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Digital or Film...

In their article Film is Dead? Long Live Movies, Dargis and Scott point out that the digital revolution in cinema may be a more significant change in movies than sound or color. One reason cited for the phasing out of analog technology, and the rise of digital, is the economics. The life of a movie’s run in a theater is quick, the audience wants something new, and theaters and studios must work together technologically for this to happen. It makes one question what will happen to small independent cinemas. There is one near my town that has changed hands several times in the past few years, each owner finding it economically difficult. It hangs on, but for how long?

Actor Keanu Reeves produced a documentary in which he explored whether digital or celluloid is the better option in filmmaking. Cost and time ended up being two of the factors that influenced the decisions of those he interviewed. While some filmmakers prefer the look of film, the graininess, to softness, others prefer the immediacy of digital. One paradox of that immediacy is that the actor’s work can be seen right after a take. Wells quotes in her article about the documentary that “Joel Schumacher of “Batman Forever” had to talk one of his actors out of seeing every take when he used digital because it was making the actor’s performance ‘very self-conscious.’”

In the trailer for Reeve’s documentary, directors and cinematographers can be heard debating digital technologies. One points out that 3D effects can only be done digitally, so that gives digital methods more value. Another counters with the opinion that 3D is a gimmick, “a marketing scheme.”

Digital video technologies have changed filmmaking by putting the form within the technical reach and budget of many more artists and creators. Almost anyone can afford a device to capture video, and a laptop and software to edit. Director Steven Soderbergh shot a recent movie “Unsane” completely using an iPhone, and says that he will continue to do this (Kohn). Students can use filmmaking techniques on assignments and projects. Artists can put their work on YouTube, and have an audience for it. Visual artists can use traditional and digital techniques to experiment, and combine that with animation, special effects, and filmmaking. This has opened the way for new mixed art forms, changing how we look at the reality of our world. Wolfgang Staehle was creating time based art when he captured the the events of 9/11 unfolding. So it could be said that digital video technology can record and let us view reality unedited, or can be manipulated so that what we are seeing is not reality at all.

While there is nothing like attending a live performance, the video recording of a performance allows more people to experience it. Of course it is not the same experience, there is no live audience right there, the viewer is not experiencing the architecture of the performance space, or the thrill of physically going to such an event.

But it can still be very powerful. One example is the recent performance Springsteen on Broadway. Getting a ticket was impossible, and while watching the Netflix video was not the same as being there, it did open the production to a wider audience.


Dargis, M. and A. O. Scott, Film Is Dead? Long Live Movies, New York Times, 2012

Retrieved from:

Wells,T , Filmakers Debate Digital vs. Film in PBS Documentary,, 2013 Retrieved from:

Side-by Side:Trailer, produced by Keanu Reeves, 2013

Kohn, E., Steven Soderbergh Says He’s Done Directing Studio Movies and Wants to Only Shoot on iPhones, IndieWire, 2018

Retrieved from:

Paul, C., Digital Art, London, Thames & Hudson, 2015

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