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Thread: David Lean Part II - Master of the film epic

  1. #31
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    For artistic purposes the two should coexist. Film is like vinyl records. The sound is better but CDs reign for current consumers and digital has greater flexibility and a kind of durability (though about CDs we don't know). But people are going to MP3, which is a further degraded sound. Nobody cares. Nobody notices.

    I switched over to digital cameras three years ago. My film photography had languished for many years for the reasons you cite and also when I gave up doing my own black and white photography in the darkroom due to how much time and money it consumed to do that. Still the hours late at night in the darkroom were some of the greatest times of my life, comparable to making my favorite early chine collé prints or working on collages, encaustics and pastels in my own studio in San Francisco but different, more magical, satisfying a different side of me. The advantage of digital is how many images one can capture and that one can see them right away. On the other hand I find filing and sorting (organizing) and accessing digital photos more of a hassle and simply much less enjoyable because less tactile and physical than dealing with film negative photographic prints.

    But digital cameras have been a lot of fun for me and gotten me back to always having a camera in my pocket as was the case when I carried a 35mm Minox in the early Eighties. Now, I sort my digital photos and the best of them turn up on my Flickr Photostream. See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisknipp/

    When I thought of going back to darkroom printing some years ago I had a correspondence with the editor of a photography magazine and he told me where I could get all the paper and equipment and chemicals. You can still get them, but they're just from specialized suppliers on a more limited basis.

    Digital cameras do not duplicate film cameas. They can do things at night film cameras can't do. But they do not give you good white balance or detail in bright areas and they do not give you realistic or satisfying shadows. None of the inexpensive digital cameras, including the iPhone ones, which, yes, we know is the main camera (alnog with other phone cameras) used to take pictures today, provide image quality comparable to a good film camera. That's funny, isn't it? And nobody cares. Because they like snapping their kitty and putting it on Facebook.

    It is needless to point out the advantages of digital for movie-making. I think we have discussed that elsewhere on Filmleaf before. The cameras are more and more portable and more and more inexpensive. You can do longer and longer takes. And so on. And the images don't flicker. It's not a flick show anymore.

  2. #32
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    yes. Amen on all of that.

    So true about satisfying shadows...and white balance. I just took a photo this past week of a Nutcracker in a store window and the shadow I saw did not show up in my finished photo. I kept moving around, trying different angles...ZIP. The shadow was either thinner and "greyer" or disappeared entirely. If I used the kodak (disposable!) it would've shown up exactly as I saw it- and I couldn't see the "latent image"!
    It had to wait for processing.
    I have a Quebec friend on facebook who lives in Hull who is the most intense film photographer. He uses these old box cameras and he always has one hanging around his neck. That's how I met him. I kept seeing him walking around with it and finally I stopped him and asked him if that was a camera. We then jib-jabbed for a half hour on photography. He buys his black and white (Ilford) film in bulk, and he gets a special discount on the color film he orders from New York City, which he told me is the best place on earth to buy film (en masse). He said the best deal is in NYC.

    Photography is Awesome as an activity. It is an Art too. I always try to select an image through cubism- walking around it and looking for the best single shot.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  3. #33
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    The choice of format was an important one for David Lean, who discussed his decision at length with Freddie Young. Shooting the film on 65mm film is an arduous one as the film is very large and bulky and has problems when going through the gate at high speeds. The cost is another factor. The heat of the desert kept interfering with the film's development. Cutting is still another challenge. The nightmarish challenge and the practice of using 65mm negative film ended in the 1970's when the last movies shot on 65mm film were made. However, going back and looking at the 70mm inter-positive negative made from those images, one finds a wealth of information that is nearly impossible to transfer into the digital world. Your remark, Chris, made me think about some of the subtleties in light and shadow when film is projected versus a digital projection. Young's photography is nothing short of brilliant and would be extremely difficult to match using a CMOS chip, even the high end ones. The variances in light sources tend to bleed over when using digital chips. The rich deep shadows when Lawrence is encamped in the winter campaign would be washed out with a digital camera.

    Unfortunately, film is more about financing than art in the current market. Shooting with 65mm film would not only be prohibitively expensive, but very difficult considering the equipment needed for such a task would be monumental. Like the movie palaces of old, the passing of film is regrettable by my/our generation. This generation could care less about quality as opposed to quantity - where is the latest whatever...
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  4. #34
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    What you say I'm sure is entirely true except for the absolute statement that no 65/70mm. films were shot after 1970, because I think a few have been, in whole or in part. A Wikipedia page, "List of 70mm films," gives some for Europe and the US. These include P.T. Anderson's recent THE MASTER. The list of films partly shot in 65mm includes INCEPTION, TREE OF LIFE, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, TO THE WONDER and GRAVITY, to give only the latest ones on their list.

    I'm not a full-scale Luddite. In fact I welcome new technologies. I simply am skeptical in the face of worshippers of the idea of "Progress" with a capital P, who assume we are moving relentlessly and wonderfully forward and ignore the advantages that are lost in abandoning older technologies, such as the detail in film and particularly large-format film that you allude to here. I remember in the Eighties going into an audiophile/custom stereo store in San Francisco (belatedly; CDs had been out for a while) and discussing a CD player with the salesman and being surprised when he told me right away that the sound quality on vinyl records was better. Sure, CDs are handily compact. The sound on them is good. Above all, there is no "surface noise," or those clicks and ticks when there's a scratch on a record. But eventually many years later I have come to realize that vinyl does have a warmth and richness of sound that CDs subtly lack. Incidentally a number of recent documentaries about great sound studios (SOUND CITY and the latest one, MUSCLE SHOALS) have shown that while the adoption of digital has made recording engineering and editing hugely more speedy and efficient, some of he warmth and richness has gone out of that process too, including both from the warmth of sound and the human recording experience. Technology has an isolating effect. People stay at home and watch the news, instead of going to the cafe or the town square for it. The latest dramatic example is the youths who wander the streets staring into their smart phones, avoiding eye contact with the people around them, or stare blankly into space with their ear buds in the subway.

