Nolan on the decline of film:
Still, there are holdouts, among them director Christopher Nolan, who remain committed to the film experience. Nolan simply isn’t satisfied with the quality of digital projection at the current standard, 2K resolution, which has only slightly more pixels than high-definition TV. “I think at a point where studios try to force theaters into converting by actually withdrawing film prints, that’s a very dangerous situation,” he cautions. “Because it means the vast majority of theaters will be showing something that frankly isn’t much better than what you can get in your house.”
Nolan maintains that 35mm prints offer “a depth to the image that digital formats don’t have. “You’re allowed to be in the world that is being projected in a profound way,” he says. “And, it’s what’s always distinguished the theatrical experience from the home entertainment experience.”
For Nolan, the focus on costs is misplaced, even if the savings from digital are real. “This is a professional format. This is about putting on a show,” he says. “It shouldn’t be about the cheapest, the most convenient, it should be about what’s best.”
“Digital (has) a certain level of consistency that sometimes didn’t exist because film prints are physical, they get beat up and sometimes are not replaced on a proper schedule,” says Stephen Lighthill, president of the American Society of Cinematographers.
But Nolan doubts that advantage means much. “The multiplexing of the past 20 years has meant that prints don’t stay in movie theaters very long anyway,” he says, “so that’s not anything like the issue it was 30 years ago.” Still, prod a movie pro, and you’re likely to hear some tale of woe from a recent 35mm showing at a multiplex: purple fog from a safe light in the lab, a scratch through an entire reel, or worse.
“(Film) has an immersive quality, and frankly, a feel to it, a romanticism if you like, that hasn’t yet been equaled by any form of digital projection,” says Nolan. “There’s a depth to the image that digital formats don’t have.”
Despite their varied feelings about digital cinema, Scorsese, Nolan and Landau share a common concern: What will happen to more than 100 years’ worth of movies that live only on film? Without film, will cinema dissect itself from its own past?
“I think the answer is making sure as an industry that we preserve the infrastructure needed to continue to show library titles as they were created by the filmmakers of the past,” Landau says. He argues for keeping 35mm projectors in many projection booths, and for keeping enough film stock around so that new prints can be struck when needed. (Fujifilm set aside a considerable reserve before it discontinued its film operation last month.)
Nolan agrees: “Even if it’s not the revenue driver for (the studios), it’s incredibly important that film fans get to see films they love from the past in a theatrical setting.”