Saturday, March 03, 2012

But Is This Good? Film Forum’s "This Is DCP"

Not shown in the 4K Restoration, or anywhere for that matter.
            Last night, I had the pleasure of attending Film Forum’s “This is DCP,” their first ever repertory programming of films, all shown in digital. As I spoke about briefly last week in my screening log, digital projection for repertory isn’t just a warning, it’s pretty much here. Film Forum’s goal with this series is clear: prove to those who love 35mm that digital can look better than 35mm. So last night, they carted out Grover Crisp, who runs the restoration program for Sony Pictures to do a side-by-side comparison of their most recent work, Kubirck’s Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

            Because I’m a man of the people, and Film Forum’s small theater is too small for the number of people who probably would’ve liked to see this, I recorded all of Crisp’s talk, which you can listen to below. Sadly, I can’t provide video, but I think a number of people should find Crisp’s discussion worth debating.

While you can hear the audience gasping a few times at how much better the digital print looks than the 35mm, I had one major quibble myself. This was Sony’s attempt to recreate film grain. It may have been simply the job they did on Dr. Strangelove, but I found this extremely distracting. In any sequence where there was a large flat surface (an envelope, the sky, even some of the faces), I couldn’t help but watch the emulated film grain instead of the actual film. It’s not that 35mm doesn’t have film grain—the new print of Wellman’s The Iron Curtain  I saw earlier in the week certainly did—but it seems that Crisp and Sony went overboard. Watching the first thirty minutes of the film, I found myself distracted. I kept watching the grain instead of the objects, the negative space instead of the positive.

That being said, I believe this is only a minor hiccup in the process of making digital look just as wondrous as 35mm (The small clip from their upcoming Lawrence of Arabia 4K restoration did not have this issue, which makes me think this will only be an issue for black and white films). Although the film was projected in 2K instead of 4K (your standard Blu-Ray player runs in about 1K), the images were certainly clearer and more distinct, and as Crisp talks about, you can now see certain details that wouldn’t be possible in any of the current prints of 35mm.

And yet, I remain skeptic, because this process remains expensive and thus limits access only to film companies like Sony, Warner Bros., and so on. And do you think those companies plan to spend the money for their more obscure works to be restored in 4K? This Village Voice article from earlier this week addresses some of these concerns.

To be continued. If you felt nary about the film grain, or had any thoughts on the DCP series Film Forum is doing, please sound off in the comments.

1 comment:

Andrew Welch said...

DCPs are certainly the future for those of us outside New York. I can think of only one repertory theater in the DFW area--the Texas Theatre. They do 35mm, but anyone else showing an older movie is going to be using a DVD, Blu-Ray, or DCP. And I confirmed with Tugg last week that all of their screenings will be either Blu-Ray or DCP. That makes sense in their case, and I applaud their efforts, but I wish other theaters would at least TRY to keep film alive.