technology: report from the front

From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Sun Mar 05 2006 - 23:46:16 PST

I hope my previous posts made clear my position on the whole distribution
technology question has mostly to do with my work as a teacher, and with a
kind of cultural politics, not my own taste...

Went to a screening of experimental work the other night, trying to get
this damn Frameworks discussion out of mind and concentrate on the work
itself. I wasn't very succesful, unfortunately. On the program were:

a clean 16mm print
a badly scratched old 16mm print
a work shot on film but finished and shown in NTSC video

MY viewing experience was: the clean print was gorgeous, the scratched
print sucked, the clean video sucked worse. The video projector seemed to
lack a line doubler or I don't know what technology, but you could see
every individual pixel in the raster. I found it totally annoying, and it
strongly worked against me 'getting into' the piece. On the way out after
the screening, though, I overheard some twentysomething members of the
audience talking -- about the piece shown on video and what an emotional
impact they thought it had. Go figure.

Anyway, for myself I was thinking that, no, digital will never look like
16mm. I don't think 'film' has an essence, but I would say there is a
definite character to a good 16mm print. I was trying to put my finger on
it, and this is the best I can come up with. It has a measure of beauty
from color fidelity and/or tonal range, combined with what I can only
describe as a kind of fragility - a certain wave of the grain, the flicker
(which people mention here), subtle imperfections like the occasional dust
spot or small scratch that don't distract but may have some sublimal
effect in creating a sense of character, and (this is my major thought
that I'm not sure anyone has mentioned before) the subtle little shifts in
registration, a sort of wobble that goes along with the flicker. Digital
formats don't have either. The display is rock steady, which gives it, in
one after another comparison anyway, a comparatively more industrial feel,
maybe part of that psychological coldness some folks feel about
'electronic cinema'. In contrast, I was thinking that yes the particular
combination of strengths and flaws (a balance and/or contrast of elements)
is really appropriate for, and enhances the personal, artisanal aims of
experimental cinema -- the flaws seeming more (am I being nostalgic?)
well, natural, and human than the flaws of electronic images (like that
visible pixel grid as an extreme example).

I.e. with good prints, I think 16mm is really cool.

(I also think 8mm and 35mm are different stories as they don't have that
same balance. And I still think a good video projection (as elusive as
that may be, but I've sure seen better than the one in question here) can
be preferable to a print with a nasty green tramline scratch right down
the middel of the imaqe for 80% of the film. And I still don't want to
impose my aesthetics on people who may be tuned into content on a
different level and not a give a shit about this stuff. And I still think,
within the context of the historical moment, electronic diffusion of avant
garde work ultimately draws more people into the cinemas than it keeps

ANYWAY, I'm wondering what anybody else things about 1) the wobble
element, and 2) the broader 'balance' or 'contrast' thesis (beauty/flaw =

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.