Re: [Frameworks] Quo Vadis Celluloid?

From: marilyn brakhage <>
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2011 12:40:01 -0700

On 23-Aug-11, at 10:17 AM, Fred Camper wrote:

> 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!

Yes, sure. But my point with that example was exactly that without
the light why even begin such a thing? It would seem basic to the

> 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.
Whether it can be debated very well or not, it may be having an effect
on everyone, an effect of which some people are just more consciously

> 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.)

This analogy only works for seeing a video of a film vs the film
itself. But what about shooting on video?
> 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.

Maybe. I thought we were primarily concerned with the present and
very near future in this discussion. But as for the more distant
future, the changing technologies will also continue to change us I
suppose, and how we perceive what we 'see'. . . . I don't think
anyone would argue against the fact that video technologies have been
evolving and continue to do so.

> 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.

I don't think it's fair to suggest that anyone's description of their
different perceptual experiences of different technologies is simply
"unalterable dogma" (if that's what you're suggesting).

As for Stan, he also said that if he had no other way to make a "film"
he'd line up pictures and knock them over like a chain of dominoes, or
some such thing. But even though he agreed to reproduction of his
films on video, he never picked up a video camera and started shooting
with it.

However, regardless of what Stan did or didn't do, or did or didn't
say, on any given day, I'd just like to mention that my own views are
my own, independent of his. I was not trying to argue his point of
view. I was stating my own.

What I actually think is that people should make whatever art or
expression or visual statement or whatever they are moved and
compelled to make however they choose or are able to make it. And
there will be works of greater or lesser success, greater or lesser
effect on others and so on, in film, video, and every other medium
used, present or future. But one can still discuss what the
differences are, and "what is it about your particular practice that
depends on" this or that, and should be able to do so without being
labeled "dogmatic" or "fetishistic" or whatever. People should make
their choices thoughtfully and purposefully, and it would appear that
the people engaged in this discussion do just that.

I thought your original question perfectly valid, in fact, and that
the answer for many people might be that, indeed, their particular
practice does not depend on celluloid, and could be done with video.
But there should be no need to start denying differences and claiming
film and video as interchangeable. For some people they are not, and
that is not a mystification, or a dogma, it is an experiential truth.

I am responding to all this as a viewer, and as such, I still get more
satisfaction from a good film, generally speaking, than I do from most
videos I've seen. And that has something to do with the sensory
reception of the materials of these media. But I am not "dogmatically
against" the use of any and all video without consideration. I just
think that the answer to your original question is not going to be the
same for everyone. For some works, for many works, celluloid is still
the best option -- or the only option.

Marilyn Brakhage

> Fred Camper
> Chicago
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Received on Tue Aug 23 2011 - 12:40:36 CDT