Shock-O-Rama: Celluloidal Genocide -

Shock-O-Rama: Celluloidal Genocide

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Shock-O-Rama: Celluloidal Genocide

Death of the film going experience

By Chuck Francisco     August 04, 2012

A paper ticket, torn roughly into halves, rests hidden in your back pocket. There it will likely remain hidden until wash day, when you regretfully realize that it went through the machine, making a mess of your laundry load. Tonight your mind is not concerned with such frivolities. No. Right now, the real world concerns of geometry and physics are in the front and center of your concentration. With one arm serpentinely wrapped around a bucket of buttered, popcorny deliciousness, and the other precariously balancing two sodas, on a flimsy cardboard tray next to your candy of choice, you bravely wade amongst  rows of theatre goers to acquire the optimum viewing angle. 

In that dark din, something special is going to happen. The gentle rumbling chatter of those around you, full of laughter and hopeful speculation, gives no hint of importance or sense of magnitude. As the lights dim further and the discussion ceases, we move through a progression of previews, on to the main event. There it is; it's happening. As that 35mm band of imagination is blasted across the cinema screen, you are being intrinsically changed by the act of viewing. Perhaps you leave loving this film, or you may depart to rage about it's inadequacies to the internet masses; regardless a change has occurred, however minute.

Along the way, a second change has been effected, an even less noticeable one. 35mm film, by it's very nature, degrades with each and every viewing. No matter what preservation measures are taken, or how careful the projectionist, it leaves slightly different than when it arrived. In effect, we have changed that film print, we've reciprocally left our impression on it. Many of us struggle to leave our mark on life in different ways; very few of us succeed lastingly. We never realized that each time we went to movies, we were doing just that: changing a piece of cinematic history with our very simple act of viewership. It's simple, and it's pure, and it's reassuring. It's also, sadly, coming to an end.
If you haven't heard, digital projection is the wave of the future and a tsunami level crush is headed our way. Most major theater chains have already made the upgrade in order to take advantage of a monetary credit from the studios. You've probably been watching digital projection for the better part of a year, or longer if you frequent a multiplex for all your cinematic indulgences. For new blockbuster films files, the only way you might have known is if there was a problem or if you stayed beyond the credits, where a depressing Windows desktop lives. Apart from these tell tale signs, not much of a difference is occurring. We still purchase our popped corn; we still huddle in the dark, among like minded movie goers. So why am I drawing an obstinate line I the sand? (This far; no father)

Nearly all new movies are being shot digitally now anyway (including Hugo, which was a love letter to old cinema and film), so it wouldn't make sense to then convert them to 35mm film. Believe it or not, in some small way, I've accepted new, digitally shot movies, in digital format. It's the inevitable course of things to come. However, the major studios aren't stopping there. They're inflicting a wound which most cinephiles could recover from, given tender treatment time. Then they're pouring a solution of gasoline mixed with spite into the aforementioned injury. The word around town is that most major studios, once the deadline drops, will be shutting their vaults, never again renting out archival prints for film screenings. This mustache twirling turn of villainy has several cascading effects. 
First (and most dire), repertory cinema houses, many of which are vintage old movie palaces, who cannot afford the quarter of a million dollar upgrade, will be crushed out of business. Within a few years, these beautifully historic buildings, once crowned with majestic neon lighting, will be torn down to make way for a pharmacy (across the street from a rival pharmacy). Secondly, your chances to see classic films will be incredibly limited, comprised mainly of LCD projections of DVD or BLU-RAY copies. If you're lucky, a large chain might do a rare retro night on there fancy new digital projection system, but you can bet that the fare being show will be only the most popular selections. You chances to see rare, strange or fascinatingly bizarre films on the big screen may rapidly be coming to a close.
Lastly, future generations will not get to have an impact on their films as we had on ours. That yin and yang relationship has ended, swapping from symbiotic to parasitic. Maybe it is such a simple thing, so easily put out of mind in the face of technological wonders that are the advancement of cinema. Perhaps I'm completely off my rocker and this is such a stupid thing for me to have penned paragraphs about, but I think people will miss the novelty, once it's completely gone. For evidence to support my theory, take the recent example of analog left behind in the wake of the digital progress: photography. For all the convenience smart phones provide to amature photographers, millions of people seek solace in the arms of imperfect results by way of Instagram. Some (myself included) take it a step further and continue to use Polaroid instant photography. A quick side observation: The trend in photography seemingly is to take a half dozen photos with a smart phone, and hope that one comes out looking good. I've found that with Polaroids costing roughly $3 per photo, I have to take genuine care and effort to frame a shot and make sure everything is just right. I feel it translates to the canvas, but as with all things in life, your mileage may vary.


And now, dear reader, I've given you a sliver of time. I haven't given you much, so don't waste any. Fire up your web browser and search out a cinematic repertory cinema house near you; see what's on the menu. I don't mean to suggest that you only patronize the ones showing Evil Dead 2; as a genre fan, you've probably already seen it to undeath. This may be your very last chance to see Casablanca, King Kong ('33 you philistines!), The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Monster Squad, Metropolis or any other classic film in 35mm, ever again. If you've never believed that those tiny imperfections, those slight scratches, add character to the a film viewing, I strongly challenge you to reconsider. That's the eyes of a million audience members staring out at you. They're traveling through time to leave a legacy, just as you're leaving one for lucky audiences, lasting who knows how long.
See you at the movies!


Saturday Shock-O-Rama Streaming Suggestions
Want to watch something schlocky right now? Try on a few of these suggestions, available right now from the listed service (most of which are FREE!).

Netflix -  Deadly Blessing - Horror (1981)
Crackle -  John Carpenter's Vampires - Horror/Action (1998)
YouTube - Jason and the Argonauts - Fantasy (1963) (in 11 pieces)
Hulu - Atom Age Vampire - Horror/Vampire (1960)

And if you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).

Chuck Francisco is a columnist for Mania writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema.You can delve further into his love of all things weird and campy on his blog, The Midnight Cheese or hear him occasionally guesting on eminent podcast You've Got Geek.


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DarthoftheDead 8/6/2012 9:09:10 AM

 I agree with you, Mr Francisco!!!!!

We are a dying breed, lol!!!

RobertTrate 8/7/2012 9:57:06 AM

I saw Captain Blood on 35mm and it ripped towrads the end. The whole theater sat around lauging about it and no one was really upset. It was the climax and we were all forced to wait. It came back up, Flynn got his final hooray and we all cheered. It was about a 2 minute wait for a 30 second scene. The laughter and fellowship as well all walked out made that tiny break worth it. 

clmbr121 8/8/2012 11:17:22 AM

There is another way to look at this: all of the celluloid films will eventually need to be transferred to a digital format just to preserve them.  It's as you say: each viewing essentially damages the film, and the ravages of time alone will eventually reduce the film to nothing.  (It's why Lucas re-released the orginal Trilogy in the 90s...if they didn't do it then, they would lose the film forever.)  So, in the end, this really is an act of preservation.  Mosters we be, lest monsters we become, so to speak.

You raise a good point...places like the Colonial won't necessarily be able to afford a big upgrade right now, but in the long run, the technology will become cheaper, and there will always be sources for 35mm prints.  I wouldn't worry about the rumors of "locking up the vaults" until it actually happens.  Besides, as long as there is a way to make money off of them, the studios will never completely seal them away, and there are enough cinephiles with money and power in Holloywood who will make sure that the medium isn't lost forever.



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