Re: [Frameworks] Film and video

From: Anna Biller <>
Date: Sat, 27 Aug 2011 13:30:34 -0700


I really think you have misunderstood most of what I have said. Let me try to be perfectly clear: I don't believe that there is anything that is inherently better than anything else. What I meant was that the word "better" is not in itself offensive, especially when used with words like "to me" or "I think" or "in my opinion." When I mentioned Florian's Super 8mm examples, it was because there is a reality to what he said in terms of what happens to Super 8mm (or even grainy 16mm) when blown up to where it starts to break down. If that's someone's aesthetic and they intend that look it's not a problem, but a filmmaker who shoots a Super 8mm film and is used to looking at it on the wall of their room and then sees it projected on a big screen will often be shocked, because the image will be so different than how they intended it to look, and will be a distortion of their intentions. For instance, if the color was meant to be bright and clear and now it's pale, and things were meant to be crisp and now one can't really see them, even if they are a "film fetishist" they might prefer a video image that replicates their images more faithfully at least in terms of color and resolution. Is that more clear?

That's what I meant too about video resolution having a "sweet spot." The issue of resolution is essential to video technology, and not quite so much to film technology. The sweet spot (or the "correct" resolution) is where the image resolution is not so clear that it becomes all about pores and veins, or so pixelated that it becomes about pixels. This is a property of video, and experimental video makers play with this property of video, in the same way that filmmakers play with properties of film. Film can have pretty large grain before it starts to break down to where it becomes distracting (although the Super 8mm example would be one instance of that) and it takes special lenses to produce an image that's got hyper-resolution. When I was talking about this it was to express what I personally like about film, part of which is that it has grains instead of pixels. The example about Jean Gabin was to show that I'm not attracted to the glamor of beautiful faces so much as the way film creates faces (and bodies and objects and environments). I do admit to being a fetishist about this. I am addicted to old black and white and Technicolor movies, and I watch as many as I can, even if I usually have to see them on television or on DVD. Yet that doesn't mean that I think there is a greater intrinsic value to film than to video. It's just what I like.

I know that some people do make such distinctions - that clear is always better than blurry, beautiful is always better than ugly, coherent is always better than incoherent, tonal music is better than banging on a trash can, etc. But I'm certainly not one of them. I'm even a little bit uneasy about a blog a friend wrote recently about Shakespeare having an intrinsically higher value than someone's dashed-off blog. He was trying to say that when a work is good, then the value is inside of the work, regardless of what people may think of it, and that a failure to appreciate Shakespeare is a failure inside of the reader and not inside of the work. While I may agree with this last point of his, I can't get comfortable with measuring intrinsic value in an absolute way, so I had to disagree with the premise of his blog as a whole.

On Aug 27, 2011, at 8:56 AM, Fred Camper wrote:

> Anna had written that she was "leaving" our thread, and so I respected
> that, leaving her with the last word even though there was much I
> could have answered, until now, when she has decided to post a
> statement about my "fantasy life":
> "So if that's what you disagree with you are not disagreeing with me,
> you are disagreeing with Fred's fantasy life in which I say much
> stupider things than I actually say."
> Earlier, Florian had written:
> "Super 8 film, when scanned well, looks better on a big screen when
> it's projected by a good digital projector than by a Super 8 projector
> (because of the 250 watt/300 lumen limit for Super 8 projectors)."
> I then argued that not everyone wants that kind of "better":
> "I greatly prefer dim super-8 film projection for my super-8 film to
> super-8 on bright video, because I wasn't trying get the bright look
> of 16mm or 35mm, but to use super-8 for its own, small, fragile,
> sketch-like qualities."
> To which Anna replied:
> "Anyone who has tried to project Super 8mm on a big screen will
> usually feel that the results are disappointing. The colors wash out
> and the images can really get very indistinct. One can always play the
> devil's advocate and say 'well, the ugly is really beautiful,' or 'I
> like blurry washed out images, and anyone who disagrees has not
> considered all the options,' but I think just in terms of courtesy
> people should be able to speak in plain language and be understood."
> I might remark at this point that the ENTIRE ETHOS of avant-garde film
> has been that there is no one correct way, no one "better," and that
> in particular "better" is certainly not the "better" of sharper and
> brighter images, and that the "courtesy" Anna mentions seems to me to
> show no knowledge of this and no courtesy at all to my self-declared
> preference. (Or, is she saying she is judging others' films by how
> much they are like her own? Is "better" for her own work "better" for
> every other film too?)
> I recommend to all who don't already know it a careful reading of Stan
> Brakhage's wonderful and practical guide to how to make films, "A
> Moving Picture Giving and Taking Book," available in "Brakhage
> Scrapbook," as one example.
> Then, in the post in which she announced she was leaving the
> discussion, she ended with:
> "Anyone who has followed this discussion can plainly see that I have
> only ever been serious and respectful in my posts, and that I have not
> made blanket statements of the kind you keep insisting I am making.
> I'm leaving the discussion now. "
> So "anyone" can read the above and decide if replying to my own stated
> preference for super-8 projection of my own work by suggesting I was
> saying "the ugly is really beautiful" is "serious" and "respectful."
> The problem from the outset has been, as I see it, is the unexplained
> uses of the word "better." Anna says it was to "define" her
> "subjective tastes," but she didn't explain anything about it, unless
> I missed something. My original query did not envision responses such
> as "I like film better because it looks better" or because "faces look
> better," but something more specific.
> Here are some invented examples of the kind of replies I was hoping
> for, staying with Anna's interest in the human figure:
> I prefer the human figure on film because the physicality of film
> gives me a stronger sense of a physical human body than any of the
> types of video I've seen, including HD, and my work depends on
> starting with the illusion of the physical presences of my characters
> in the screening room.
> Or:
> I prefer the flatness of projected HD for my work because bodies in it
> preserve all the details I want -- my work depends on seeing every
> blemish -- while not pretending that the bodies are physically
> present; in my work, it's the idea of a body rather than the presence
> that's important.
> Or:
> I prefer low definition video shown on the cathode ray tube because in
> this format bodies are flickering, evanescent presences that are in no
> way physical, but rather, ghosts in the phosphor, and all my figures
> are meant to be ghosts, which is anyway true to what we know from
> quantum mechanics about the impossible to pin down, immaterial nature
> of all matter.
> Statements such as these reason from the nature of media to one's preferences.
> And just to be sure no one thinks I have a preference between these
> three, which I do not, I'll mention love the video "films" of Michael
> Mann, and among my ten favorite films are the celluloid,
> character-based "Genroku Chushingura" (Mizoguchi), "El Dorado"
> (Hawks), "Seven Women" (Ford), and "The Tarnished Angels" (Sirk).
> Fred Camper
> Chicago
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Received on Sat Aug 27 2011 - 13:30:43 CDT