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Movie Heaven

Tuesday 5 March 2013, 14:52

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

Last night I introduced a special screening of the Jean Cocteau classic La Belle et la Bete on 35mm at my favourite cinema in the UK - I was truly in movie heaven.

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    Comment number 1.

    Hmm... not sure. I haven't seen this film in any form so can't comment on that per se.
    And it's not that I am against old or new technology - I just don't like the idea of something just for the sake of it.
    Sometimes old technology can enhance new technology - listening to FM radio on an old valve set is a good example. But will there always be a place for side by side when it comes to film?
    My local independent (and only) cinema has just gone netirely over to digital and one thing that struck me immediately was a much sharper image.
    Perhaps we should ahve cinemas dedicated to 35mm that run films made to be shown in that format. But perhaps otherwise if a film is digitally shot (which is undoubtedly the way it's gonna be) then they should be shown digitally.
    Hmm...still NOT sure!!

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    Comment number 2.

    During a stint as a multiplex projectionist, I remember doing my back in carrying around a 35mm print of Titanic, spread over a dozen reels, so I hate the stuff. It's heavy, difficult to distribute, cumbersome, perishable and prohibitively expensive for amateurs trying to get started in filmmaking.

    But, come on. Film is better. It just is. 'Side by Side' made me question my position for five minutes, then I concluded I was right all along. Film wins, by a landslide.

    Thankfully, I'm lucky enough to live by a 35mm picturehouse. I may never get to see the latest Imax offering, but I do get to watch Goodfellas as intended.

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    Comment number 3.

    For me it should be digital all the way. Digital offers a wide range of possibilities that improves the viewing experience, films are sharper and the resolution is breathtaking. However where digital has earned its stripes is in film preservation. Just look at what Eureka Entertainment and Criterion in the U.S. have done with digital technology, they have cleaned and remastered both classic and unknown films and have re-introduced them to many new film fans thus ensuring that everyone can have a chance to watch classics of the cinematic medium.

    HOWEVER

    Digital has its downfalls, and like pretty much any other industry that is a slave to the free market economy, the cinematic digital revolution has created many casualties; in this case it is the projectionists, making this wonderful profession obsolete. Which brings me onto my second counterpoint; the flaws of digital projection far outweighs that of celluloid, sound out of synch, or switched off entirely, the projection is out of focus or out of frame etc. Now there is only one person who is responsible for an entire cinema screenings, and they are technicians who don't know the difference between screen ratio or projection ratio, and most probably don't know the difference between The Third Man and The Hangover.

    Sure digital has helped, but the niggles far outweigh the positives.

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    Comment number 4.

    Our local Picturehouse showed an early Chaplin film, and although not my favorite of the silents, I thought I'd go along to support them showing silent fare. I was annoyed to find that they were showing a digital print which had very distracting artefacts on screen -- any edge in the image near vertical or horizontal became a strangely dotted line. (I suspect that it was either a very bad transfer, or a DVD quality print which upon being shown through their 4k projector "developed" these artefacts on the fly as the technology was trying to upscale the content).

    This does show up the school of thought that once you "preserve" celluloid digitally, that's the end of the story. The problem is that many preservation efforts are now made along these lines, and while digitization should still be done, keeping the dwindling library of the world's celluloid alive is more important than ever.

    The Cocteau is great, and I've been lucky enough to have seen it on a big screen before pixelization. That said, the first time I ever saw it was on an beat up old b&w telly on a rainy afternoon. It was every bit as magical then.

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    Comment number 5.

    Couldn't agree more. Was in my Fav Cinema the other week - the Curzon in Clevedon, Somerset. The guy played the organ before hand, the audience waited in line for ice creams at a booth by the side of the screen, the film was perfectly projected and the audience kept every rule of the 5 live Movie cod of conduct. The cinema dates back to 1912 and has a small museum dedicated to the history of Cinema. Have you been there Mark? You should try it - it was my idea of Movie Heaven.

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    Comment number 6.

    Can we partly blame 3D, Mark's film nemesis, for this *wide scale* digitisation? Avatar was a phenomenon that obliged many cinemas to make the move. I think many yearn for film/classic 35mm because it acts a Proust moment. Unfortunately the younger generations, myself included, will not know that magic- which I agree is very sad.

    However there is a point to be made about the inefficiencies of film process. Surely film, with its flicker, lower resolution, colour fading etc.presents us the medium not just the content, much more noticeably compared to digital. It could be said that digital gives far more artistic control.

    In a sense though it's like seeing a print of an oil painting rather than the original, it looks much the same but the lack of idiosyncrasy takes away the magic. Which one is cheaper to get hold of however?

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    Comment number 7.

    It's all well and good old men getting nostalgic about celluloid, but for me the biggest issue raised by the 'Side by Side' documentary was the subject of film preservation. With new formats being developed all the time, what happens to the films that don't get transferred to DVD?. From my own experience, i've found that a lot of pre-war Hollywood isn't available on DVD, often having to watch them on YouTube. I once watched The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums in 10 minute sections on YouTube because it was the only way i could see it, and judging by the picture quality, it was presumably uploaded from a beat-up old VHS copy. Now with live streaming becoming the new format of choice, how many films will get left on the shelf to rot. The term "lost film" is something we generally associate with the silent era, but how long before it becomes a by-word for vast swathes of cinema history?. A recent example being the 1992 Hong Kong film The Actress, 40 minutes was cut from the running time and the producers destroyed the original negative and the uncut version apparently only exists on Australian television, i rather doubt i will ever get to see it, in any version. Dr K, i think we'd all be interested to your thoughts on this subject.

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    Comment number 8.

