Re: [Frameworks] Quo Vadis Celluloid?

From: Fred Camper <>
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2011 00:53:55 -0500

Quoting David Tetzlaff <>:

> Maybe Fred's point could be paraphrased as, "Hey, there's nothing
> technological keeping you from making something brilliant. So let's
> get busy!"

Yes. yes, and yes. Thank you, David!

I've been reading this thread with interest, and saving up for a long
response, but now some things have been said that make me want to
respond in part right away.

OF COURSE the unique "looks" of film are wonderful in themselves and
it's terrible when we lose them. We've been losing them for more than
half a century, however. Nitrate film has a lustrousness not possible
on acetate. IB Technicolor prints have a look, even, one could argue,
a spirit, that can be got in no other way. Many early avant-garde
color films were printed on that great lost Kodak stock, 7387,
vanished in the 1980s, and nothing looks like it, so no new print of
"Cat's Cradle" on film will ever look like it did originally, or,
perhaps, like it should. "The Art of Vision" was printed on 7387 too,
but recent restorations cannot be, and it too will never look the same

But some of the technical points made about video don't sound right to
me, and I hope others with far more knowledge of the field than I have
can confirm this. Pip says video has no flicker. Can't DLP projectors
pretty well replicate film-like flicker? Can't they operate at 24 fps
if the material they are given is so encoded?

More broadly, can we envision the day when we will not be able to tell
the difference between a film projected on film and the same film
transferred to video? What of the claimed distinctions between the two

One answer has to do with the different media encouraging different
processes of making, and I liked all the posts about the way
filmmaking technology influences making, including cameras breaking,
random streaks from hand processing, and the like. These seem
unarguable to me. Part of the richness of any medium, to me, has to do
with certain kinds of "resistance," with artists butting up against
physical limits, and working with them, as in for example those films,
or, as David recently stated, sections of films that for some
mysterious reason are all around two minutes and 45 seconds, the
length of a 100 foot roll at 24 fps. (So, in early 16 fps Warhol,
then, four minutes.)

That people look "better" on film than on video seems more dubious if
meant as an objective claim rather than a personal taste. (And, I
might ask, is making people look "better" necessary to good cinema?)
Of course anyone is free to think that, but what video are you
comparing to, and how objectively did you judge it? That wine tasting
experiment I cited was real, I believe, and many other things in
recent behavioral psychology have shown us how deeply our opinions can
be skewed by what seem like irrelevant external factors. Is digital
projection really that flat and awful, or can one learn to appreciate
it? My guess is that there are no right answers here: some artists who
now hate it might get used to it and come to love it, and others might
always hate it. Fine. And this is why the loss of choices that the
loss of technologies creates is so horrible. But this loss is nothing
new. In the 1970s there were FIVE Kodak color reversal stocks in
super-8, and each had a very different feel and very different
possibilities, and there was an Agfa stock too, and these are mostly
gone. I had seven different color choices when I started working in
16mm in the 1960s, four from Kodak and three from Ansco, and I tried
them all. I am in no way telling any artist what to do or what
materials to use, and posts that accuse me of having done so are very
wrong. It's the realities of the commercial world that are limiting
choices. I am suggesting that accepting these limits and exploring the
options you have (which, in the case of video, seem ever expanding,
even to the point of offering more rather than less control -- artists
can, for example, limit their work to certain kinds of projection) is
a more fruitful alternative than trying to shut out the world.

The question of what is "organic" to any given medium, is not an
objectively answerable one. Sure, it would seem a bit artificial to
try to digitally recreate effects first conceived of on film. But
what's wrong with artificial? Anna mentioned not liking the way people
look on video. But what the hell is so "organic" about using celluloid
and its grain to render pictures of people on film? Even more so,
pictures of paid actors walking around and talking? I know at least
one abstract filmmaker who declares all such films to be "lies," I
think because he considers them false to the medium. I don't agree
with him, but his position seems to me not at all an absurd one, and
to be as defensible as arguing that showing pictures of people on film
is "organic" to the medium.

Part of what I wanted to do was question those preferences and tastes
for film and against video that are not based on a clear-eyed
encounter with trying to use one or more of the many forms of video,
but rather, on habit. Pip's comments just gave a great example of
that. I don't think there's anything wrong with sticking with what one
knows, and not letting one's biases be challenged, but it might in the
end prove self-limiting.

For those who say my position may have changed, I don't think so. I
always thought video was as valid a medium for art making as any
other. My main position was against seeing films on video and thinking
you have seen the film, and especially in the days of VHS tapes seen
on CRTs.

It was great, for my purposes, that Jake Barningham posted about Kyle
Canterbury's and his own video work. I strongly recommend seeing both
of their work (and it's on Vimeo). Both came to make their work via
loving films. Both had to use video for economic reasons. And both
chose not to use video to try to make the films they might have hoped
to make, but for its own qualities. And for both, and for some other
video makers too, discovering those qualities was an ongoing journey
over a period of years. All this can also be said of the video work of
Yoel Meranda.

I made films when I was younger. I too suffer from technological
change. My early 16mm films were all meant to be printed on 7387, and
were, and I will never be able to make such prints again. The longest
was shot on the long-gone Ektachrome Commercial, a stock designed to
be printed on 7387, and I don't think there is a 16mm image I have
ever liked more than the results of that combination. Then I made a
long super-8 reversal film designed only to be projected on super-8.
Printing that on super-8? Ha!

For the last seven years my main interest and passion has been the
mostly photo-based digital prints I have been making. ( ) They typically combine multiple photos,
or multiple fragments of photos, or multiple versions of the same
photo. I think of the process of combining them as "editing," and am
pleased to see how quickly I can save multiple versions of the same
work, giving me time to mull over and revise alternative "edits,"
something much harder to too, almost impossible really, on celluloid.

Cinema is one inspiration for this work. When I started working on
these, the early results were pretty simple. As I understood more and
more of what digital imaging could do, through using it, my
conceptions expanded. I'd like to think that they are still expanding.
There's nothing like working in depth in a medium.

Fred Camper

FrameWorks mailing list
Received on Mon Aug 22 2011 - 22:54:18 CDT