Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why celluloid really matters

As the digital age continues and more innovations are created, 35mm film seems to be becoming more part of a by gone era. Many filmmakers still champion celluloid, like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg, but digital seems to seducing movie makers wanting production to be faster and easier. Theater exhibitors have been making the switch and if you know of the irreplaceable look and texture of 35mm, you know that digital and even hi-def are lacking what film has provided for an audience for the past 100 years.

Film preservation is another story but an important one. Martin Scorsese is known for his work in preserving classic and lost films but what many film fans may not be aware of is the work being undertaken to preserve genre and exploitation films that without the intervention of passionate film lovers, are being readied for the dumpster.

Enter the American Genre Film Archive,located in Austin, Texas, which is the largest genre film archive in the world. They are working hard to collect and save prints of classic films that you may have seen at the drive-in in the 1970s or even perhaps on cable TV in the 80s. These films are fading memories of an old era where low budget films with visceral energy and unpredictable action were projected onto screens. Some of these films, whether it's a rare Herschell Gordon Lewis gore movie from the late 60s or an old Sonny Chiba kung fu film, have been transfered onto great DVD releases, but many have not and only exist on film.

I work at the Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa. It is the city's oldest surviving single screen theatre and we are constantly on the lookout for old prints of great grindhouse classics that people are selling online. One notable score was the 1973 Doris Wishman sexploitation epic Double Agent 73, which is a pristine print with no scratches and all the colour. One wonders if the lady I bought that print from knew what she had!

Check out this video showing how the American Genre Film Archive are doing the lord's work. When I saw this clip, I noticed they have a print of the 1986 Charles Bronson film Murphy's Law, which we have stored at my theatre!



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