As we enter the digital age of instantaneousness and innovation, it appears it’s time to bid farewell to celluloid. Like an animal on the brink of extinction, celluloid is fast being replaced by the simplicity and swiftness proffered by digital camera revolution, with an estimated 40,000 digital screens popping up worldwide in 2010, an increase with a growth rate of over 100% since the previous year. The changing landscape of cinema is clear to see. But with a history dating back almost 200 years, does our generation not have the desire, or the failing that, the obligation to preserve celluloid?
Over the last year or so, those of you who still reluctantly shell out £7 or £8 to see cinema’s latest releases may have noticed the word ‘digital’ appearing on the tickets. For those as technologically ignorant as I, what this basically means is that the film is stored and therefore projected using a computer rather than old school reel style. The advantages of digital filmmaking are clear to see, especially for a budding filmmaker. Whereas celluloid film requires time, patience, lots of people and a big budget and thus prides itself on spectacle and exclusivity, digital technology is accessible, user-friendly, affordable and enables distribution to a wider audience; so you don’t have to be a Spielberg or a Scorsese to get your film seen. However I can see nothing sexy about the distribution and exhibition of films via hard drive. The excitement and corporeality of handing over a film stock is lost to the cold, heartlessness of transportation via the click of a mouse. There is something tangible and thus magical about celluloid film; like buying a vinyl record or flicking through the pages of a book that quite simply can’t be matched by the technological transparency of digital film.
Celluloid film effervesces’ with nostalgia and cool and with recent releases such as Midnight in Paris and Super 8 celebrating and indulging in a forgotten time, if anything its should remind us that the past should be treasured and preserved, rather than discarded. Of course in an industry driven by money, it’s easy to see why production companies are switching to digital. With an estimated saving of over £30,000, more if you record directly to hard drive, production companies must be having a field day. Though celluloid can actually be archived longer, with digital forms facing the perils of crashing hardrives and quality degradation and is thus a godsend for anyone wishing to watch a film the same age as your grandma, consumerism has always been about convenience rather than quality.
And yet it appears that a utopian co-existence is not completely out of the question. There’s no reason why cinemas should endure a monogamous relationship with film stock, when they can flirt with digital technology or why students should stifle their creative talent because celluloid is the only way. It’s not. The cliché espoused by many a teacher or parent actually comes to fruition in this case: compromise is key. The next generation of filmmaking is indeed an exciting concept to behold with all kinds of baffling technologies gaining popularity, but celluloid film reflects the hard-work, skill and experience that has facilitated the transition from grainy, silent movies, to the blockbusters we know and love today. And whilst I won’t say this often, in this particular case J-Lo speaks the truth; no matter where you go, you should know where you came from. Which is why celluloid ought to stay.