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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Claire Fundraiser, plus thoughts on the past, the future and the end of "film"

Camera, man
  • Buster Keaton
  • Camera, man

Much has been written about the "death of film" as a medium.

I'm specifically talking about the tactile medium of film. Celluloid itself. The thin, sprocket-lined membrane that flutters through the mechanism of a camera, and onto which negative images of the world are filtered, inverted, distorted and ultimately captured.

Through the miraculous alchemy of post-production, these images are processed, cut, constructed, corrected, and finally output to a positive print which is broken into reels, shipped to a theatre, built into a composite print, and run through a machine, with each frame pulled by a claw before the shutter of the projector, behind which a blazing bulb illuminates the image, casting its shadows onto a shimmering screen. The final product actually comes alive in the mind's eye of the live audience, thanks to an optical illusion which tricks the brain into seeing a series of 24 disjointed single frames per second (a really fast slideshow really) into continuous uninterrupted motion.

This is the experience of watching a FILM, which is to say a movie that was both shot and projected on film.

And it is dying.

Roger Ebert, most recently wrote a piece about the "The sudden death of film", in which he acquiesced: "I imagine there will always be 35mm projectors at film festivals and various shrines of cinema. Most of the movies ever made have probably not yet been digitized, and in many cases there may be no money for that. But my war is over, my side lost, and it's important to consider this in the real world."

Add to this the fact that most major camera manufacturers (ARRI, Panavision and Aaton) have stopped producing FILM cameras in order to shift their focus to digital, and it is evident that the FILM era's iris is closing fast.

In a widely quoted article for Creative Cow entitled "Film Fading to Black", Debra Kaufman writes, "That's right: someone, somewhere in the world is now holding the last film camera ever to roll off the line."

Video Killed the Celluloid Star

In light of all of this, tonight's (Thursday November 3) special event at the High Museum of Art's Rich Auditorium becomes that much more special.

Here's the official information about the CLAIRE anniversary event. Of note is the care with which Milt and DP Jonathan Mellinger worked to replicate an authentic cinematic experience. Likewise exhibition of the FILM itself, like a film from the period, requires LIVE musical accompaniment. The print does not have an optically printed soundtrack.

Atlanta filmmaker Milford Thomas' CLAIRE is a 53-minute black and white silent film shot on an antique hand-crank 35mm (Mitchell Standard) camera by Jonathan Mellinger. The
film toured internationally, opening festivals in Milan, Brussels, Montreal and the U.S., always accompanied by the "Orchestra de Lune," a live 11-piece chamber orchestra performing an original score by composer / conductor Anne Richardson.

The November screening with live orchestra is a special ten year celebration of CLAIRE with the filmmaker and much of the cast and crew in attendance. Ticket sales will allow composer Richardson to score an additional version of the music for a smaller string quartet, thus enabling the more mobile accompaniment to reach a wider audience beginning in 2012.

When Milt and company first conceived of this project, the idea of screening a silent film with live performance was undoubtedly anachronistic.

No one could have conceived that by the film's tenth anniversary, the notion of screening a FILM itself would be quaint.

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