With the advent of new technologies, creatives find themselves pressed with a variety of options in their toolbox. They face a choice between tools offering speed and convenience against the slightly more involved methods of the past that many argue are of higher quality. In music, for example, there is the issue of compressed file formats versus uncompressed. Even in the past, there were arguments over vinyl against tape, of tape against compact disc, of analog recording against digital recording. The new documentary The Distortion of Sound delves into this and is available to stream in its entirety on YouTube.
Although it’s a different medium, the conversations happening in film aren’t much different. In a recent move, Kodak struck a deal with Hollywood movie studios to keep 35mm film alive, at least for the next several years. The purchase marks a dedication to the roots of film making, forestalling the closure of a New York film manufacturing plant owned by Kodak’s chief executive, Jeff Clarke. While the studios are committed to purchasing a set amount of film stock, they are unsure of how many, if any, of their movies will be shot on film over the next few years.
The report names Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Judd Apatow, and J.J. Abrams as some of the major players in Hollywood who lobbied in favor of the deal. Others, such as Martin Scorsese, have been vocal in their defense of Kodak. In his statement, Scorsese claims, “Everything we do in HD is an effort to recreate the look of film. Film, even now, offers a richer visual palette than HD.” Sound familiar?
That’s because arguments taking place within the music industry in favor of vinyl are similar in tone to those taking place among directors in favor of film. In his article, Mario Aguilar argues that although vinyl is fragile and imperfect, it has charm and offers a more intimate listening experience. But the debate raging among audio- and videophiles is far from simple, as even Scorsese concedes that digital cameras are lighter, more affordable, and offer more options for perfecting the image.
So what does it really come down to? The filmmakers listed in the report all got their start in film stock. In Aguilar’s article, he touches on how his love for vinyl stems from his personal experiences of sharing vinyl with his godfather. Is nostalgia what’s causing film stock to survive?
If the two industries are comparable in their battle over analog against digital, than perhaps film stock is merely in the midst of a temporary sales and production drought. In contrast, Vinyl sales have been rising since 2007, and major artists, such as Daft Punk, Linkin Park, and Jack White have returned to recording in analog. Perhaps, given enough time, there will be a resurgence of movies created on film, but as it stands, it is a luxury only afforded by those with the big bucks. The importance of deals like the one with Kodak is that, as Judd Apatow says, “…filmmakers who are just getting started will be able to have this as an option as they continue in their careers because movies are nothing if not a romantic experience, and film is a big part of that.”