Physical 35mm film is a wonderful medium for image capture, image display, and image storage (far better than digital storage, which is subject to hard drive failure).
However, 35mm films look AMAZING in the first three to ten runs of the projection print (some say only the first time, but come on!), and then it begins to degrade as the film print is run through the projectors over and over and over again (probably 100 runs is the useful life, right? Or is it less?). The scratches and other damage (particularly to the optical audio track) is a hallmark of 6-track magnetic, and then Dolby Digital and DTS audio tracks
So most of the time when we’ve seen celluloid-based cinema, we’re not seeing the works in their ideal presentation. Especially when converted to home video formats (because of compression and the limitations of the various formats; although with 4K Blu-ray the presentation can be as accurate as possible in picking up all the detail from the original camera negative). Many times the film print was run through a telecine machine to produce the video master, and very little attention to detail was paid in regards to the audio and video quality (as long as it was passable, it was sent on; cconsider the whole notion of pan & scan); this was in the pre-digital days. But even many first and second generation DVDs the source material wasn’t methodically restored to original approved answer print quality.
Back in the early 90s (for me) Criterion Collection was in the business presenting films in the best possible way for home viewing, and that meant, in many cases, restoring films. This was prior to the advent of DVD, so they’re probably the best at doing it (as places like DVDBeaver will testify to). Here’s a quick video that investigates their process.
It’s a fascinating process to understand the “under the hood” mechanics of “how to see a film properly” (just look at the color grading that was done on Hitchcock’s FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, to get those rich, velvety blacks that are on the original negative). It’s lost on most viewers because the artistry of the medium is… is looked over by most consumers. I was going to say “ignored”, but that’s not entirely true. Audiences, no matter how blasé or distracted or cynical about this form of entertainment being “art”, feel it when the art is working strenuously (even if invisibly).
Here’s an in-depth look at Criterion’s restoration of Sir Lawrence Olivier’s RICHARD III, as described by über-cinema maestro himself, Martin Scorsese.
Much of this is just archeological work for most because most audience members and even people working in the industry under the age of 30 (or thereabouts) have little interest in seeing films prior to 1990, let alone 1970, and avoid black & white films altogether. But the vital films that determine the cinematic grammar and the narrative conventions are to be explored and enjoyed in those works. One can learn a tremendous amount about the actual craft of making movies from looking at these pre-1990 films. There is a beauty and artistry to the 1,000s upon 1,000s works which is lost in today’s current climate. Films were made because people wanted to take risks an tell stories, now the data dictates to the MBA team what films get made because the commercial concerns have a stranglehold on the product (over say $5m).
I look at films prior to the DVD age, not as old films, but films I haven’t seen yet. The stories and how they were told are, arguably, more satisfying than most of today’s product. To ignore a cinematic work because the pacing isn’t “current” is tantamount denouncing early photography because it’s not as razor sharp as 24MP Canon image with a Leica Summicron lens or that those painted portraits of aristocrats prior to the age of photography are poor presentations of people when a disposable point and shoot does a much more “modern” and “acceptable” job at capturing a likeness.
Recent Academy Award-nominated film CALL ME BY YOUR NAME was shot on Kodak 5219 (Vision3) Stock using only a Cooke S4 35mm lens. The director wanted something very specific and unique as palette and canvas for this story of first love.
The philosophy behind the design and production of the film demanded celluloid stock (even though there would be digital projection in the theatres), and there’s a vintage aesthetic to cinematic work shot on film. It’s an artistic choice that should continue to exist.
I’d wager that the Criterion Collection might do a release of this film. But they have so many unheralded masterpieces in that closet, it’s hard to determine what should they turn their eye to that’s new or something in need of the “Criterion Treatment”.