Have you ever noticed those popping, crackling sounds while watching a film at your local movie theater? Those aren’t the sounds of the popcorn at the concession stand; those are the sounds of 35mm film projection.
35mm film, the film gauge used most often for projecting motion pictures, has been a major part of film history since the beginning of the 20th century. But in the 21st century — a time dominated by technological advances — 35mm film projection is in great danger of becoming extinct.
Julia Marchese, an employee at The New Beverly Cinema, said she “received a letter at the theater from one of the major studios announcing that they were stopping production of 35mm prints in 2012.”
As a university in the heart of Los Angeles, USC is known for having one of the most prestigious film schools in the country. Many film professors on campus make a point of showing films in beautiful 35mm print. Without 35mm, film students would learn about film history solely from textbooks. What would become of our film classes?
Of course, it is faster and cheaper to store, maintain and distribute digital prints of movies, but what is new and convenient isn’t always what is best. 35mm film should continue to be preserved and made available to movie theaters everywhere. We call movies “films” for a reason. Film — literally, the thin strips of plastic — allowed the first motion pictures to come to life.
In the age of the iPhone, the Blu-ray player and the HD TV, historical treasures are seldom viewed as sacred. “Out with the old and in with the new” has increasingly become a common motto. But what if what you love most is on the verge of becoming obsolete?
Many people still collect vinyl records and VHS tapes. People, like myself, stand in lines that stretch around the block at revival houses and grindhouse theaters for the same reason: to experience entertainment from another era.
Liking 35mm film isn’t a sign of being behind the times. Yes, I own an iPhone and a Blu-ray player, and I’m an active user of Netflix. Still, I refuse to forget what started it all: the good, old-fashioned film reel. Every pop in the soundtrack and every cigarette burn in the corner of the picture serve as reminders of what first got us excited about watching moving pictures.
“There’s naturalness to film,” said Michael Breiburg, former film editor of Crave Online. “It provides one less layer between the audience and the reality of the movie. Sometimes the natural tool is best. While many try to recreate it, and come close, sometimes it can’t be topped.”
The loss of 35mm film could cause revival movie houses and grindhouse theaters to lose long-time customers and business. Historic landmarks in the Los Angeles area, such as LACMA, Laemmle Theater, American Cinematheque, Nuart and The New Beverly Cinema, have all been dedicated to screening films strictly in 35mm for many years.
Matt Sheehan, a senior majoring in animation and digital arts, described his own love of 35mm film.
“I used to work at the Laemmle Theater and to see a projector shoot light onto a big screen, to see a movie the way the filmmaker saw the movie — there’s something to be said,” Sheehan said.
These theaters could get the proper equipment for screening digital “prints,” but as Sheehan said, “something would get lost along the way.” When loyal patrons sit in their seats, they expect to experience film in 35mm.
If major studios took away 35mm film as part of its transition to digital prints, many film titles would not see the silver screen again for years to come. Remember when we were all anxiously waiting for our favorite movies to be transferred from VHS to DVD? Now, we are enduring that same wait for our favorite movies to be upgraded to Blu-ray. But with every conversion, some classic films are lost.
Since learning of the digital takeover, Marchese has started an online petition through ThePetitionSite.com to save 35mm film. Help her fight for film by signing her petition. Write a letter to your favorite film studio. Show your respect for the movies.
Jennica Johnson is a junior majoring in psychology.