Films aren’t shown in cinemas like they once were. Prominent directors have accepted that shooting on film has become a less realistic goal. Should you actually go the cinema attendees are often glancing at their phones, scrolling through Instagram, and replying to texts. The big screen up front has been losing to the smaller one in your pocket. And to other screens in our homes also.
Quentin Tarantino still films exclusively for the cinema. ‘I actually feel that I’m getting jipped when I go to a movie when I realise that it’s either being shot on digital or being projected in digital. Because everyone thinks, you can’t help but think, that when you’re filming something on film that you’re recording movement. You’re not recording movement. You’re just taking a series of still pictures. There’s no movement in the movies at all. They are still pictures. But when shown at twenty-four frames a second through a lightbulb it creates the illusion of movement. So thus, as opposed to a recording device, when you’re watching a movie, a film print, you are watching an illusion. And to me that illusion is connected to the magic of movies.’
Woody Allen has made more than sixty motion pictures. ‘To me there’s no big deal about making it on film. If you take the time to make it well and have a superb camera man. The film looks beautiful if it’s shot digitally or it’s shot on celluloid. If some people feel that they’re traditionalists and they want to work scrupulously on celluloid but how far do you carry that thing. Do you then just make films in black and white because that was the original tradition? Do you just make silent film? I mean, how far back do you want to go with that? So I don’t really care. However I can tell my story effectively is fine.’
Cary Fukunaga shot True Detective on film for cable distribution on HBO. He also shot Beast of No Nation digitally before releasing it simultaneously in theatres and on Netflix. ‘It’s definitely one hundred percent blended now. The way in which people consume stories now is from so many different devices and platforms, it’s like what is cinema, what is television, what is streaming? It’s really difficult to apply. Just because something is screened first in the cinema does that make it a movie? You definitely have old guard people trying to hold on to labels that don’t really apply anymore.’
Martin Scorsese’s newest movie The Irishman was given a giant budget of $140 million by Netflix. ‘It can all be summed up in the word that’s being used now: content. All movie images are lumped together. You’ve got a picture, you’ve got a TV episode, a new trailer, you’ve got a how-to video on a coffee-maker, you’ve got a Super Bowl commercial, you’ve got ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ it’s all the same. They can also turn a picture off and go straight to the next piece of content. If there’s no sense of value tied to a given movie, of course, it can be sampled in bits and pieces and just forgotten. The horrible idea they reinforce that every picture, every image is there to be instantly judged and dismissed without giving audiences time to see it. Time to see it, maybe ruminate and maybe make a decision for themselves. So the great 20th-century art form, the American art form, is reduced to content. You know the difference between a YouTube video and the great American art form. You react against the devaluation of cinema and movies by showing up.’
Tastes change. People don’t see plays much anymore and no one has a court jester. Yet there is a feeling that a lot of complicated art has been replaced, replaced by the basic sensation of simple distraction. Maybe audiences are getting what they want. But the job of the artist isn’t to give the audience what they want, it’s to give them what they need.