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Question of the week: Is film dead? Should film die?

Posted on July 2, 2012 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

So the news broke last week that Martin Scorsese is going to abandon film to shoot his movies digitally from now:

Thelma Schoonmaker, an editor who has worked with Scorsese for 40 years, said: “It’s just impossible to fight it anymore, the collapse of film,” before adding: “Marty and I are very depressed about it. It would appear that we have lost the battle.”

It's worth reading the rest of the article I've just quoted from because Schoonmaker says that 3D is the driver for the move and smaller cinemas are being devastated by it. She also makes the point that older films are no longer having prints made and that digital media need to be constantly upgraded (cf the BBC's Domesday Project).

Of course, film decays, too, and there are many films from the start of the 20th century that are in urgent need of restoration or that have decayed totally. Digital, provided it's in a format that has mass appeal and provided there are decent back-up and migration strategies, could theoretically continue in perfect condition for the rest of eternity (although future archaeologists might have trouble understanding the formats in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, something that isn't true of analogue media. Assuming you're planning for that eventuality).

Digital also has other advantages: it's cheaper to shoot with, requires much lighter equipment, allows for 3D 'filming', can be edited quickly without the need for an intermediate digitisation process – almost no one actually edits with film anymore – and can be downloaded to as many cinema projectors as you like, almost instantaneously, unlike film, which only supports a limited number of prints, which have to travel from cinema to cinema around the world like nomads. You can also back up digital and it's virtually immune from defects.

Others, however, argue that the look of film is something that digital struggles with: the harshness of the picture quality in Michael Mann's Collateral compared poorly with his previous films' greater depth, for example.

So today's question is:

Is film dead as a medium? Are we right to bemoan its demise since it offers something digital doesn't or are the advantages of digital so great that we might as well be upset about the demise of the zoetrope? Could we even keep it on, just as there are still niches for black and white movies and film processing?

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