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Side by Side
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Visions Of 1's And 0's"
4 stars

About ten years ago, I was in a hotel room talking to Robert Rodriguez and the subject of shooting films on old-fashioned celluloid versus the emerging technology of digital video came up--this was around the time that George Lucas was proclaiming that film was on the way out and that everyone would be employing DV in the near-future. Rodriguez had been introduced to DV by Lucas, had shot "Spy Kids 2" and "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" in the format and was pleased enough with the results to assure me right then and there that he would never go back to celluloid again. Needless to say, I questioned this assertion and offered up all the standard defenses of celluloid and he assured me that shooting digitally was cheaper, quicker, easier and would continue to improve over time while working with film was to employ a technology that had already been around for more than a century and which was never going to improve substantially from where it already was. Despite his enthusiasm--and let it be said that when Robert Rodriguez gets enthused about something, he gets enthused--I came away from that discussion convinced that while DV could be a boon for low-budget filmmakers who couldn't afford to shoot on film, most major films would continue to be shot on good-old 35mm film, maybe even the glorious 70mm format in those happy rare cases.

Well, while could certainly debate whether Rodriguez's subsequent career has been helped or hurt by shooting cheaper, quicker and easier--although a masterpiece like "Sin City" would have been virtually impossible to achieve on film, it is likely that he wouldn't have cranked out craptaculars like "The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl" or "Shorts" if he had taken the time to think them through--it cannot be denied that an increasing number of filmmakers are shooting on video and have achieved some remarkable results with the new medium. At the same time, not only is shooting on 35mm film increasingly becoming a thing of the past, it is getting harder and harder to see an actual film projected on the screen at your local multiplex now that most theaters are switching to digital projection and most studios are contemplating only sending out their product digitally to save money on producing and shipping prints. (Things have gotten so dire that even though Paul Thomas Anderson shot his latest epic, "The Master," in 70mm, there are so few theaters equipped to show such a thing that most markets will be unable to see it precisely as Anderson intended.) How we got to this pivotal moment in screen history and where we may go from there is the subject of "Side by Side," an intriguing new documentary about the celluloid/digital debate that will fascinate stone-cold film fanatics and neophytes on the subject alike.

Hosted by Keanu Reeves, "Side by Side" gives more or less equal time to both formats by exploring their histories and technological processes and supplying testimonials to their virtues from a variety of well-known names from both sides of the camera. Making the case for digital, in addition to the expected likes of Lucas and Rodriguez, are directors like David Fincher, the Wachowskis and David Lynch, all of whom started out using film and found that the new process allowed them to do things that would have been impossible to pull off otherwise, cinematographers and editors who marvel as to the speed and precision with which they can work now that they are freed from the technological limitations of film and actors who reveal that the absence of the downtime once required to adjust lights and reload cameras allows them to give greater focus to their own contributions. On the other hand, Christopher Nolan speaks eloquently on why he has elected to continue to shoot his Batman films and "Inception" in the traditional manner while veteran editor Anne Coates suggests that one of the most famous images in cinema history--the abrupt cut from the extinguishing of a match to the harshness of a vast desert in "Lawrence of Arabia"--would not have existed if it had been put together digitally instead of by physically jamming two pieces of film together. From the acting standpoint, Fincher tells a hilarious story of how Robert Downey Jr. registered his displeasure over having to spend more hours than he was used to on the set of the digitally-shot "Zodiac" that is almost worth the price of admission by itself. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is Martin Scorsese, a filmmaker who is both forward-thinking and a classicist, who finds value in both formats. Even less surprisingly, most of those interviewed, whether they are pro-digital or pro-celluloid, are united on one concept--that 3-D (with the exception of James Cameron's achievements in "Avatar") is little more than a gimmick for which they have little use.

"Side by Side" pulls off the tricky task of presenting an admittedly arcane subject in a manner that is detailed enough to keep those with a working knowledge of what is being discussed interested but easy enough for those without such knowledge to watch without getting confused along the way. It also pulls off the even trickier task of maintaining an even hand in regards to the way it presents the two opposing viewpoints--even though it is clear to practically everyone in the film that digital is here to stay and that celluloid is destined go on the same shelf as silents and black-and-white, it doesn't go so far as to say that the move is for the better. After watching "Side by Side," two things immediately came to mind. The first is that digital photography has certainly improved over the past 10 years and that in the hands of the right directors and cinematographers, it can yield results as beautiful and memorable as anything seen on film. The second is that I now have the overwhelming urge to see "Visions of Light" again right away.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23600&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/13/12 21:56:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/16/13 Langano Not enough here for a 90 minute film. 3 stars
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  17-Aug-2012 (NR)
  DVD: 05-Feb-2013


  DVD: 05-Feb-2013

Directed by
  Chris Kenneally

Written by
  Chris Kenneally


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