Re: [Frameworks] Quo Vadis Celluloid?

From: Anna Biller <>
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2011 08:31:43 -0700

You are admitting there is loss if we lose film and that the loss of choices is horrible - you are admitting that differences even between film stocks are important and can be felt - you are admitting that different media encourage different processes of making (which is what I meant by organic) - - so we essentially agree.

I never said that showing pictures of people was organic to the medium of film! I also never said that digital projection is flat, which David credited me with! (Someone else said that). What I mean when I say that people look better on film is, as Marilyn put it, the quality of light. I was watching some Jean Gabin films on TCM, and one wouldn't exactly say that the middle-aged Gabin is beautiful, but he did look so beautiful in those films. Shimmery, silvery. I guess it was nitrate stock on most of those films. The sets were breathtaking too, bathed in silvery light. So much of the greatness of a film such as Touchez Pas au Grisbi has to do with the quality of light. The story and acting are great of course too, but without the sensual elements created by the lighting, film stock, and analog sound it would be a much different (and diminished) film. The light is much of the content of that film.

I talk about people because the differences can be noticed more on people. No one looks good in the magnifying side of a makeup mirror, with all of their pores enlarged way beyond what the human eye can detect. But a tree videoed in this way, or a bug or a building, can look really interesting. If you like faces to be maps of pores and blemishes, then there's no problem, and perhaps many people do, but not usually when it's their own face. There always seems with video to be this perfect spot, where the resolution isn't so good that you can see all the pores, and isn't so bad that you start perceiving a matrix of squares over everything. If the images were originally shot on film, then all you have to do is reproduce them with the correct resolution on video and they will look fairly like the original. But as capture media, they're still very different, and always will be. The quality of light almost can become a cult in an of itself. I would almost argue that the whole cult of Hollywood glamor was based on how the stars were lit. And in much of experimental film, it's partly the quality of the film medium itself and its idiosyncrasies that creates the cult.

Ever since I started practicing I have only seen a respect for video and what it can achieve, and makers that perhaps shifted between film and video, but mostly ended up (or started out) using video and really enjoying it. I don't think anyone that uses video that I know of sees it as any type of loss. If they do see it as a loss, they usually just use film. I don't see people being fetishistically attached to film without an awareness of what video can do. I think people who use film use it because they are passionate about it, and find it to be worth the trouble to continue to use it. Even most of the older filmmakers I know long switched to video. They all give the lecture now and then about new technologies and what the red-cam can do, etc. It's interesting to hear about someone's passion, but it often is one-sided, and sounds uncomfortably like peer pressure, or like, "Get out of your cave and open your eyes to the wonders of technology!" It reminds me of whenever there is a joint around and I don't want to smoke it. People get mad, as if you are blaming them for pot-smoking by not partaking.

On Aug 22, 2011, at 10:53 PM, Fred Camper wrote:

> 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
> again.
> 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
> then?
> 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
> Chicago
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Received on Tue Aug 23 2011 - 08:32:02 CDT