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Posts Tagged ‘cinema’

How will we watch films in future? The anti piracy adverts in the cinema suggest that they are worried that cinemas days are numbered as a way of watching films. I don’t see that happening but things are clearly changing. Back in 2010 I streamed a film called Frozen, it is my understanding that it was available online, on DVD and in cinemas at the same time. Is this the future? There could be more to it than that. If I think back to my childhood around 1981 we got our first VCR, this is the moment I got hooked on movies, as I remember it the first film I watched on video was Superman (1978). Before this moment I had only ever seen films on TV, I am sure I must have seen others but the only ones I can remember were Star Wars (1977) and Robin and Marian (1976). Sometime in the mid 80’s we borrowed a Videodisc system. The quality was infinitely better than VHS, unfortunately, we only had a very limited number of films (Rocky (1976) and its first two sequels (1979) and (1982), Hang ‘Em High (1968), Blue Thunder (1983) and Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983) including a making of documentary). I watched those movies a lot!

Then at the age of eighteen, I rediscover the oldest format for watching movies, the cinema. Up until that point I can only remember going to the cinema seven times. As a child of my generation I grew up with video, but at the age of eighteen I went to university and met a likeminded group of friends who watched movies at the cinema. The first two films I saw at this time were reissues of movies that at the time had not been given a video release: Reservoir Dogs (1992) and The Exorcist (1973). I now watch at least one hundred films at the cinema each year (making up for lost time?). I still maintain that this is the best way to watch films but understand others think differently. Many people enjoy going to the cinema but for their own reasons, often financial or logistic only go on special occasions or for big event films. Other chose to watch movies at home out of preface. This is made easier by the falling price and improving quality of home entertainment equipment. But what format will people be watching? I still own many VHS videos, I caught on to DVD relatively early on in the late 90’s but have never owned a LaserDisc and am yet to get a Blu-ray player. I also subscribe to a DVD rental company that also offer a streaming service so have a foot in the old and the new camps.

The changes are easy to see, we have already seen the demise of the video store in favour online DVD postal services, then there was a report last year suggesting that Blu-ray Sales will Surpass DVD Sales some time this year. In America, Netflix reported earlier this year that it has nearly twice as many subscribers to their streaming service as the DVD service.  this may have something to do with the fact that they only offer a streaming service here in the UK. This I believe is where things are going. I remember in late 90’s a program on TV looking at the possibility of a Video on demand service via the internet or telephone lines, the conclusion was that it was not going to be feasible and would lose out to “Box Office” type services from satellite and cable TV providers. Look at how far we have come and how wrong they were! It can not be long before it is possible to stream movies the same quality as Blu-ray, Netflix already offer high definition streaming. 

Will there still be a market for owning a version of a movie on a disk/tape or similar? Will streaming take over or will people store them on some sort of hard drive the way they now do with MP3 music files? When we want to watch a movie do we go to our “library” or do we go online? Things have changed at the cinema too, I wrote a few months ago about how I miss celluloid as cinemas move over to digital projection. The greatest benefit of digital projection is the reduced cost in comparison to proving prints, this in theory makes it easier for smaller releases to make their way onto the big screen. It is also resulting in more reissues of older films. This takes us back to the start and the movie Frozen, if a movie is only ever going to exist in a digital state, it makes it easy for a simultaneous multi platform release, but is that where things are going? Some people believe that multi platform release will kill cinema trade, others think it will have no effect on cinemas but will help prevent piracy. Unfortunately it is something we will never know until we try it. On the MILFCAST earlier this month director Blayne Weaver talks about how his movie 6 Month Rule (2012) had a theatrical premier before going onto Video on Demand. Earlier this year Iron Sky (2012), in the UK it was release in cinemas for just one single day. Its popularity led to the cinema release being extended. It has been suggested that in that first day the movie was seen by more people than it would have been if it had been given a standard release for a week or two. It soon became available to rent and buy on DVD.

The simple conclusion is I don’t know what new technology will emerge and who will win the next Betamax v VHS or HD DVD v Blu-ray battle. DVD/Blu-ray will probably suffer more than cinema from internet advances, but people will continue to enjoy movie at home and in cinemas.

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My local cinema has recently moved over almost totally to digital projection. The images are brighter, more clear and in focus (thanks to auto focus). However I still miss something, the warmth and magic of celluloid. The truth is celluloid in its true sense has not been in regular use for a long time. Safer alternatives were developed in the mid twentieth century and most film prints have used polyester film stock for over a decade, however the term celluloid is still often used in relation to all types of film stock. Celluloid is a thermoplastic first developed in the nineteenth century, its great advantage and the reason it was used for film stock is the ease with which it can be moulded and shaped. The downside, it is highly flammable and prone to decomposition. This is why safer alternatives were developed.

Cinema isn’t an art form, it is the coming together of many of the art forms that went before; combining the writing and performance of literature and theatre with the composition of painting and the sound and emotion of music. Beyond the invention of synchronised sound in the 20’s things haven’t really change much in over a hundred years. Sure, colour took over from black and white and gimmicks like 3D come and go but it all boils down to a thin strip of film passing through a projector at 24 frames a second. As the film runs through the projector, thanks to a lenses, a bright light, an optical illusion and the magic and imagination of cinema we forget that we are watching a series of still images. We are captivated by the glorious colour of The Red Shoes or the stark monochrome of The Third Man and get lost in the images and the stories they tell.

I have always felt that monochrome and three strip Technicolor films from the thirties through to the sixties look better than modern movies, both on film and digital. But it goes deeper than a preference for how things look, it is a matter of detachment. Before I ever stopped to think about how the image we see is reconstituted from a series of ones and zeros in a computer I knew there was something alienating about them. It first hit me when I saw Michael Mann’s Public Enemies (2009), the modern clinical look is in stark contrast to the period setting of the movie, It just didn’t fit. Made more than thirty years after it is set, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) is far from contemporary but it feels so much more authentic than Mann‘s film. This has nothing to do with the subject matter or when they were made, it is just the medium with which they are projected. Bonnie and Clyde uses the same principles of projection that was used at the time both it and Public Enemies were set, this is reassuring an immersive, no in a conscious way, as soon as you think about it the illusion is broken and that’s what I get with digitally projected movies. There will be a time in the near future when a whole generation of moviegoers will know no difference just like the kids today who can’t remember a time before mobile phones and the internet.

It isn’t just about how the film is projected, it is also how the films are being shot. I had a thought after seeing Supper 8 last summer. The kids in the film are making a super 8 movie; when the have finished a take they have to wait days for the film to be processed, not knowing how it has worked out. Similar minded kids in the present day could shoot a movie (of better quality) on their mobile phone and edit it on a PC or Mac or even on the phone itself and upload it to the net. More importantly they get an instant replay allowing them to know if they should re-shoot the scene. This you would think would be a good thing from an artistic point of view, but is it? Visionary directors from previous generations have had to strive to make the most of the limitations of the medium and with this have learnt their trade and created not just movies but art. Limitations and the imagination required to overcome them is what makes great art. Having the technology and budget that mean you are only limited by your imagination can result in tedious rubbish, look at the work of Michael Bay, James Cameron and George Lucas this century for evidence of that! As what is new becomes the norm new limitations will always challenge film makers and this is a good thing but as with all things in life, embracing the future is always more positive if it is done without forgetting what has gone before. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total Luddite, the advantages of digital projection make up for a lot of the deficiencies and artists will be artists regardless of the medium. The problem, I just miss Celluloid.

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