It’s been a long time coming. Film has been on the way out for years, as studios have increasingly turned to cheaper, easier and more efficient alternatives. Only now has it finally dropped down the chain to York Student Cinema. Yes, after a long year (and at least 3 showings of Frozen) we have finally scraped together the money to install our new digital projector!
And it’s very good. The brightness and the clarity of the picture is just incredible. I almost feel sorry for our old Victoria 5; the company’s tagline, ‘Realer than reel’, adds insult to injury. Now trailers come in the compact form of a memory stick, while whole films will be posted to us on hard drives we need only plug in, and hunting down tape for splicing reels together has been replaced by playlisting capabilities.
Many people feel that 35mm has a sort of old-timey romance to it that cannot be replicated with pixels. Perhaps the nostalgia emerges from the inevitable break with the glorious cinematic history of film. The idea of the breathtaking period glamour of Gone With the Wind having been captured on anything other than celluloid is unthinkable, and who can help but admire the ingenuity required to create lightsabers without the use of modern special effects? The transition to digital provides a marked departure from the the safe rolls of film that have provided us with comedy, drama and wonder since the days of Georges Méliès.
The list of directors mourning the death of film includes Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino and Stephen Spielberg. We, the projectionists, have no idea what it’s like on the front line. We just show and appreciate the end result, marvelling at how someone managed to fit such a wealth of beauty and visual spectacle into such tiny frames. We are very privileged to have seen movies like very few people get to see them- as physical things to touch and hold. We run it through our hands, chop it up, stick it back together, mangle it, and (after much work and a lot of swearing) put it on display for everyone to see. It’s an under-appreciated job, being the final cog in the machine ensuring that the long process pays off, and that the film gets the showing it deserves.
Certainly, there are things I’ll miss. There was that one time we tried to identify a woman in a frame of The Counsellor (it was Brad Pitt with long hair). And the moment when the projector decided to burn the film just after Johnny Depp said an embarrassingly bad line in The Lone Ranger, as if it had just given up. Or the day I officially qualified as a chief projectionist, a happily uneventful showing of Don Jon.
But do not expect me to swing a bell about the city, pronouncing that the end is nigh. I have experienced the difficulties with film first-hand. I know it takes up a lot of space. I know it requires a lot of preparation. I know it has the tendency to mangle and burn at the slightest mistake in setting it up. It’s tricky but has an undeniably unique quality, and I don’t think this is the end of the road: many directors are still actively committed to shooting 35mm and, among others, J.J. Abrams’ untitled Star Wars instalment will be hearkening back to the franchise’s pre-digital days by using film stock.
It’s given us many years of mostly good, if occasionally frustrating and unreliable, work. Time for our old Victoria 5 to take a step back and and let one of those new digital whippersnappers pick up the slack.
To anyone amazed by my suddenly brilliant photography skills, I should add that these gorgeous photos were taken by someone at York Student Cinema (I know not who!).