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Analog Film: The Coming Golden Age of Cinema

Updated on July 30, 2014


Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. | Source

What is this hub about?

This hub is about preserving and expanding the art of analog film which to this day has higher resolution than video and potentially vastly higher resolution than high definition video. It's a matter of grains versus pixels. But it is also a matter of economics. Digital video is very easy to steal and if you bankrupt the artist, then don't expect anything but crap at the movies. This is because the big studios are not interested in quality, only box office, and as a result usually get neither quality nor quantity.

The last classic film was probably 2001: a space odyssey -- and that was made in Britain not Hollywood (Los Angeles) -- by an auteur named Stanley Kubrick. But other independents have made quality films too.

The big film stock companies (Kodak, Polaroid, Agfa, Fuji) are shutting down their labs for processing exposed film. The Western world no longer even owns Technicolor -- it's owned by the Chinese. So wake up from your slumber! Your Hollywood-powered dreams are turning into a nightmare as directed by George Lucas (no friend of celluloid or anything not digital.).

This little Hub Page is here to help birth a Renaissance of interest in making movie the new-fashioned way: on analog film media.

The Analogue Revival (film photography)

Videos of film preservation

In the foreign language footage here, you will see the problem of preserving old nitrate negatives. Nationaal Filmarchief opgeslagen in filmbunker in Scheveningen Weeknummer 80-24 - Open Beelden - presents newsreels in which Dutch subjects of week number #802 are presented.

The National Film Archive of the Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst, Government Information Service (RVD) is housed in a former German bunker in the dunes near Scheveningen. The film archive contains the modern history of the Netherlands, which is ironic because not only is the art of film being threatened by aging but The Netherlands themselves are being threatened by inundation because of climate change.

The film bunker has been restored and special safes were installed to store the flammable nitrate films.

Shots include: exterior. film bunker in the dunes Scheveningen; flammable nitrate films in wheeled safes; burning nitrate film; excerpts from films that are stored in the bunker; and reels of films in the depot.

US film preservation: or lack of it

Did you know that Hollywood Classics used to be stored outdoors? The so-called "vaults" of Hollywood were cement shacks with the flow of air that the word shack implies. These were not climate-controlled bank vaults but places where outside dust and changes in humidity and temperature could easily penetrate. They were exposed to summer heat and winter cold but at least no direct sunlight. Nor was there immersion in water during floods like other parts of Los Angeles. But the very oldest of film reels and photographs did not even get that minimum of protection. It is said that some classics were found in mud in Alaska. And the glass plates of photographs from the Civil War era were thrown away and used for the panes of greenhouses !!! It is a wonder that Ken Burns had anything to work with for his Civil War series.

You can literally touch a film or hold it up to the light and see a frame of action.

Souleymane Cissé with film reel at Cines del Sur 2009.
Souleymane Cissé with film reel at Cines del Sur 2009. | Source

Why Analog Matters

The past matters. Film is not just about concern for our shared human memory, our heritage, and our culture that separates us from mindless brutes who do not know their past history. Films are not just irreplaceable artifacts but means of articulation and abstraction. In other words, they help enable us to communicate ideas and to think. Without thought, we are mere automatons, beasts or even mind controlled totalitarians sinking to the depraved depths of genocide and even slavery. So memory is important and cannot be overemphasized.

The present also matters. Analog is still superior to digital. Analog has its problems (addressed in this hub) but as a digital librarian could tell you, digital has its problems too: Deterioration of media, skipping, vulnerability to electromagnetic fields that do not affect film, counterfeiting, piracy, bootlegging, standardization and legacy issues when technology changes and old media cannot be played.

Keanu Reeves does not enjoy a reputation as a genius in the industry. But after seeing him interviewed on Tavis Smiley (PBS), I am thinking that the man has gotten a bum rap. He made some insightful remarks about digital versus analog that stopped me from heading to the refrigerator for a snack and made me sit and listen. Film is the tangible result of image onto stock whereas video is merely data -- data that can be easily altered, hacked or stolen. In other words, that film is an objective witness (albeit not a human witness) to a scene while video is electrons that are several steps removed from the photons of light coming from the actors and set that was the original. You can literally touch a film or hold it up to the light and see a frame of action. You cannot do that with a videotape nor with a video chip. It kind of reminds me of the V'ger probe in Star Trek The Motion Picture. It was unable to understand that digitizing "carbon-based life forms" was mass murder and that we humans may not want to be killed. I will grant that transhumanists and other information technology junkies are eagerly lining up for the dubious privilege of being replaced by silicon, having brain implants, mechanical body parts (like hip replacements, plastic flippers for legs and robot arms), and otherwise turned into Borg, but some of us actually like being human and not gadgets. Keanu Reeves was in the Matrix movies and so one should not be too surprised that he might have come away from that experience with the thought that computer technology should not be worshipped as some do.

Please note that I did not quote Keanu Reeves. I paraphrased at best without benefit of a show transcript. Follow the links provided if you want more.

