Surprise greetings, fellow beam dreamers,
This post is an impromptu response to a recent tumult in the world of creative film (and by film I mean photographic, rather than digital film) production in England. Click here to go to the long version of this posting.
Many among you who are involved in the small scene surrounding artists’ film making will be aware of the event to which I refer: the take-over of Soho Film Labs by the Deluxe Entertainment Services Group Inc. and their subsequent shutting down of 16mm film printing services with immediate effect, the last surviving affordable service of its kind in this country.
The news came as a particular blow to the Anti-Gravity Chamber – plans were afoot to strike several colour prints this year, prints intended to be part of a live multiple projection experience in which the physical materials would be manipulated live, mixed in with a variety of projected media, including heated coloured oils, handmade slides and possibly even digital images, should digital projection prove to be an affordable reality. Yet, despite all the talk of digital technologies being democratic, high enough standard data projectors remain highly expensive (average domestic HD data projectors put out about 2500 lumens, but the 250w lamp of a 16mm projector is the equivalent of about 15,000 lumens) and not nearly versatile enough – you can’t just set them up anywhere, using multiple projectors, they tend to be installed in a fixed position as part of a venue’s technical set-up, they’re also nowhere near as robust and portable as the simple precision engineering in an Elf 16mm projector, which costs a fraction of the price of a viable digital projector.
The news first came to my attention in a notice on the artist filmmaker’s discussion group, Frameworks, by Nicky Hamlyn. A response by the artist Tacita Dean had been published in an article on the Guardian website the day before, but being busy the day before (coincidentally with a digital video project), it had not come to my attention until later. The piece was a pretty reasonable plea for the right for film and digital media to co-exist and for the artist to have the right to choose.
Of course, film production everywhere today is becoming increasingly dominated by a few corporations who own most of the studios, film theatres, distribution networks and post-production facilities – not only this but there seems to be an inexorable force propelling us all into the realm of digital media, so it came as no great surprise that Deluxe, an international conglomerate who specialise in Digital workflow solutions and theatrical 35mm print processing for major Hollywood producers, would shut down the small-fry 16mm facility that was a very popular resource (with work reportedly backed-up) almost exclusively among artist filmmakers.
Interestingly, Deluxe was originally set up in 1915 by William Fox as an extension of the Fox Film Corporation, which merged with Twentieth Century Pictures in 1935 to become Twentieth Century Fox, so it is clear to whom Deluxe pledges allegiance. I mention this not to dismiss out of hand Deluxe’s business model, which makes perfect sense in their world, but to illustrate the disconnect between the cultural and commercial sectors.
Tacita Dean’s Guardian piece was by no means based on the absurd and erroneous prejudice that film is somehow superior to digital – I myself have recently seen some highly impressive results, both from Digital HD cameras and in digital theatrical projection (a recently attended special screening at BFI Southbank of Barbet Schroeder’s The Valley (Obscured by Clouds) (1972), beautifully restored from the original 2 strip Technicolour and digitally projected in its original Cinemascope format, being a notable example). I myself work equally fruitfully with digital video as with film, but I use the different media for different outcomes and experiences. Dean argued that working with film – and screening it – is different to the way we experience digital media. Anyone who has used both media knows this to be a simple fact.
Scrolling down below the piece, however, I was disturbed (although perhaps I really should not have been) by the vitriolic comments posted beneath it, much of which was grossly and depressingly misinformed. It was clear that many, having not read the piece fully or paid much attention to the thrust of its heartfelt plea, brayed at the deluded “luddites” they imagined they addressed, correcting the errant ways of a marginal bunch of pretentious hippies (this seemed to be the thrust of their prejudice). Adapt to survive or die, was the pseudo-Darwinian shibboleth, all too eager to extinguish an endangered species. But nobody is AGAINST digital, we just want the right to choose.
It is clearly perceived by the majority of mainstream society that those who want to keep 16mm film projection alive are an insignificant, minuscule bunch of elitists, yet 16mm has been growing in popularity as a medium of choice for those working outside conventional image production in the past few years. In some ways it is a form of cultural resistance – resistance to the conquest of the monoculture. I’ve been to many packed events at which cutting edge music is performed alongside both 16mm film and digital projections. A punk DIY attitude is prevalent and the feeling is vibrant and inclusive.
Besides, surely being in a minority doesn’t mean being insignificant. The Sex Pistols, who were then little known, played a now legendary concert at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester to about 40 people, most of whom became highly influential purveyors of music – Howard Devoto formed the Buzzcocks and started Britain’s first independent record label; Tony Wilson founded Factory Records and the legendary Hacienda nightclub; Morrissey formed the Smiths; Mick Hucknall… well, OK it wasn’t all good! The point is that modest cultures can make seismic waves.
In a petition appealing to Deluxe to reverse it’s decision, its petitioners had this to say: “There is a cultural separation between art and the cinema industry that runs the labs. Cinema sees only digital as the future, but within art, both are important.” Therein, I believe lies the misunderstanding.
In conclusion – sign the petition and support the perpetuation of 16mm film in the UK – and by extension the Anti-Gravity Chamber!
Go to the long version by clicking here.
Until our vectors next converge – stay switched on until we next tune in!