Films, on Film
Fri, Dec 31, 2010
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
My colleague Chris Stults and I like to note that it is often the more modest events that provide the greatest reward as film programmers.
For example, this December we screened a restored 35mm print of Howard Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The film is notable for many reasons, not the least of which is that it was shot in eye-popping Technicolor. More than a few in attendance that evening made a point of stopping to say what a great experience it was to see not only a wonderful classic but in such an ideal manner: great sound, great picture, with an audience, and on film.
Repertory screenings such as this are an endangered species. For years, conventional wisdom held that the studios and theaters would only make the switch to digital projection once it was perfected to the point that it replicated film projection. It's obvious that the real tipping point was when it became financially possible and advantageous to make the switch.
Now, that's not to say that new films shot and projected digitally don't look fine, even great. Many do. But what is happening to repertory programming, locally anyway, is a creeping apathy on the part of the venue, the audience, and those in the position to write about film. Older titles not shot on video are being projected on DVD or Blu-Ray and are being passed off (and accepted) as an experience equivalent with seeing the same title on film. It's not.
Don't mistake the â€œcleanâ€ appearance of projected Blu-Ray as the providing the same experience of seeing a title like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on film with all of the warmth and nuances of color that only film can provide. I think most people can think of a record album that has suffered from digital â€œimprovementâ€ and I don't think anyone would accept a â€œperfectâ€ digital reproduction of a Robert Ryman or Mark Rothko painting.
Sometimes it is only possible for a venue to present a title on video for events such as an outdoor screening or a special theme night and often, in these instances, the quality of projection might take a back seat to the spirit of the festivities. (We still make a point of projecting all of our outdoor films on film.) But one has to question the growing practice of presenting â€œclassicâ€ titles (or those not shot on video, anyway) on DVD or Blu-Ray and not alerting the audience or for film writers to cover such screenings and to make no distinction between these lesser experiences and those presented in the proper, ideal format.
Perhaps we are resigned to the fact that one day, presenting all â€œfilmsâ€ on video will be the norm and to see a title like Citizen Kane or Wild Strawberries on film will be a rare treat, even at a venue like the Wexner Center. But we are not at that point and for the time being we encourage everyone to take advantage of every opportunity to see great films on film and to settle for nothing less. Fittingly, in January we are launching a new program strand simply titled Film History 101. Once a month we will select a great film with an undisputed reputation and present it in a 35mm print so viewers can see these important films they way they were meant to be seen. Our first selections are: Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons on January 18; Murnau's Sunrise on February 22; Hawks' His Girl Friday (along with Keaton's One Week) on March 29; and Bergman's Persona (along with Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon) on April 12.
Hope to see you soon!