Re: [Frameworks] Quo Vadis Celluloid?

From: Fred Camper <>
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2011 12:17:28 -0500

The light in "The Tree of Life" may have been flatter than in works
shot on film, but that didn't matter nearly as much to me as the many
other problems I had with it!

As I was arguing earlier, though, how much one hates the "flatness" of
digital is going to vary from person to person, and probably cannot be
debated very well.

John Cage didn't like recorded music, and mostly couldn't listen to
it. Bravo for him. I agree that great music is better live. But for
me, a great performance on CD or vinyl is a lot better than a bad one
live. If someone else disagrees, that's hard to argue too. (And, just
to be clear, I'm talking only about "classical" music here.)

I think statements of the form "video will never be able to do what
film can do" are as dangerous as any dogmatic statement about a
changing technology, whether that claim be positive or negative. Such
statements do not have a good history of being right in the long run.
In the early days of research into nuclear power, it was thought that
it would prove to be "too cheap to meter." In the early days of video,
I would guess that many of the statements that could have been made
then about the difference between it and film would have to be
modified today. If film can produce a convincing illusion of a human
body, video might be able to produce the convincing illusion of a
film, if people keep trying.

I doubt that anything one sees on TV would have been scanned from
nitrate, which is highly flammable. I'd be fascinated to learn if it
was, though.

I *do* hate the way people constantly want to show off their new
technology the way that, indeed, joints used to be passed around at
parties. No, I don't need to hear anyone else telling me all the
things they love about their iPhone.

Part of my point is that if you're going to abandon moving image art
because you like film and don't like video and it's getting harder and
harder to work with film, be sure you have really worked with video
and tried many of its options and tried controlled projection
situations. all with an open mind, first.

A story that I have told on FrameWorks before is worth retelling here.
As many know, Stan Brakhage railed against video for much of his life,
using some of the same arguments Marilyn used. The light of digital
was flat. You could change the color with a spin of the knob. All this
is of course very true.

He also said, "I guess the muse favors film," an example of the kinds
of mystification I oppose.

So once, on the phone, late in his life, I posed the following to him:
"Suppose someone offered you, totally free of charge, the best digital
image creation setup imaginable, and a technician to help you explore
all its possibilities." He answered the question I was leading up to
before I could even ask it, saying, "I would work with it." This
surprised and moved me, and it proves, I think, that his anti-video
statements were not meant as unalterable dogmas.

Quoting gregg biermann <>:

> ...The idea that a completely novel form of cinema will change the way we
> see the world (and thus change the world) is a kind of utopian glamour
> that has been replaced by a more contradictory and provisional sort of
> work...

Well, I'd like to think that the way we use existing forms of media,
the way one can build up complex and new perceptual and emotional and
intellectual fields of experience for the viewer out of existing
materials and technologies, might be able to "change the world" by
first changing individual perceptions. This was, indeed, Brakhage's
goal. These could arguably be more subtle, more specific, and
ultimately more profound, changes than the ways a whole new technology
can change everyone.

Fred Camper

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Received on Tue Aug 23 2011 - 10:17:54 CDT