I was talking to a film scholar the other day about old movies. Appropriately enough, we were having this conversation at IndieCollect, where he and his colleagues scan and digitally preserve independent films for posterity. Many of those films are quite a few decades old.
Nowadays most movies are both shot and projected digitally. No more internegatives, flatbeds, chemical baths, no more sprocket holes, second reels or work prints. Most of process of getting from lens to screen is now done in software.
But in earlier days making a movie involved many different physical steps. Each of those steps had to be done properly or you were left with nothing. Capturing a good image onto your negative was an exacting process, and everything was highly dependent on good old fashioned chemistry and physics.
Even after the negative was in the can, there was still plenty of work to do. Pulling a good print from the negative through proper control of color and timing, then the laborious and exacting process of physically cutting your film on a flatbed, each of these steps required hours upon hours of dedicated and exacting physical work.
Contemplating the racks upon racks of old reels of film at IndieCollect, the tangible record of an immense amount of collective labor, my colleague turned to me and asked: “What do you think motivated them to go through all that trouble?”
To me it seemed like an easy question. “Because,” I said, “that was the easiest way to do it.”