Re: David Tetzlaff's rant

From: Jonathan Walley (email suppressed)
Date: Tue Feb 07 2006 - 16:32:14 PST

> Yes, it is problematic. Stan's approval of this DVD was as a
> supplement -- for home use and individual study purposes. He reasoned
> that he had benefitted from a personal library of paintings in
> reproduction, and so why not provide something similar of his films?
> But he still tried to see original paintings when he could. -- And I
> don't think a painter who approved of a book of reproductions of their
> work could then be presumed to have approved the use of those
> reproductions to replace actual paintings on gallery walls! . . .
> What some film professors have done in this case is to show a few
> rented film prints and then to assign or direct their students to the
> DVD for further study. Recommended viewing, like recommended reading,
> could include a DVD like this.

I have some problems with the film/painting analogy, at least as far as
reproduction is concerned. For one, paint and canvas are tactile
objects with physical properties that often cannot be scrutinized in
reproduction. Pictures of paintings in books are likely to be much
smaller than the originals, and do not provide the viewer with the
opportunity to see the work differently "up close" vs. "further back."
Film and video are both projected media, and a video copy of a film can
be viewed in the same scale and same viewing conditions (e.g. in the
darkened theater, with an audience, etc.) as the original. I don't mean
at all to say that film and video are the same thing, simply that the
analogy between looking at a 4 x 6 photographic reproduction of a
painting on a gallery wall and seeing a video transfer of a film isn't
necessarily apt.

That is, I'm not convinced that in all cases the differences between
film and video are so pronounced that, in absence of a film print, a
good transfer (authorized by the filmmaker or at least someone in the
know) isn't an adequate substitute.

There, I said it.

[Someone might object that film, too, has tactile qualities. Some films
emphasize these to such an extent that video is clearly not an
acceptable substitute for film, as in flicker films or films that take
non-standard forms (I have in mind films like Line Describing a Cone by
Anthony McCall, or Tony's roasted, fried, pickled, etc., films, or film
installations by people like Sharits and Iimura). Most of the time,
though, the object-qualities of film are mediated by projection, which
I would say makes the absence of the film strip in video projection
less of a problem. In other words, the tactile qualities of films that
do not require a more direct engagement with the raw materials of the
medium can be apprehended in good video copies.]

> But it is not intended for public screenings.

To be absolutely clear: I'm not talking about public screenings, but
about class screenings, which I do not consider "public" and which I
equate with "study purposes." I would prefer that my students at least
get the flavor of avant-garde films than to see nothing of them at all
(I don't know whether this counts as using the "by Brakhage" DVD as a
"supplement" or not). Are students who see a film on DVD going to miss
things they would have seen in the 16mm print? Perhaps. Are they going
to miss things if they see NO version of the film AT ALL? Definitely.
Again, I guess this is a matter of being a "realist" (seeing a video
version is good enough, when I cannot bring in prints but still want to
expose my students to avant-garde film) vs. a "purist," or whatever you
want to call it.

> . . . And it would not be the same, in my opinion, as an Art History
> class using slides of paintings. In that case, nobody is going to
> mistake one thing for another. But many students who are taught with
> the DVD may think they've seen the films, not really fully
> understanding the differences.

This goes back to my first point: if the differences are that subtle,
then for teaching purposes, in a "controlled environment" so to speak,
I'm not sure how big a deal they are.

I think this final point has much more to do with poor teaching
practices than the inherent differences between a film on video and a
film projected as film. When I show my students any film on video,
experimental or otherwise, I let them know this and spend time
discussing the differences (I also assign them supplemental reading on
the subject). If a professor screens films on video and his/her
students believe they are viewing a film, that's a problem, as there of
course are differences between the two media. However, while I think
any responsible teacher should make these differences clear, if
economic and/or logistical factors prevent me from obtaining a print,
and I can access a filmmaker-approved video version that I have
purchased legitimately, said video version strikes me as better than
nothing. It also strikes me as not really that bad.

I have always rented, and will continue to rent, 16mm prints, as long
as funds are available. I have programmed large scale film series, and
brought in prints for studies and production classes for years, and I
have labored to convince my students (and some of my colleagues) that
the differences between film and video matters. I've paid for prints
out of my own pocket (per Alain's suggestion, which I support). I'm not
saying video should replace film prints as a matter of course just
because video versions are cheaper and easier to deal with. I'm not
trying to be an apologist for people who do that when they have the
funds available to rent prints. I'm not trying to suggest that once a
decent video copy of a film is made available we no longer have to rent
prints of that film. I'm talking about whether video is necessarily
unfit for the task of providing students with a good sense of what a
film looks/sounds like, aims to do, how it is structured, etc.

I don't know if this clarifies anything, but anyway...

best wishes,

Jonathan Walley
Cinema Department
Denison University
Granville, Ohio
email suppressed

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