    I agree - and I think film will always have a place thanks to innovations like IMAX - that keep being part of the present so that it cannot be written out like analogue video etc.

    I think a new incentive should be made to push for a return to Drive-in cinemas - plenty of cars on the road and enough sound tech to allow car stereos to connect wire-lessley and get the soundtrack playing out of their car speakers for nice sound!

    A great date, family night out or just great for a group of friends to drive down and catch The Raid playing and just hang out.


    Film is very versatile and the more it makes use of this the better and more interest means more demand and this means more supply and so more investment.

    that is how we keep film alive

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    Comment number 9.

    As primarily an audiophile as well as a cinephile, I still treasure my collection of l.p.'s alongside CD's and digital music files. I would never contemplate getting rid of my records or my turntable and cinema should operate in the same way. As Mark says, the future of the projection booth should be a 35mm projector alongside a digital projector. Side by side as Keanununu would quite rightly say.

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    Comment number 10.

    Movie Heaven or Movie Hell? Sounds like that line in Saturday Kitchen... by James Martin (puffing the bbc lately tut iam...).

    Any arthouse/independent cinema or projection set-up that has an intimate atmosphere and a world-class film (usually world cinema) is Movie Heaven for me, no question: Pure bliss. So the digital or celluloid is not so much a factor... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOYzFKizikU

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    Comment number 11.

    Ah Cocteau. Yes Mark, I wholeheartedly agree.

    On a broader point, why is it that you so rarely reference older (pre-1970s) movies either here or on the radio show? Is it that you feel less knowledgeable about the classics, or you feel that they are less accessible to a wide audience? The former would surprise me, but if it's the latter then might I suggest you give it a go? It was watching movies featuring Cagney, Bogart, Hepburn etc as a teenager that turned me on to the great possibilities of cinema, and began the love affair with celluloid (or, latterly, digital) that has persisted into middle age.

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    Comment number 12.

    Harry Limes Shadow - I have managed to see both those movies on VHS here in Australia, from the fortunate position of being a university librarian and therefore getting access to them. Are you doing the 1001 movies? Feel free to email me if you need any tips, and I have a bunch of DVDs from that list that I no longer want. I'm easily googled.

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    Comment number 13.

    The economics of the industry was always going to push it to digital. Some of the makers of projectors are subsidising some of the conversion, but only up to a certain date in the near future. So all exhibitors need to be digital otherwise they incur this cost themselves with no subsidy.

    My favourite cinemas are Hyde Park Picturehouse in Leeds and Curzon Soho. I don't care what format they show, it is the atmosphere, history and the love for film that you feel when in those cinemas.

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    Comment number 14.

    #4 - "I suspect that it was either a very bad transfer, or a DVD quality print..."

    Most likely a shop-bought DVD. This happens more than you might think. When my local art-house - Chichester Cinema at New Park - shows old films it's usually from a DVD. And once they bought a dual format DVD/BD of a BFI film (by John Krish) and used the inferior DVD version!

    #2 - "I'm lucky enough to live by a 35mm picturehouse. I may never get to see the latest Imax offering, but I do get to watch Goodfellas as intended."

    For as long as the distributors are happy to loan out the print. Which going by America's example won't be for much longer, alas.

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    Comment number 15.

    Aah, one of my favourite films of all time, a real wonder of the cinematic art. I wish I'd been there!

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    Comment number 16.

    I grew up down the road from The Phoenix as well and have many fond memories of all nighters in there with a few cans in the 80's, getting to see classic films on the big screen for a couple of quid. I am really glad to hear the place is still there and I hope it is for many years to come.

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    Comment number 17.

    My local multiplexes used to say online whether or not the films would be in digital. Now they don't bother- it's just the norm. Shame really.

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    Comment number 18.

    We had the wonderful prize just before Christmas of having a guided tour around the projection rooms at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh. We had a wonderful time with one of the projectionists who was passionate about her work and all the different film formats . It was meant to last half an hour - an hour and half later we thanked her and watched "Life of Pi" in 2D. She'd given us a taster of the 3D but my head hurt after five minutes.
    I think the choice is important. The Filmhouse offers the side by side option and they intend to keep it that way. The Cameo down the road used to offer that too. But as it's now taken over, it will be interesting to see if that continues. It means that the public need to support the independent cinemas. No-one else is going to do that unless the industry can be compelled to.

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    Comment number 19.

    I love film too, but don't share this mawkish sentimentality towards celluloid. It's the past, it's dying, all great empires fall, get over it.

    When digital was taking over still photography, I was mortified, I refused to change. Then I woke up to the ease of image manipulation through Photoshop and reduced costs of having to buy 35mm stock and have never looked back. Yes, I miss Fuji Velvia, but I can now replicate that with a few mouse clicks and more besides.

    Why would I want to sit in a rickety old cinema, watching a grubby and crackly print of "The Passion Of Joan Of Arc" when I can view a pristine, beautiful and filmic copy of it through a Blu-ray player and home cinema set-up? What's wrong with wanting to view a film the way it was first projected, rather than on its crumbling, umpteenth run-through? And as for missing the wurring sound of the spools, why not create an MP3, loop it and play it at the back of the living room while watching your favourite old film on the telly. Voila, movie heaven!

    Nostalgia is good, but all it is at the end of the day is the emotion of a bygone time that you're clinging onto desperately with fingertips, refusing to let go, even though gravity will soon have its wicked way with you.

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    Comment number 20.

    First-time commenter...had to say something as this is one of my favorite movies of all time. It's one of those films that stays with you for weeks afterward, or in my case, years. Simply stunning. So wish I could have been at the screening!

 

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Outspoken, opinionated and never lost for words, Mark is the UK's leading film critic.

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