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Film, Nostalgia, and The Digital Divide

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

I have a new piece in the journal Flow today, entitled Film, Nostalgia, and The Digital Divide, which begins with these words:

“A few days ago, I was watching Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent film The Hurt Locker (2008) – on DVD of course – and I was suddenly struck by the fact that it may be one of the last movies to be actually shot on film; in the case of The Hurt Locker, Super 16mm film, with 4 handheld crews working at once, piling up roughly 200 hours of footage to be eventually edited down into a 130 minute film. With its rough, raw look, its smash zooms and its hectic intercutting, mirroring battlefield news photography from the Vietnam war, The Hurt Locker has a visceral reality, especially in its nighttime sequences, that seems to me to be intrinsically tied to the filmic process. You could have the same images in video, of course, but I somehow don’t think the same level of textures and contrasts would be available to you; you’d get a perfect, pristine, scratch free image, but a certain richness to the images would be missing. Digital technology simply doesn’t have the same spectrum of tonal possibilities, and even though it can mimic millions of different shades of color, the end result is cold, artificial, distant. There’s something unreal about it.

When you’re making a film, so to speak, it would be nice to have a choice as to whether or not to use film, or to go with digital. But it seems that the choice has been made for you. Aesthetic issues aside, film is being swept into the dustbin of history. As Richard Verrier reported in the Los Angeles Times, Birns and Sawyer, the oldest film equipment rental house in Hollywood, has thrown in the towel on film — everything’s gone digital. Responding in the shift to all-digital production, the company auctioned off all its film camera equipment, both 35mm and 16mm, though 16mm has been a dinosaur for some time. But now 35mm film is going out the door, too. It’s just like The Jazz Singer in 1927, when films converted to sound; digital is now the only way to go. And it’s happening fast.”

You can read the entire article by clicking here, or on the image above.

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 numerous books and more than 70 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. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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