It’s not that I am bored by the seemingly continuous debate about the demise or even death of celluloid, just rather irritated. Recently I was alerted to a Twitter whinge that no one liked using film anymore to take photographs – that is as a medium for stills photography. My observations lead me to a counter view which applies equally if not more so with the moving image based on fact. Can we please all agree that the aesthetic of film is still very much alive and kicking as is its use?
Production and sale of celluloid is on the increase after decades of decline. The peak was in 2003 when 906 million rolls of film were sold worldwide. Today the market is about two percent of that. (Do the maths!). Now, sales of film are growing 5% year on year. Kodak announced at the ultimate tech-fest, The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, back in January this year that Ektachrome was being reintroduced after a five-year absence. For those of us who love the unique aesthetic of not only the look of the filmed photographic image, but also the process by which the image is created, celluloid rules and will for all time!
This is no more clearly illustrated than in the work of filmmakers like Quentin Tarentino and Christopher Nolan whose recent output has been with 70mm. Regardless of what one might have to say about the quality of the scripts for both The Hateful Eight and Dunkirk, I defy anyone not to be completely blown away by the visual impact of this ultimate film format when watching either on 70mm in a conventional theatre or IMAX. And regardless of what you thought of La La Land, this movie needed to be shot on 35mm using Cinemascope to create that authentic Hollywood look. Just how many big Hollywood movies of the last year were shot on film? Rather more than you might think. Denzel Washington’s Oscar success Fences DP Charlotte Bruus Christensen is quoted as saying, “The reason why Denzel wanted to use film and with anamorphic lenses is because he said again and again, it’s an axis lens, and when you pull focus, the distortion makes you focus on the face.” Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals was also shot on 35mm as well as another big hit also shot by Christensen, The Girl on The Train. And don’t forget to include another Oscar hit Hidden Figures, again shot by a female DP Mandy Walker.
This year has seen the creation of a digital re-print of James Ivory’s 1992 classic, Howards End. Because the DoP Tony Pierce-Roberts and the colourist Steve Bearman were able to go back to the original negative they have been able to be true to the desired look and quality that was in the mind of the film makers back in 1993. There is a very good interview with the protagonists on BBC Front Row.
In cinema we also see more use of mixed formats. If you could stand to sit through the risible Batman V Superman – The Dawn of Justice, released last year, you would have watched material shot not only on 35mm, but 65mm, IMAX and Super 16 as well as various digital formats. British cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, (he shot another Hollywood blockbuster last year, Jason Bourne), has a preference for film still, although like many multi-format movies, digital still seems to win out for night-time and ultra-low light scenes. Black and White Film is being used more and more too. The Amazon scenes in last year’s extraordinary Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent being just one example.
At least with regard to the moving image, film continues to be hugely popular. It is also proving to be a lot simpler to manage and no more costly than shooting digitally now that data wrangling has become cumbersome, expensive and complex.
Long live film say I.