Friday, September 21, 2012

Side by Side (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Side by Side

For those philosophical cinephiles among us, Chris Kenneally's "Side by Side" offers a thoughtful and comprehensive look into the rise and increasing domination of digital filmmaking. This film will either scare or inspire depending on what medium you feel close to, and speaking for myself, I feel perched on the edge of my ambivalence, typing on my virtual keyboard, frankly unsure of how I feel.
I see arguments for both. And I think the tension between film and digital media has a parallel in the battle between printed and electronic books. 
At the start of this film, my heart sank. Here was my hero David Lynch telling the narrator (Keanu Reeves, of all people)  that he doubts he'll shoot again, no less with 35mm film.
"Are you done with film?" Keanu asks, (as in Dude, are you through?)
"Well, don't hold me to it Keanu, but I think I am." 
This was more shocking for me than the end of "Killer Joe".
Gone are those beautiful blacks and yellow grays from the "Eraserhead" period. And no more of those pure painterly, photochemical blues from "Blue Velvet" will be seen again.
Now what?
Instead of sobbing uncontrollably, I quickly got into the documentary which is a story in itself. If you can tolerate Keanu Reeves' occasional surf accent that creeps in here and there, the film has a wealth of information on the differences between film and digital media and the pros and cons for both. Although the material presented might seem a bit intimidating on a technical level, the documentary never flies above your head. You don't have to be a film professional or an academic scholar. 
The  concepts are accessibly shown with a moderate amount of attention paid to entertainment. Although I did find the film clips to be weighted a bit to heavily on George Lucas' repertoire. What about Steven Spielberg's filmography? And David Lynch had barely one clip. Ridley Scott, the visual maestro behind "Alien" and "Blade Runner" was not even mentioned.
The most interesting aspect of "Side by Side" is the aspect of digital film as a conquering and dictatorial virus that consumes all in its path, replacing the hard sculptural editing process with the fluidity of convenience, the smooth push of a button.
Director Martin Scorsese appears waxing nostalgic for the great  spooling editing machine of the old 20th century, when you spliced, cut or physically taped actual film together and you ran the risk of nicking your fingers. 
"That was real blood on film!" Yells Scorsese. Projection in Hell's Kitchen. 
Geoff Boyle, a master cinematographer is largely critical of digital media. For one thing, the media is changing so fast that it runs the risk of outdating itself once an image is made. Once that happens there is no way to store the material without transforming it back to 35 mm film. 
Simply put Boyle says, "We're fucked."
Disturbing film for thought. 
But it's not all boom and gloom. We get the mercurial director Danny Boyle complete with his rapidly moving eyebrows, who champions the lightness of the new cameras. And there is Pop sensation Robert Rodriguez in a cowboy hat who swears allegiance to the new medium.
As I am myself inhibited in mobility, I can indeed see these small insectile and futuristic recorders as droids of wonder. What other device could be strapped to the arm of my chair, or even my stiff and tight right arm to record something of me? 
I get it.
But still as a painter, I relish working with my left hand and doing physical things that are a little difficult. There is something sensual that goes into the hardship of things, I enjoy any visceral contact with most anything.
In that sense, I would seek out the noisy and loud editing machines. I can see myself craving the clatter, the motion, the energy of such things. The tactile is divine. 
Near the end of the film, director Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) says she sees a time when actual movie theaters will fade into obsolescence, and become virtual.
I pray that Wachowski is dead wrong.
I would greatly miss the feel of that  comfortable and cloaking darkness on my skin and in my nose. Apprehension... and the moment just before the film starts when I make the sedentary jump, both losing and regaining my body.

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