Side by Side (2012)

Side by Side (2012) movie poster

director Christopher Kenneally
viewed: 02/22/2013

Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? Qu’est-ce que le film?

Film, at least, can be reduced to the literal.  It has been the stuff onto which images have been captured, developed, and then displayed.  As in “the movies”, it’s the stuff that runs through the projector, light shining through it, whose mechanized process has created an illusion of movement.  The photo-chemical process of capturing images in light onto the emulsion, the exposures that record the capture, the creation of the negative.  It’s a tactile, real thing, stored in reels, not in the least impervious to the elements.

And “film” as well is synonymous with cinema, a much broader concept, perhaps.

But the conundrum of the definition has been a key point of interest in the digital age.  Though it’s been decades in process, the digital technology has usurped “film” in its costs, ease, and abilities.  Director Christopher Kenneally and producer/interviewer Keanu Reeves pull together an impressive array of important Hollywood directors and cinematographers and put the questions to them about the death of celluloid, the industry changes, technical innovations, and the future of “film”.

We’ve got George Lucas, James Cameron, David Lynch, Lars Von Trier, Martin Scorsese, Robert Rodriguez, and Christopher Nolan to name a few.  There are those among them who have been pushing digital’s envelope for decades, developing the technologies that shifted the market, visionaries who have shaped the present day reality and in part the discourse.  And it’s very interesting hearing from cinematographers, editors, effects people, whose relationship with the photographic image, the alchemy of traditional film, is the most directly impacted.

While the film Side by Side itself is not a great piece of cinema, it does have a few key aspects of serious merit.  They do speak to a good group of film-makers.  They also lay out a pretty easy-to-follow if not beautifully-rendered explanation of the technology, how it works and how it differs, which is no doubt a decent primer for many.  And thirdly, and perhaps the most underdeveloped and yet potentially interesting, is the history of implementation and adoption of digital techniques in major motion pictures.

From the digitizing of film that was first shot traditionally, to manipulate in computer later before returning to celluloid, it’s interesting to uncover digital’s “invisible” evolution.  While digital effects have become the modern norm, the steps to developing new cameras that record everything digitally from the get-go, is very telling.  It’s interesting how many film-makers reference Thomas Vinterberg’s 1998 film, The Celebration as such a liberating, influential film.  Because the technology is only getting better, in many cases cheaper and more accessible.

Keanu, bless him, shows his interest to be deep and significant.  It is very hard to hear that voice and take it one tenth as serious as one might take another actor.

What is cinema?  What is film?  The questions will continue to resound as a very technological medium becomes ever more varied and technologically profound.  And the photochemical images, shot today, in the 20th century, Daguerreotypes…  some aesthetics will never go away, they’ll just have to make room for other new ones.

With apologies to André Bazin.