By Ron Merk
On April 30, 2013 Andy Holyoke, Projectionist for more than three decades, ran the last 35mm print that will be screened at the Little Art Theater in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I heard the story on National Public Radio, and it saddened me to hear that film as a projection medium is becoming more and more like the proverbial dodo bird, and while not extinct, it will be harder and harder to see films projected on film. You can hear the interview on NPR by going to the following link: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=180051277&m=180136104
That sound of the film running through the projector will soon be replaced by the silence of a digital projection system which does not have mechanical parts that emits this wonderful sound that tells us that there’s a film playing.
You may ask if I’m getting nostalgic, and part of the answer is yes. But part of the answer is that we are losing something. Think of the difference between a painting made in watercolor and one made in oil paint. Theoretically, one could create the same image in both kinds of paint, but would it be the same painting? Clearly not. Film has unique qualities that relate to its physical make up. I remember seeing an old MGM film at the UCLA Film and Television Archives which was being screened in a 35mm nitrate print. I asked someone who from the archive why the film had such a luminous quality. They told me that it was the fact that it was a nitrate print. Nitrate film had “this quality” that safety film didn’t have. Maybe it was just the molecules of the nitrate material or the enormous amount of silver in the emulsion that gave this glow to the actors who were performing in this wonderful black and white world. Perhaps it was a secret known only by the film, itself.
As fewer and fewer of us are able to watch an actual film being projected, this sense of wonder and all that film brings us will become more and more difficult to experience. There is something truly “incandescent” about film projection, and I don’t mean to make a pun here. It glows not only on the screen, but in our memory, too. Film brings us something that no other medium can bring. A certain look, a certain feel, and neither can be replaced or duplicated by the new technologies.
So when you get that rare chance to see a film made on film projected on film, grab the children and the grandchildren. The circus is coming to town!