My own view goes much further than Mr. Reeves' insight about tangibility. At its most basic, digital is sampling. Not the thieving from other musicians that goes on in hip hop but sampling as method of reproduction of sight and sound. Statistically, a sample is a subset of a population and not the population itself and therein lies the problem. I want the whole population and not a subset when reproducing a scene shot for a movie. Not the colors drained out. Not parts of the image lost because the sampling cannot capture them. I want the same holistic capture for the sound too. Digital is bars like on your cellphone coverage. What is lost in between the bars? We have seen the hijinks that happen when climate change deniers look at temperature data and misinterpret a short slice of time. We have seen the elves of Wall Street look at the intra-day activity of a stock and miss the big picture. We have seen the Republican Party look at their small samples and totally miss the real trends in the 2012 Presidential Election.

Mathematics (such as fractals) has its place and I am far from arguing against it. CGI is a tool that the special effects and animation people would not want to have taken from them. So by the same logic, many are arguing that the choice of analog and film not be taken away. I believe Mister Reeves used the word choice. I agree with him if he is saying to preserve the choice.

The future matters. Analog is a technology of the future. It is a technology that has to be upgraded not just to keep abreast of digital but to advance the state of analog far beyond what it is today. Going beyond today is important because television set out to emulate the movies and has had a corrosive effect on it. The movies got color and so TV got color. The movies got high fidelity sound and stereo and more and so TV got better sound. Still pretty bad even after HD TV though. Movies got 3-D and so new TV's are ape-ing the movies. Monkey see, monkey do. Movies went wide screen and so the new TV's have a wider aspect. Movies have big IMAX screens and so they started selling projection TV's and theater TV and bigger screen TV's for the home. New TV sets are even flat like movie screens. It is not your imagination, television is ripping off the movies. And the reason it is not your imagination is that the TV networks have no imagination. It is a steady diet of the same old, same old. And now the movies have taken to copying television -- a sure sign that the end is near. Abandon hope all ye who enter here. Why should movies get any ideas from television when TV has no original ideas? And even if it did, digital video and television is a fundamentally different art than analog film and cinema.

The future of cinema is analog.

Film Not Dead Yet

Bootleg, Counterfeiting and Film Piracy

I was talking to a neighbour about movies that I wanted to go see and he said that he never went to movies because he not only could get bootleg copies free but often did and had a house full of them.

I have heard of stealing cable but this was my first close encounter with a consumer of counterfeits. I told him that he was a thief who was taking food from the mouths of artists trying to feed their families. And that I was a movie maker. He said he didn't care and that they (movie makers) were rich. Apparently the part where I called him a thief, tried to guilt him with starving artists, and informed him that I was one of those starving went in one ear and out the other.

If I were rich, then I would not be doing HubPages. And I have never made even one penny from HubPages. Therefore, I have other motivations. And I would not steal from a rich artist any more than I would steal from a poor artist. It is the principle of the thing. It is immoral, unethical and illegal.

I hope the law catches up with my neighbour. I am not at the point of turning him in yet -- unless I heard he had one of my works and I got no royalties. We have to change the mindset of people both Americans and Non-Americans. Stealing is wrong. Particularly from starving artists. They would not like someone stealing from their paycheck. We movie makers are no different.

So the only question is: How do we change the mindset of people for good? Draconian law enforcement? Even if we could get police and Secret Service to act in the first place? Educational programs at school? Public service announcements? Short films about it? News stories about how theft damages the economy? Community service? Messages from the pulpit at church and mosque and synagogue and temple and other houses of worship? What about the non-religious who don't attend church or other house of worship? Will any of these methods work or what alternatives are there? Do we just give up on movies and let the economics destroy the movie industry? Do we make the technology harder to bootleg and counterfeit? Is analog potentially harder to steal? In a post-industrial economy, do we lean on our government to take intellectual property more seriously? Do we impose heavy sanctions on nations with light enforcement of intellectual property laws?

What do we do? Is analog the answer?

FILM IS NOT DEAD, analog photography documentary

(click column header to sort results)
generally two or more hours
usually under one hour
interrupted by commercials
generally costs more than $1
used to be free until cable evolved and tricked viewers into paying for commercials
big screen except in multiplexes
screen smaller than one story, mobile devices may have screens nearly a square inch
gets new technology first
at consumer electronics shows, a waning interest in TV's
theaters used to be reluctant to invest in new projectors and technology
broadcast stations unwilling or unable to transmit a strong enough signal so that viewers can still receive their channel
people used to keep quiet in theaters and not talk
people talk all over the program
people used to get dressed up to go to the movies
people might be in their pajamas or less and watching from bed
people used to leave their transistor radio and other devices in the car or at home
people multitask and cannot imagine not having their cellphone or mobile device with them
theater managers let people in who are not there to see the movie (text, talk on the phone, record bootleg copies, anything but watch) and wonder why the polite patrons never come back
typical home dysfuctional
designed for normal people
not only designed for the attention deficit but the editing is designed to make viewers even more inattentive and hyperactive
used to be refuge from screaming babies for adults and occasionally still is
"a man's home is his castle" was true until no-knock laws
used to go to movies to see things that you could not see on TV but now they screw those who pay for tickets and leave the good stuff for the DVD (and moviemakers fool themselves into thinking that movie goers don't notice)
Why go to the movies? You see more on TV.

