Is it me... or should the life of the film camera be more celebrated?

Cartoon 7 Oct 2011 Tron.jpg

‘The demand for film cameras on a global basis has all but disappeared.’

Not my words. No, these are the words of Bill Russell, VP of Cameras at Arri. His company recently joined their frenemies, Panasonic and Aanton, in quietly ceasing production of film cameras. No big fanfare, no gushing final tribute, just a swift pillow to the face of 113 years of history.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. To quote from my maiden blog entry back in April: ‘I saw the future – and the future is pixels. This could be the one that finally sees the end of film.’ Spooky. Ah, who am I kidding? Anyone who used one of these sleek technological marvels knew they were the future. I’m more of a disciple than a prophet.

But I don’t think people in the industry envisaged the final switch would be quite so sudden. Quite so decisive. Quite so…heartless.

Yes, heartless. Now, before someone outs me as a Luddite, I’d like to propose that it’s OK to occasionally take a wistful glance back at the past. It can provide some momentary respite from keeping an unblinking eye trained on the future. Because let’s be honest; with the film camera consigned to the anecdotes of the nostalgic, some of the mystique of our trade has also been discontinued.

Gone are the mysteries of exposure. Say goodbye to those exhilarating, fearful waits for lab sheets. Forget about the joy slash despair of a projected result. Now it’s instant gratification all the way baby: shoot it, see it, and reshoot it all in a few seconds. What used to be a labour of love has become an altogether more sterile affair.

Remember those pumped-up shouts of ‘print’? Well they’re gone. Now the pixels are open to criticise the moment they hit the sensor. So now everyone can be a critic, faster. Brilliant!

There’s no denying that the digital camera has forced its poorer, subtler cousin off the hyper-speed highway. Call it technological Darwinism. Now we’re all slaves to the latest upgrade or we too will feel the sharp end of Charles’ unforgiving theory. Better keep sharp. Or pretty soon the new DSLR will be lining up the shot and ‘obsolete’ will be written on the back of your cosy directors chair. Not that I’ve ever seen one on set, of course.

Luckily the death of film means an end to those pompous technicians. They can no longer hold back a new generation. Half-cut dubbing mixers can’t regale you with stories of how ‘that won’t work’ because now everyone's as good as the instruction manual. Point and shoot is the only way. The latest indies have made that clear. Sex, lies and videotape is a thing of the past. Now it’s more sex, less lies and nothing but HD resolution.

Sounds fantastic, sign me up. But is immediacy really everything? Or are some things worth working up a sweat for? One thing’s for certain. There’s no DOP, no shiny pixels, no producer, no mediator, no director, infact no person you can blame when the script should have had another rewrite. You can’t hide on a level playing field. Maybe one day we’ll realise it was the quirks in the landscape that made it so fascinating.

So, just another day at the telecine then. But let’s risk the wrath of the innovators and pause for a moment to say goodbye to our dear friend. I feel it fitting to celebrate the life of a technological relic with its literary counterpart – poetry. After all film gave us, it’s the least we can do. Its flickering images provided the backdrop to our youth and carried our visions from mind to screen. With a heavy heart and a CG tear in my eye, it’s finally time to say: film is dead, long live film.

Jerusalem in full HD - An Ode to Film

And did those Lumiere’s in ancient times
Cast shadows across the silver screen?
And was the Bell & Howell of old
On movie sets; the first film Queen?

And did the sacred twenty-four frames
Capture movement, picture, hearts and all?
And was not film builded here
Amongst those great dark picture halls?

And so Alfredo shall never burn his hands
In Paridiso’s famous projection booth
And Durden will never splice X-rated stills
In cinemas packed with innocent youth

And Film shall never celebrate noir
Creating characters elaborate and mean
Because was not history builded here?
On the Steenbeck, projector and movie screen

Bring me my Alexa of burning Gold
Bring me my digital desire
Bring me HD: O clarity unfold!
Bring me my pixels of fire

I will not cease from missing you
Nor shall my Cinemak viewfinder slip in hand
This is the digital age, for film is through
In cinema’s sharp and soulless land

PS – The accompanying video to this touching tribute version of Jerusalem is available for download in full HD, 3D, 4D and a variety of other soon to be obsolete formats. Enjoy ‘em while you can.