shamed back into it. The idea that you charge what you charge in tuition, … A camera you could buy for half of a semester’s tuition. You’re not teaching that this is one of the choices, and you’re not teaching the discipline that the entire film industry is based on, because we still mix in reels, we still count in frames, even if we’re shooting digital. You have to understand how an Avid works. [But] to understand how all the latest technology applied to film works, you’re much better off as part of your education if you understand how film works, because that’s where it comes from. The film schools really need to gear up with that.’

Nolan recalled how he had to argue for the use of film since his Memento days, when he was told there would be no printing of dailies, until a line producer rearranged the numbers. He called studios’ application of consumer economics to large-scale productions ‘facile,’ ‘absurd’ and ‘completely untrue;’ though using a Super 8 camera is more expensive than doing so with a digital camera, film’s use in a theatrical release can be done in an economically efficient way” . . .

The Interstellar filmmaker also again applauded Quentin Tarantino’s ask to screen The Hateful Eight in 70mm, and defended him on its early tech glitches. ‘I spoke to a couple people at the screening who said, “Yeah, the DCP didn’t even look as good as the slightly wrong projection, the 70mm print beforehand.” . . . This is a filmmaker who has struggled very hard, worked very hard to really push something out there in the world to entertain people, to give them the best possible experience, and should be celebrated for that. But as soon as there’s some technical hitch, it’s as if it’s his fault, like he built the projector.’

‘I had the same experience myself on one of the IMAX films I’ve made: there had been a press screening and the digital sound had gone out of sync with the picture. Then people asked me about it. I’m like, “I’m the director, I’m on the projectionist. These things happen,” he continued. There’s a culture around wanting to kill film where by any little hitch like that — which happens all the time in the digital world — is pointed to as some kind of proof of something.” But it’s not.

Click here, or on the image above, to see the entire panel discussion, uncut.

Kodak’s New Super 8mm Camera – The Return of Film

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

Just like vinyl records vs. mp3s and CDs, actual film is making a comeback in cinema.

Still, I was surprised by this news item; Kodak is re-introducing a Super8mm camera that shoots actual film, which at this point is being marketed at much too high a price point for the average consumer, but is rather aimed at those who want to use film as a medium for artistic expression.

The last Super 8mm camera I owned, many years ago, was a Kodak Super 8mm sound camera, which used 50 ft. cartridges of film with a magnetic sound strip on the side – it worked well enough, particularly when one used high speed Ektachrome film, but it was almost instantly superseded by the advent of video cameras – and that, for the moment, was the end of that.

However, as Don Clark notes in The Wall Street Journal, “Eastman Kodak Co., the photography pioneer that was disrupted by the digital revolution, is placing a new bet on a gadget from a simpler time. The company is using the Consumer Electronics Show to lay out plans for a film camera based on the Super 8 design launched 50 years ago. Kodak stopped producing Super 8 units in 1982, after video cameras savaged the market for home movies made with film.

Jeff Clarke, Kodak’s chief executive, isn’t ignoring the changes in the market now that billions of consumers own mobile phones with digital cameras. But he believes professional filmmakers and serious amateurs will appreciate the subtle qualities of an analog medium that many Hollywood veterans used to learn their trade.

Mr. Clarke cites the preference among many Hollywood directors to shoot on 35-millimeter or 70-millimeter film. He also sees a parallel in the way some audiophiles prefer the analog medium of vinyl records.

Kodak plans to play on some of the conveniences of digital technology. Just as movies shot on film are usually converted to digital files for editing and projection, buyers of the new camera that turn to Kodak for processing will get a digital copy of their imagery as well as eight-millimeter film to use in projectors.

The new camera will feature a digital viewfinder, he said. ‘This is no longer the classic script of a war of digital versus analog,’ Mr. Clarke said. ‘What it really is now is the complementary characteristics of both.’ . . .

The first Super 8 camera was launched at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and went on sale the next year. It featured a pistol-style grip and packed eight millimeter film in a cartridge, an advance that avoided the need to thread film through the camera in the dark.

Kodak’s effort to revive Super 8 is aimed in large part at film schools, where many students no longer get a chance to experiment with analog footage, Mr. Clarke said. He also expects some people making commercial or experimental films–who have sometimes used eight- or 16-millimeter footage–to try the new product.

Mr. Clarke said Kodak has received expressions of support for the new camera by many Hollywood directors, including Steven Spielberg and Star Wars director J.J. Abrams, who directed a 2011 film called Super 8 and was famously hired by Mr. Spielberg as a 14-year-old to work on the older director’s Super 8 film archive.”

I would also venture to say that a lot of old Super 8mm cameras will now be brought back to life, assuming that Kodak makes enough raw stock. And as one commenter on the article noted, “Dwayne’s in Parsons, KS (notable as the final Kodachrome shop) will process a 50ft super-8 cartridge for $12. Just saying.” Hmmmm . . .

So – this is interesting – another sign of the celluloid backlash. We’ll have to see what happens.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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