The Lomography LomoKino

Compressed 03

Film Base

  1. nitrate
  2. acetate
  3. polyester
  4. ?

Emulsions for Emotions

There have been other chemistries before silver halide grains suspended in gelatin colloid. But what will be the next chemistry? If any? What could produce a finer grain? Should analog film look to nanotechnology for answers?

Analog Film

"Try Editing Your Vimeo Masterpieces On This Monstrosity of Analog Film"

Oh the horror! Their hands actually touched real film and reel film and must have been infected with the sin of cinema. Better get a fireman's axe and have those hands chopped off because gangrene is sure to set in shortly.

Give me a break. If you are in film, then you ought to touch film. I like the convenience of being able to spin to any moment in raw footage down to the microsecond and synchronize with precision as much as the next gal but it seems some people in film hate film. I have a solution to that. Get the hell out of the film industry and take up . . . television. Preferably programs that require no creativity.

The flatbed editor is a tool and a tool I might avoid using in preference to another kind of editor but I would not refer to a Steenbeck as a monstrosity out of respect for the great films that have been made using it. It was an improvement over what came before it.

The Art of Analog Film Printing

Ken Burns for example

Many directors prefer analog and film because it has higher quality and many other virtues listed in this hub but some young people (who mindlessly worship anything that seems connected with computers) keep repeating like a mantra that digital is the future until they convince themselves of this despite the evidence of their own eyes that analog film is better.

Please note: I remember in the movie theatre the scenes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (when it first came out in 1977) where Roy Neary the linesman was in his truck in some dark rural area sent to check out the drain causing a blackout. You could see the silhouette of the truck in the fore-ground, the stars, and the shadows of the UFO's moving over the countryside. That struck me as amazing night photography and stuck in my mind. Remember, this was decades before the night vision goggles portrayed in Zero Dark Thirty.

You cannot really complain about film this or film that when film labs and film processing companies are closing instead of finding buyers (like Paul Allen or some rich person who appreciates analog film) who will care about the company. If analog film companies are closing or, at the very least, slashing their research and development budgets, then DUH, the technology will lose ground.

If you have never seen a road show or if you have never seen Patton in a Dimension 150 theatre or if you have never seen some of the innovations in Europe or if you have never seen what Technicolor can do or any of a hundred secrets of analog film, then do not shoot off your mouth about how great digital is when you do not know what you are talking about. If you love digital, then stick to making crap for the small screen. I own a digital camera and it does not impress me. Like I said, it may be able to do dark well on occasion but videography mostly copies ideas from cinematography.

Is analog film a pain in the ass? Yes but people who love analog film use all that time setting up to think about what they are doing. Digital technology itself is so "easy" that you turn your brain off and non-thinking is not moviemaking. It is TV. The whole point of cinema as an art is to make you think -- not turn you into a tool for a government that has cameras everywhere. Digital cameras.

Cinematography Versus Videography

IMAX and some big cameras the size of a house
some cameras small enough to invade your privacy (kind of the point of vidcams)
some obstacles to where you can take them unless you build your own camera (this is how underwater photography got going)
can shoot actors in a small closet and other confined spaces
images on film may fade if care not taken
images can be wiped by certain electromagnetic fields (good to know) and despite what you have heard, magnetic media also degrade with age
silent movies can be restored but many were made with hand cranking (that is why people today think everyone back in those times walked fast) and so sprocket speed has to be adjusted. Other legacy issues in cinematography are somewhat easier to manage because film people look out for each other.
An example of a legacy issue is Beta versus VHS. Both are mostly gone unless you know where to look. Beta is still used within the industry though not home consumer use and VHS though you can still buy VHS blank tapes and VHS format movies has been pushed aside by DVD which has been pushed aside by Blu-Ray which has been pushed aside by . . . . Who cares? The point is that with digital technology, the day you buy it is also the day it is obsolete. You feel conned when you invest in a new technology and get it home and they are saying it is so yesterday. So you have to accept that digital technology is a treadmill that you will run on until you die and people call you obsolete as well.
Film people look out for each other.
Darwinian survival of the most vicious.
Dave Grohl directing the feature length documentary film Sound City, which covers the human element of music, the lost art of analog recording, and the history of the Los Angeles recording studio Sound City Studios.  GNU Free Documentation License
Dave Grohl directing the feature length documentary film Sound City, which covers the human element of music, the lost art of analog recording, and the history of the Los Angeles recording studio Sound City Studios. GNU Free Documentation License

Please: Analog Comments Only (thanks)

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