Film in Old-fashioned Form by Tom Whiteside
Everyone is a filmmaker these days, but not many people use film. The words are just not accurate anymore. I was born in 1957 and in my youth and young adulthood the idea that one could make a movie with a phone — what? a mobile phone? –was a ridiculous fantasy from a Dick Tracy future. The idea that anyone could watch a movie anywhere at any time was completely and simply absurd. Much has changed and it is still changing. Motion picture technology is now about 120 years old and we are just beginning to get used to it, we are just beginning to scratch the surface and understand how to use this technology.
When I studied filmmaking in college in the late 1970’s everything was still double system – sound and image were recorded separately, then reunited in the editing process. Every step was slow and expensive, you could shoot film today and see it next week. You could not make a film without paying a lab bill. Were those the good old days? No. So in the 21st century why am I still working with analog film? The answer, in part, is that I am simply still using the tools I know and love, many of my thrift store purchases from the 1980’s are still good working tools – cameras and projectors. I am an older dog and some of the newer tricks seem to be beyond my grasp and my desire. Another part of the answer has to do specifically with 16mm film becoming “obsolete.” The advent of video in the 1980’s (VHS, then DVD) led to libraries dumping their 16mm film collections, and I was often at the back door to catch these reels on their way to the dumpster. I have been collecting and reutilizing 16mm films for 30 years and it does not look like I will run out of ideas or material anytime soon. I don’t shoot much at all anymore, but I do create new films and new shows by re-editing and re-contextualizing. In some cases it is an entire film, in other cases it is just a single shot. Yes, I do have prints of some films that are not on YouTube. As yes I have prints that are 80 years old and they run just fine, thank you. I use a lot of projectors these days, making multiscreen works in a variety of formations. Some of my projectors are more than 50 years old. No, analog film is not obsolete, although of course I understand that most people have moved on and consider analog motion pictures to be on the same street as a horse and buggy. However, wet plate collodion photography is not obsolete, because some artists choose to work with that ancient and cumbersome process. Like most people in the 21st century I am caught up in the digital tsunami, I like e-mail and the wonders of the web. I like my cell phone but frankly I only use it as a phone. For artistic work in motion pictures I am sticking to film.
Reminder: A unique multiple projector shows on time at Supergraphic Tuesday and Wednesday July 30 and 31. This is a very nice room for these shows, real film in real darkness and the images are big. Subjects include musician Wanda Landowska, sculptor Chaim Gross, printmaker Glen Alps, and a band leader who happens to be a mouse. Cameo appearances by Julie London, Salvador Dali and Buster Keaton. Almost every piece involves more than one projector.
As you may have noticed, my approach to film history tends to be inclusive.
Supergraphic is located at 601 Ramseur Street on the eastern edge of downtown. Admission is $8, students are $5. Shows at 8:00, doors at 7:30. Come early and see the prints by Supergraphic artists on display in the front room.
Program notes to be posted next week on the Durham Cinematheque facebook page.