The transition to digital has taken the industry by storm. First the cameras, then the projectors. Nowadays, actually celluloid film is a rare sight.
But one old-school advocate vows to keep 35mm projections alive and available to the interested audience. Quentin Tarantino, who purchased The New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles in 2007, is finally taking over as its programmer, showing the movies he wants to, which happen to be 35mm prints from his own collection. The question in many people’s mind is, Is film projection really that much better than digital?
Obviously, digital is far more convenient. You don’t have to deal with the wear and tear of the reel, and the eventually fading of the colors. It’s easy to create duplicates, and it can be transferred over the airwaves, allowing movie houses to download from the cloud!
But does film look better than digital?
Tarantino certainly thinks so. In a recent interview for KCRW’s The Treatment, where he was promoting his theater, Tarantino left us with the promise of screening film prints exclusively — mostly 35mm but also some 16mm for films were the wider format is not available.
In the radio show, Tarantino talks about a 4k restoration of A Fistful of Dollars that he watched at the Cannes Film Festival that aggravated him immensely:
It’s the closing night of the Cannes Film Festival. And this is a movie I’ve seen a million times. Did it look nice? Yes, it looked nice. My laser disc looks nice. My DVD looks nice, alright. We are not talking about nice. I was depressed, the whole screening. I was sitting in the Grand Palais, the Big House, and I felt I should be pointing a remote control at the screen.”
Tarantino and radio host, Elvis Mitchell, go on to discuss the “flicker effect” and how a digital projection will never be the same as real film. Tarantino explains that the “flicker effect” is an important part of how the eye ball and your brain in connection to each other work to take in the image.” Mitchell talks about how the flicker affects brain chemistry, which is lost in digital.
Tarantino also reminds us that digital (or video) requires a technology to be seen: “You can’t open up an old video cassette and hold up to the light and see the picture. You need a decoding machine to watch this piece of technology.” The most illuminating part about Tarantino’s musings is how film creates a snapshot in your brain, which, according to him, doesn’t happen in digital or television, “That part of the brain doesn’t get worked. That snapshot never actually happens (in digital).”
In the interview, Tarantino also talks a lot about IB Technicolor, which is a technology sold to the Chinese that made the color dyes last longer on the film. That was interesting because I never thought about the different technologies used to make film prints. And as an aficionado, you know Tarantino is only going to curate the best material possible, so I want to believe that the projections at the New Beverly will be spectacular. Whether you live in Los Angeles now, or are planning to visit in the future, to add the New Beverly to your sight-seeing list.