It’s celluloid… it’s digital…no, it’s cinema.

It probably requires a more experienced and learned mind to explore something so technical in an art form. But this technicality results in a gratification for the viewer, making him the most apt administrator of subjectivity.

The argument is fairly simple; digital vs. celluloid.

Like all things new, digital has its fair share of detractors because of the fact that the quality of image on film is far more superior, and with a certain artistic character, than it is on a microchip. To a director and a cinematographer, this means a great deal because they are the ones whose vision gets imprinted on both these media. One look at the recently coloured Mughal-e-Azam vis-à-vis the original is ample proof of the limitations of digital image manipulation. But when as a viewer you look at the histrionics of The Matrix with its slow motion gun fights, helicopter chases and lavish multiple roles, it becomes evident that digital must lead to the exploration of a new tangent in the history of cinema. Cost, distribution, safety and archival value are some of the aspects within whose framework this debate may be taken forward. But as implied earlier, this exercise is fairly academic. [Side By Side, a recent documentary on this very issue tried to go deeper into this argument. Watch it if you need to go into the depth of digital and celluloid filmmaking. Watch it anyway, it is a nice film.]

Mine is a generation of digital film buffs. Not so much because we have seen only digitally made films but more so because we have seen most films digitally. Cinephiles pay enormous sums of money and invest entire lifestyles to watch all kinds of films on the big screen. But most of these screenings are digital in nature. No matter how the film was shot, its exhibition on most screens is digital. And to top that, the pirate bay (and others) has helped feed the starved cine buffs with a constant supply of classics from around the globe. And we of course watch them on our small computer screens, or in some cases project them digitally onto a relatively bigger screen. The point is that we hardly know how an Eisenstein or Lang looks when projected naturally on a big screen. The relation between the audio and the video must be different to that witnessed by many on our computers. Even if one takes the ‘beautiful’ Hollywood as an example, Leave Her To Heaven must surely feel different when seen through celluloid. What is this difference? How does it affect a viewer-screen relationship? I do not know, but would want to experience dearly. I will go to see a Bergman or a Dreyer on the big screen in spite of what the projection is, but it would be so much more appealing if it was through actual celluloid. Having said this, it would be really unfair to ask all exhibitors of good classics (like PVR in India) to strictly conform to standards of projections. Beggars can’t be choosers, but every once in a while we ought to be pampered.

Good cinema is not prisoner to trivialities like microchips, cameras and projectors. If Chris Nolan swears by celluloid even when shooting The Dark Night Rises; good for him. But then if Leo Carax shoots Holy Motors on digital, he really shouldn’t get too grumpy about it either. Good cinema is good cinema.

Facts About Projection from Studiocanoe on Vimeo.

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