Side by Side

I was very slow to move from film photography to digital photography. I wasn’t willing to buy into DSLR photography until I felt the quality caught up. Arguably digital photography still lacks something when compared to film but the cost, immediacy and flexibility made it easy for me to switch and not look back. When it comes to video, I’ve never used a film camera. My first video camera was a Sony Hi-8 camcorder. Later I upgraded to Digi-8 format. For me video was about capturing the action and not the art.

The documentary Side by Side (2012) features Keanu Reeves interviewing Hollywood directors and cinematographers about their transition from film to digital. Some of the interviewed were bemoaning the death of film while others were leading the way to digital. The move to digital is nearly complete. Save for a few anomalous releases like Interstellar, movies are only being distributed in digital formats and being projected digitally.

The movie explores the history of film and digital cinema. It describes the technology of film making. The descriptions of color timing were very interesting. I found it very interesting that the filmmakers who lament the death of film are at odd with the realities of distributing a roll of cellulose to a theater and having it run through a projector several times a day. James Cameron talked about how the reels of Titanic were falling apart from so many showings.

On the digital side you have George Lucas and Robert Rodriguez who have pushed to medium to accomplish things that could never be done on film. Star Wars Episode I was distributed digitally. I remember driving to Plano to see it on the first DLP theater. When Episode II came out it was entirely shot digitally. James Cameron pushed the envelope even further a few years later with Avatar. I found it interesting to know that O Brother Where Art Thou had a digital effect on every frame to give it that aged yellowed look without washing out the blues.

So Hollywood has gone digital. Your local theater now has digital projectors. The projection quality no longer degrades the longer the movie is out. The best part of the digital film experience is the trickle down to the home theater. You can now get 4K systems and there is starting to be content available.

On the down side, archiving digital media is not as easy as it should be. In the history of film there has basically been just one standard. Color and sound were added over time. When it comes to digital there have been 80 formats. Anyone who has tried to open a WordPerfect file or an early digital photo has experienced that frustration. I have hundreds of old home movies that I need to convert to a modern format. Hollywood needs to work on archival for both historical films and modern movies. Perhaps they could work something out with the likes of Netflix and YouTube.

As a documentary I found it very interesting. It is available both on Netflix and Amazon. I recommend it for any lover of cinema.

Side by Side Movie Poster

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