    With digital photography indeed as you also note there are things curiously missing. Digital is amazing for night photography, but not altogether realistic. Sometimes it makes it just look like daytime. And we don't want night time to look like daytime. And day or night, bright spots lose their detail. I learned in doing my own developing and printing of black and white photos that what you work for is good detail in the very dark and the very light ares of your shot. Nothing should be whited out and shadows should not block up but be capable of being opened to show you what's in them. With at least my digital cameras nowadays I'm finding that shooting in very bright conditions always leads to things being missing.

  5. #35
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    If I can chime in, the "earbuds and cellphone crowd" are Legion.
    I understand drowning out "the world" when you have earphones on, but keep your wits about you.
    Don't isolate yourself to the point where talking directly to another human being in person is terrifying.
    I noticed that since the personal computer arrived, people are more fractured and isolated from each other.
    They date online, they shop online, they LIVE online.
    Sad. There are legions out there that if you were to take away their internet or video games or whatever they would commit suicide.
    That is something to be terrified of.
    Those people I do not want to meet.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  6. #36
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    Yes, and likewise the film experience is becoming less and less collective and more private. No longer do people even go to a central gathering place to pick up rental movies to watch at home. Instead they download them or order them sent in the mail, via the Internet, without talking to anybody. And fewer go out to see movies in cinemas or cineplexes. They buy giant flat screens and elaborate devices for projecting and receiving movies, the big home video setups meant (incomprehensibly; but look at the prevalence of MP3 sound) to duplicate a big movie screen and professional projection.

    Apropos of which I'd like to refer to Tarantino's regular point that it all comes down to the projectionist. In other words, you can have the fanciest new format you want, but the viewing experience in the cinema is only as good as the guy operating the machinery. And in general these are worse and worse. In the old days I didn't have to go to the lobby to get somebody to adjust the sound; or go to point out that the feature had not even started up at all. There was somebody up there watching and doing their best. Somebody who know their stuff.

  7. #37
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    Amen. Cinema will never die, but the standards have definitely slipped.
    I've had to tell managers (who leave the projection booth after merely flipping a switch) that a film stopped running.
    We sat in the dark for like, 6 or 7 minutes before I said to myself "nobody's doing jack".
    The managers are usually the projectionists now (unless it's an IMAX theatre). They train them to flip a switch or spin a platter or whatever they do now instead of changing reels. Efficient? hardly.

    Remember that lore about Stanley Kubrick famously making his projectionists turn away from the screen after they begin the film?
    I love that.
    Kubrick was a DIRECTOR.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  8. #38
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    There is a restored local movie theater near me now. It failed once, lay fallow for several years, then was renewed again, and is not a success, maybe due to excellent food and bear and wine delivered to your seat, hamburgers, chicken salads, and pizzas made on the premises. And today on Twitter I see this
    Michael Moore ‏@MMFlint 6m
    We open another newly-restored movie palace tonite in Manistee, MI. The Vogue Theatre, orig built in the 1930s, now a gift to the community.
    If Moore is doing this as a general project it's admirable. Really nice local cinemas with strong local support can restore the art of moviegoing. Let's not forget that going to a cineplex is a lot like shopping at Walmart.

  9. #39
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    There was a time when the viewing process hit rock bottom. I don't know if they had any "bowling alley" cinemas near you (I called them that because they were long narrow corridors where the center seats were taken out and the screen at the end of the corridor was barely twenty feet across; plus, the lights were never turned off! An abysmal affair! The appearance made me think of a bowling lane by its configuration). There were a plethora of them built in the early 1970's when most one-screen movie palaces collapsed and urban decay - which had started in the mid-1960's - closed most of them. In the suburbs, these bowling alley cinemas sprang up with the worst possible viewing experience imaginable. The popcorn used to arrive in big long phallic-looking plastic bags - popped the day before! Until the early 1990's when "stadium theaters" brought back the semblance of a decent viewing experience, these theaters were responsible for the fall and decline of the film industry and nearly dealt cinema a death blow.

    Thanks, Chris on the update that movies were still being shot on 65mm stock. I had no idea some directors were still using the format (either Vistavision cameras, which run sideways/horizontally or SuperPanavision 65 cameras, which run the film vertically but with huge magazines that usually held only seven minutes runs at best - about two or three takes of a normal shot). No fuck-up laughter on these takes, please, as one magazine alone costs hundreds of dollars just for the negative stock alone. I would literally kick an actor's ass who messed up a take with that much money on the line (not Bobby DeNiro of course as he could kick my ass easily, hands down).
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  10. #40
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    Actor Peter O'toole just passed away today. He was 81. Nominated eight times, O'toole never took home anything except an honorary award given him in 2003 for his contribution to film. So long, Peter. Great career.
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  11. #41
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    Yes. We've lost another one of the Titans of cinema.

    Goodbye Peter O'Toole.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  12. #42
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    Gee, just when we were talking about him. I can see him now, eyes glowing, in the white kufya, riding across the desert. One of the great roles and great performances.

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