Quick rumination today—not a lengthy dissertation!
Yesterday, I came across this article about Quentin Tarantino’s statement at Cannes that digital projection is the death of cinema (I’d heard him say something similar on a recent episode of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson). It got me thinking about the general subject of digital filmmaking: All the major studios and many prominent filmmakers (Robert Rodriguez, age 46; Steven Soderbergh, 51; James Cameron, 60) have embraced digital video over traditional film stock; several prominent directors, however, still prefer to shoot on celluloid: Christopher Nolan (44); Tarantino (51); Steven Spielberg (67), who also still edits on film! I was compelled to post a response to the piece, which I have reproduced here with a few amendments:
Presentation has always dictated form. This was true of the oral poetry of the Ancient Greeks and it has persisted through present day. With the proliferation of MP3s and selective digital downloading, many contemporary recording artists (including Lenny Kravitz during a recent appearance on The Howard Stern Show) are bemoaning the “death of the album”—the art of sequencing songs to create a musical experience grander than the sum of its parts. And yet, the notion of “the album” only came about when the nascent record industry saw an opportunity to capitalize on new technology—vinyl records—by compiling preexisting songs (singles, essentially, to use an anachronistic term) from an artist’s repertoire into a “collection” that fit the record’s time capacity. Later, savvy artists and producers capitalized on the creative possibilities of this new “presentation” by experimenting with “form”—i.e., engineering a listening experience in which an album’s individual songs were linked sonically, thematically, or otherwise. Then came along more brilliant visionaries, like the Beatles and the Who, who helped pioneer the next evolution in form: the “concept album.” Form (the structural arrangement of content) evolves from presentation (the medium by which that content is delivered). It’s the difference between Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and Jimmy Fallon’s; the difference between comic strips and graphic novels.
And now, in the era of iTunes, the notion of the album as a means of musical presentation is altogether antiquated. But, I suspect the new mode of presentation (digital downloading) will inspire great artists to find new styles of form (TBD), making everything old new again. There will be a lot of junk—that’s always been the case—but there will also be inspired works of art that only come to be because new platforms allow for new creative possibilities. Same goes for cinema. Tarantino utilized the then-newfound possibilities of presentation—that is, the Miramax-spearheaded independent-cinema movement of the ‘90s as a reaction to the constraints of the sanitized, by-the-numbers major-studio approach of the ‘80s—to create a new cinematic form (violent; nonlinear; avant-garde) that galvanized the industry and an entire generation of filmmakers. He is proof that the right voice at the right time will be heard—it is only the technological means through which those voices and visions are presented that is ever and always in question (more so now than ever given the exponential speed of innovation). The debate of film versus digital is one of presentation, which comes and goes; form, on the other hand, is wholly dependent on clever minds and imaginations, and those are here to stay.