A Diary Of The “Last” 35mm Screening Of THE SHINING

Can be found here.

I don’t want to believe that it really is the last one, hence the scare quotes. And there may well be other prints lurking around the world that surface over time. But: still. 

Also, one thing reading this brings to mind: will people commune together to see digital versions of films they can watch at home on huge HD setups? Or will events like this, bringing together fans of a film for a shared communal experience, become a thing of the past?

What it means to save 35mm film in 2012.

There is a conception that many have, that those that are campaigning right now for the preservation of 35mm as a film format believe that it should continue to be used as the principal exhibition format for all films, despite the industry’s continued movement towards digital projection. 

I cannot speak for everybody - if for no other reason that the “we” I believe to exist is not even remotely organized into a common body with a shared voice as of yet - but I, personally, do not believe that. For one thing, it’s naive to think that will happen; digital offers a massive cost advantage in manufacture and shipping, amongst other potential advantages. 

(Most of the “potential advantages” are hard to weigh without looking at the specifics of the situation - are you comparing best case film to worst case digital, or vice versa?)

And then there’s this. I’ve seen DRIVE (shot on digital) in both film and digital. On film, it was underwhelming. On digital, it sang. As somebody who has kicked and screamed against digital projection for years, I finally admit that, at least to my eyes, it has come of age. 

And as a filmmaker planning on distributing a film this year, I have no desire to make a 35mm print if I can avoid it. If someone made one for me, I wouldn’t turn it down … well, actually, I might, depending on how the costs would ultimately come back to me. 

The point being, for new films, I’m not personally clinging on to 35mm in the face of the digital future anymore.

But the future is one thing, and the past is another. 

In the past week, I’ve had word via Twitter (hat tip: @cmasonwells) indicating that Warner Bros is no longer sending out prints of their films to repertory houses in the US. This means that films like THE SHINING, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, MCCABE & MRS MILLER, THE WILD BUNCH, BADLANDS, THE EXORCIST, and BONNIE AND CLYDE may never be seen again on the medium they were shot, in the way they were intended.

And those are just the high profile films, likely to receive 2k or 4k remasters. For even slightly lower profile films, the only option may be DVD (if a DVD even exists), as the Austin Film Society found out when they requested Fritz Lang’s FURY

And it’s not just old films. NEVER LET ME GO was released in 2010, and while I have no figure, I feel confident in saying hundreds of prints were made. When Julia Marchese tried to book it for the New Beverly earlier this year, however, she was told only two prints exist: one damaged, and one on long term loan to a cruise boat. 

Our film history is disappearing before our very eyes. 

The one year that I went to Telluride was 2000, and I saw a panel that had, amongst others, Paul Schrader, discussing the future of film. He believed that film itself would become something that would be as esoteric as illuminated manuscripts are today, and small groups would travel long distances to see it, but most wouldn’t care. I imagined that, maybe, when I was 70, that I might be one of them. 

It never occurred to me that it might happen before I was 40. 

Does it matter? It does to me. It does to the cinematheques of the world that have devoted themselves to projecting these films over the years, and their programmers, and their audiences. 

History is full of examples of abandoning our cultural past. Sometimes it comes back. In 1992, I doubt anyone would have predicted that vinyl sales would be on the rise whilst CD sales would be on the wane in 20 years. But it happened. 

But film is different. Few of us have the means to own and properly preserve even one print, much less a library of them. We are reliant on corporate interests to preserve the cultural history that they have fathered, but that we have all come to personally invest in, attach to, embrace as part of our lives, our selves. 

And, it appears, those corporate interests are turning their backs on the responsibility of preserving that heritage. 

And this is why we fight. 

This documentary, hosted by Keanu Reeves, looks to be an excellent collection of interviews with directors on both sides of the fence about the sea change in the industry.