Manohla Dargis wrote this weekend about seeing Olivier Assayas's film Carlos at Cannes which was shot in 35 mm, but whose "thin visual quality of the images and occasional tell-tale splotches of yellow in white images strongly suggested that we were looking at a movie that had been shot in digital, perhaps with the RED [camera]."
Dargis wrote, "I haven't yet talked with the filmmakers of Carlos about the film's image quality. As it turns out, however, it was projected digitally, as are an increasing number of films at the festival. For most people, even movie critics, this probably doesn't seem like an especially urgent issue. It is. For most of its history, moving image entertainment has been created with film processes from start to finish... Film was part of why we loved the movies. And now that it's disappearing we have to ask what remains." She later added that most of the time, theaters are projecting what amounts to "a Blu-ray disc."
As what one might term a professional movie-goer, I have to admit this gave me food for thought, and it probably shouldn't have. I see ads all the time for showings of new 35 mm prints of classic films at the local art houses, and I have to admit I rarely take advantage of these opportunities. I am a proponent of digital media and the convenience of on-demand viewing, especially as its offers people who might not otherwise see a film they've read about on their favorite websites (ahem). Not everyone has the luxury or opportunity to head over to their local cinema or film festival and catch a film that has movie critics buzzing, and I think that the ability to see these films allows everyone to contribute to the greater cultural dialogue about them. And that's a big deal.
No matter how much crap the Internet is full of or how it's warped our ability to communicate in some ways, it's also facilitated it in many other ways that are just as vital. One of those ways is keeping movie culture alive and well, and not necessarily confined to the Ivory Tower of academia. Yes, when it comes down to it digital media is just "ones and zeroes," as Dargis puts it, and it's an increasingly rare treat to see films the way their directors meant them to be seen -- those directors that actually care about it, of course, because it's obvious that plenty of the film directors working today could give half a crap about anything but fashion, explosions, and their bottom line.
But film theory aside, I don't want to go to the theater to pay $12.50 or more to see a movie that wasn't meant to be digitally projected, just because it's cheaper and easier for distributors and exhibitors. If they don't care about my experience, why should I care about supporting them by putting my butt in a seat? Not all films need to be seen in this format. (Hell, not all films need to be seen, period. We watch them so you don't have to!) But why aren't films at festivals like Cannes, of all places, being shown with the same care with which the films were made?
This is somewhat similar to the argument between professional photographers who refuse to go digital. Masters like Avedon did their post-processing by hand; now, some argue, you could ostensibly get similar effects with software. But does it change the quality or intention of the photo (or, in this case, film)?
Do you know or care if the films you're watching are being projected digitally? Do you go out of your way to see films on actual film, or does it make a difference any more?