There’s something so wonderfully atmospheric about 35mm cinema. To hear the roll of a projector, to see the marks on the film. To see films in the manner they were meant to be shown. Not on DVD, not on Blu-Ray, or even VHS. On 35mm. So to hear that Out of Print, a documentary about 35mm film and the dangers of an all-digital future, and the perils of a time where small cinemas can’t get a hold of 35mm prints from studios anymore, is an interesting bit of news, to say the least. Its creator? One Julia Marchese, super-retro film fan and Kickstarter success story.
Marchese works at the New Beverly Cinema, in Los Angeles, California. It’s currently owned (and well managed, I’m told) by one Quentin Tarantino. It’s also staffed, very happily, by Marchese and a team of film lovers. “I love watching movies more than anything in the world,” she explains. “I moved to Los Angeles in 2001, and I found the New Beverly Cinema. Immediately, I was like, ‘this is where I’m going to work.'”
It took her five years of regular appearances, asking for a job each time (she asked on her first visit, too), until finally, she was hired. “It stands for everything I believe in. It’s really independent, has a cash-only till, it’s eight dollars for two movies… it’s really anti-establishment. It’s really about the love of film, more than it’s about money.”
Her love of 35mm film didn’t just stop at working the cinema till. In 2007, filmmakers began to visit the New Beverly, to show a week’s worth of their favourite films and discuss what it was about those pieces that inspired them, what they found interesting. Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Shaun of the Dead) was the first to showcase favourites, but soon, filmmakers like Eli Roth (Hostel, Inglorious Basterds) and Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon) were hosting what you might call The Best Time To Visit Any Cinema, Ever.
These special screenings are something of an education, and Marchese sees herself as an educator too. Film studios are beginning to hoard their 35mm films, no longer renting them out to mom ‘n’ pop cinemas, allowing them to simply decay in warehouses. For someone who knew as much and felt so passionately about the format, Marchese decided that there was no way she was going to sit and do nothing while independent cinemas struggled to show films in the format their directors’ intended them to be shown in.
So came a ‘Fight for 35mm’ petition and the documentary (we mentioned earlier). The petition was a riotous success, and she’s here in London to shoot a part of the Kickstarter documentary about the importance of 35mm film. “You have this full warehouse that’s just full of prints… I’ve been talking to people in Australia, and in Japan, trying to figure out what’s going on with [these] guys. To try and get everybody fighting, together.”
It’s a tough gig, but someone’s got to do it. The reality of the situation, she says, is that every time we switch formats, many films just don’t make the transition. VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-Ray. How many classics – nay, how many random, obscure, cult films which you love, have made it or will make it to Blu-Ray? Arguably, not enough.
Thus, it seems like a good idea that Marchese is organising all of these independent cinemas into a single unit. However, organising funding for a documentary isn’t something you can do overnight. However, Kickstarter enabled her to fund it, well beyond its proposed budget.
“It felt like it all came together naturally,” she says. “Kickstarter, I think, is amazing, because it gives you the opportunity to own your film. To not have to bow to the studios, or anyone who’s given you money. I’m just as surprised as anybody else that I actually made the goal. When I started the Kickstarter, I got so many emails from people asking me ‘what do you need? Do you need an editor, a film person, a camera guy? I can help you.'” As an example, her cameraman during the London shoot is one of those generous, passionate individuals.
This isn’t just common among filmmakers who have the time to donate, either. A contact at Panavision meant a donation of cameras, boxes of 35mm film, and so on. What this means is that the documentary, or at least part of it, will be shot in both digital and 35mm, so a side-by-side comparison can be made. This is exactly the sort of working example that people need to see, and I love the idea of interviews being shot in 35mm.
Social media has taken a large part of the journey towards creating a finished work too. We talk of our mutual gains from Twitter, in terms of promotion and networking. “You start using it and you’re like ‘okay, I can contact Edgar Wright. I can contact all these people.’ And you don’t have to go through an agent… you have this ability. Edgar has 100,000 followers on Twitter. So he retweets what I tweet, and it’s huge. Right before my Kickstarter succeeded, Neil Gaiman [a renowned author with 1.7 million followers] retweeted it. How does he even know what this is? But he was like, ‘let me help you.'”
The internet, I think, is big on nostaglia, and this is one of the reasons that Marchese’s documentary and petition have taken off the way they have. There’s something about people that will have them ignore the new, but rally behind the old like it’s life or death, and it’s incredibly powerful stuff when the internet enables seemingly endless amounts of people to defend a dying film format, an old band, or a classic novel.
But the harsh reality behind the warmth and the crowds of supporters, suggests Marchese, is that we’re risking a lot by abandoning 35mm film and assuming digital is better. “35mm in theatres has been that way for around a hundred years. If you got a film from the Thirties and played it now, it’d be exactly the same. When you think about it, digital is not that simple – you can’t play a floppy disk if you don’t have [a floppy disk drive]. Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade… you have all these formats, and what happens when they die? What happens to those things? We’re going to lose all this stuff.”
Marchese speaks of seeing Side by Side, the recent documentary made by Keanu Reeves about the switch to digital film. It’s a troubling issue as, contrary to the assumption of some, there are a lot of prolific filmmakers that simply don’t want digital film. Who believe that digital loses something. When Marchese speaks about 35mm, the words she uses aren’t the only thing that gets her point across – there’s an infectious enthusiasm about the topic that’s quite hard to resist, because let’s be honest – there’s something about putting film on a reel and quickly moving cells past a projection of light. There’s a care, a patience, a physicality to it, that we don’t have with hard drives.
Early on in the interview, Marchese spoke of multiplexes, how it was a corporate, anonymised way to see films. Given that she’s come to London to do a double-feature (two films shown back-to-back) at the famous Prince Charles Cinema, it’s arguable that she’s right. Small cinemas and 35mm are an embodiment of what film was, but also how those films should stay. How those classics should be enjoyed. Who’s to say just how much is lost in the transference? Let’s give Out of Print the reception it deserves.