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We Lost It at the Movies

Last week's cover story, "The Death of Film," by Gendy Alimurung, triggered a flood of correspondence — with movie lovers of all stripes weighing in on the film-vs.-digital debate.

A reader who calls himself "35mm director" believes that Hollywood's push to digital is part of a broader move toward the cheaper and the crappier. "We once built houses properly, and elegantly, from wood and plaster," he writes. "Then drywall and suburban developments ruined construction. Furniture was once largely made from lovely, natural woods. Now we have the scourge of Ikea. Etcetera, etcetera. There are always cheaper, more economical methods of bringing product to market. But they are not always better. Digital files are a lesser alternative to 35mm film, both as a production and as an exhibition format. Those who cannot tell the difference have simply not seen enough truly beautiful films."

JonzzyB thinks Hollywood has a bigger problem: "Let's face it. Film is not the problem. Hollywood never had a problem with projecting or paying for 35mm prints. Their real problem is their disgusting committee meetings, always looking for the next moneymaking scheme."

Anthony doesn't agree. "There are plus sides to digital. It has nothing to do with the way houses are built or how furniture is made. The cards you insert to record digital are lighter, easier to handle, etc. Bulky, expensive 35mm reels are out. Yes, they have excellent quality, but let's face it, times change. Change with the times. I like seeing a film in 35mm just as well as anyone, and it's a historic piece of cinematic history, but hey ... Would you like to go back to Model T's? Or do you like your Lexus better?"

Tom Lavagnino points out that film has its problems, too. "The word 'scratch' appears but once in Gendy Alimurung's cover story. Yet any cineaste who's dutifully sat through a revival house–centric, projected-on-film, scratched-sometimes-to-the-point-of-indecipherability screening of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Apocalypse Now, or Sunset Boulevard, or Nashville, or INSERT TITLE OF YOUR FAVORITE CLASSIC FILM HERE, knows and understands, implicitly, the advantage of digital projection over conventional 35mm," he argues. "There's really no contest. It's taken a full century, but the fact of the matter is, digital projection has finally rendered the moviegoing experience fully and wholly immersible. Now if we can just get rid of those texting teens!"

Film Editor seconds that (the part about film, that is — not the texting teens).

"Digital projection is superior to film. Film is totally imperfect: the way flicker lines appear, how dust and scratches riddle the film stock, distracting 'cigarette burns,' and audio pops accompanied by the sudden loss of the SDDS audio and switching to the horrid-sounding four-channel backup. It's a rugged medium, naturally sensitive. It degrades, it's hefty and expensive.

"Listen, I like film. But it is unarguable when people say it's a hassle to deal with, a hassle to protect. In fact, setting up a 35mm camera is a three-man job. I, for one, am glad 35mm is on its way out of production and especially out of my theatrical presentations."

Rob Kozlowski, though, is worried about the future. "Celluloid is archival," he writes. "Digital is not. What frightens me most is that studios are going to start throwing away all their 35mm prints for good."

And Andy is concerned about the theaters that screen the classics. "Does no one care that the studios are straight-out locking up their archives from exhibition? That most of these films will never get digitally converted?" he asks. "The Digital Cinema Package [DCP] makes sense 100 percent for a multiplex. Lower costs, easier distribution. But what about the repertory houses? Does no one honestly give a toss? That these film houses, often in historic film palaces, will be left to close and turn into condo buildings?

"We are, again, at such an important change here. Approximately 80 percent of the silent era is lost forever because it was deemed not important to archive and save for future generations. Many classics are gone because the studios junked prints or negatives.

"I get that DCP is the future of mainstream exhibition, and yes, it looks great when projected properly. It is indeed helping repertory film houses. But not with a gun to the head like the majors are doing here.

"I want nothing more than to see the archives of 35mm and 70mm remain accessible to the beloved collection of revival theaters around the world, a format that is often the ONLY way to see many, many, many classics. But I really feel alone here."

Congratulations

We're proud to announce that L.A. Weekly staff writer Gene Maddaus has taken first place in Business and Financial Reporting in the Society of Professional Journalists' Best of the West competition. Maddaus was honored for his Sept. 16 cover story, "Secrets and Lies," which tells the story of Hollywood hustler Glen Hartford.

Correction

"The Death of Film" gave the wrong title for the Saul Bass film to which Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre was denied access. The film's title is Phase IV.

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