When I made it home for Thanksgiving, one of the first orders of business, of course, was to go to the movies. Foregoing the madness of the mall multiplexes on a busy night, instead I went to a showing of The Descendants at The County Theater, a great little repertory/art- house spot in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
Living in New York City, it is so rare that I get to see a 35mm print of a new film anymore. The major chains and even most smaller houses have flipped to digital. So I was dismayed when the trailers at The County started running on a digital projector. Then, this came on:
In the video, the theater’s director, John Toner, explains that The County must make the move to digital in order to keep up with the industry. As a non- profit, they need donations to be able to convert their auditoriums and are asking audiences for help.
The video is low quality, probably originally standard definition. Projected on a movie screen it looks absolutely terrible. I mean no disrespect to Toner or the person who shot this, but seeing this video swirled me down into the same digital depression I’ve been feeling for the last few years. I want to move forward and believe that the perks of digital distribution (better access to films, cleaner viewing experience, better longevity for popular “prints,” etc.) outweigh the charm of projected film. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a brand new 35mm film, I thought I had gotten over my “woe is me, projection luddite” phase. To think, this is what they want to convert The County to? This looks awful!
Of course, the actual projector they need funds to purchase will look much better. It looks bad because, well, it is. Digital is the future, get over yourself, Jon.
Then, the projector switched and a film print of Alexander Payne’s film unfurled. I was crushed. The print looked stunning. The crisp edges of Hawaiian life nearly cut right through the screen. The colors popped out at me as no digital projector has been able to. The film itself spoke to me on a level I’ve become unaccustomed to lately. This is the splendor of 35mm projections and its days are numbered.
I wish only the best for The County and I hope they are able to fulfill their campaign. A theater must keep up with emerging technologies, and the best argument I’ve heard for digital projection is that it removes the friction of bringing the great movies of the world to towns that otherwise wouldn’t bother getting them. That is just as important as my unhealthy relationship with celluloid.
Before this relic of movie-watching is lost forever, do yourself a favor and go seek out a theater that has 35mm on the menu. If you’re near Bucks County, PA, The County Theater is a wonderful place to catch a movie. The U.S. is peppered with great little theaters whose hand will be forced to move into the future. Don’t miss out on the past while it’s still around.
Photo by Dawn Derbyshire