Watching the new Keanu Reeves documentary on the debate over Film vs. Digital, “Side by Side”, I’m reminded of a quote of John Rogers that was said in context over the shifting structure of TV scheduling but also fits here.
Nobody wants to live during the revolution. Before and after the revolution, fine. But not during.
In “Side by Side”, we see a whole lot of smart, passionate filmmaking professionals discuss/celebrate/piss and moan about the awesomeness/inferiority of the new digital technology.
It’s an interesting mix of voices. You got the tech heavy guys like Lucas And Cameron getting all “This is awesome! Science rules!”. And then there are guys like Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister who intend to continue down the photo-chemical road until the last lab has been dynamited. And in between, you get pros and cons from a whole host of folks including David Fincher, Michael Chapman and Steven Soderberg.
We also get brief history lessons about the development of digital cameras, the Dogma 95 movement out of Denmark and digital’s role in the American Independent movement of the naughts. We learn how digital was affected everything from shooting (David Fincher tells the story about how Robert Downey Jr. was enraged by the sheer amount of shooting done on “Zodiac” that he started leaving jars of urine on the set as a protest.) to editing. (Anne V. Coats admitting that if digital editing had existed during “Lawrence of Arabia” the famous jump cut from Lawrence blowing out the match to the sunrise in the desert may not have happened because they would have just put in the dissolve without a second thought.) And we get to hear how there’s a chance we could lose hundreds of films because there’s no reliable system for archiving large digital files. (Which causes DP Geoff Boyle to exclaim “We’re fucked!)
(And as someone who’s looking to get back into filmmaking, this is clearly relevent to my interests because all my stuff is done digitally. And while I’m careful to burn everything to DVD, there’s no real guarantee that people are going to be able to play the damn things after I’m gone. And considering that I have no intention of ever having children, this is all I have to leave behind when I’m gone. Holy shit, I am fucked!)
This is, of course, followed by George Lucas saying “Don’t worry, we can fix that”.
And that is humanity in a nutshell. One half screaming, “We’re fucked”. The other half saying “We can fix this”.
Here’s hoping the second half is the one that’s right.
Director Christopher Kenneally does a solid job organizing the material into easy to digest sections that keeps things clear. And Reeves, who generally couldn’t be stiffer if you cast him in a reboot of “Weekend at Bernie’s”, handles narration duties ably enough. And is thoughtful and engaged in the interview sections. (There’s one unguarded moment on a set where he’s explaining to a child how they did the awaking scene in “The Matrix” that’s so sweet and charming, I forgave him for “Much Ado about Nothing” on the spot.)
As a result, you have a film that manages to make a complex issue understandable to an audience of laypersons and at the same time, smart enough that guys like me who deal with this stuff don’t find themselves rolling their eyes and going, “Yes and the bird goes tweet!”
And through it all, there is this sense of a moment passing. That as we make the march towards progress, some things are left behind. Yes, the workflow is easier but we lose some of the consideration that comes from the effort.
We can manipulate the image but our disbelief is magnified.
We can see movies anywhere and everywhere.
But we lose the communion that comes from sitting in the dark.
All is jumble as the old ways fall.
And on the fly, we have to figure out what we can catch.
No one wants to live during the Revolution.
And that’s why “Side by Side” is my Netflix pick of the Week.
In the comments, your favorite documentary on a subject that most people don’t care about. But would if they saw it.