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Of Buggy Whips and Celluloid


I have seen the end of film, and while it may not be pretty, it is certainly sharp. Movies aren’t about to disappear. As long as there is an auteur with a digital recording device and iMovie on his or her Mac Book Pro, there will be movies.

But movies will not be immune from the carnage of digital isolationism and the loss of what amounts to the soul of cinema: its social element.

Oddly, this will not be due to a lack of quality. Quite the contrary; the end of movies will be projected in high-def digital glory on walls and plasma screens and laptops and cell phones across the nation.

Because as the technology gets better and cheaper, more and more people are bringing it home—and therein lies the danger. If you think NetFlix is giving theaters a financial Charlie horse, Blu-ray discs, players and projectors are set to turn the once-communal experience of watching a movie into a relic of the past, just as pulling into the local drive-in for a burger has become an icon of the Good Ol’ Days.

I know this is true because my film aficionado friend, Pablo “Keelsetter,” told me so. In fact, there’s a lot more to the loss of the group experience of watching a film. As he wrote in his film blog—found at moviemorlocks.com:

“…there is a collection of pheromones and audible and physical communications emitted by a large crowd of people reacting to a film that can definitely accentuate the experience. Also, let’s face it: true immersion into a film is more likely in a theater where you cannot pause the action and where your silence and attention are part of the understood bond of that setting.”

In addition is the demise of viewing a story told via a classic medium: film.
Just as a gearhead can tell by the sound of an idling motor that he’s in the presence of a 1968 Cobra Jet Mustang, a film connoisseur appreciates knowing details like aspect ratios and print quality. Because they matter in the same way aspiration and compression matter in an engine or brush strokes matter in a Van Gogh painting.

Not only are we on the brink of losing the shared experience of going to the theater, we are also facing the loss of the medium itself. The rare event of seeing a pristine print of a classic film on a reel projector in a theater is, if you understand what you’re looking at, a true treat. The rich color, texture (grain) and feel of film stands in stark contrast to the cold precision of its digital counterpart.

There are a few places that take such things seriously. One is the International Film Series at CU, the local purveyor of art-house cinema, launched in 1941. Oh, and Pablo Kjolseth is its director and film factotum.
It is there, in the intimate confines of 400-seat Muenzinger Auditorium that IFS Senior Projectionist, John Templeton, runs film through the increasingly old school reel-to-reel projectors. And while it lacks some of the count-the-pores razor sharpness of digital, the films—especially the new and pristine prints IFS strives so hard to get—have a warmth and feel that imbues them with character.

It’s a lot like my old albums. Sure, there were some pops and hiss that largely went away if you cleaned them. But they also had richness and depth of tone that just isn’t there with today’s digital downloads. It’s not that the notes are different on the digital version, it’s that the quality is a function of the medium.

The technology is here to stay that enables us to flip open a laptop—or, for crying out loud, a phone—and watch a movie whenever and wherever we want. The medium is waning, as is the element of it being a shared experience. But thanks to old-school connoisseurs like Kjolseth and Templeton and the support and effort of CU and the IFS, film may hang around a little longer.

Now if only we can convince a couple hundred friends and strangers to enjoy the show together—and share some pheromones in a dark theater—the experience will be complete.


Lacy is an award-winning food writer and blogger. She lives in Westminster with her family. Google

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