Wednesday, July 25, 2007

At Clubland I saw the future and started to fear

This note follows on from an earlier post about digital projection, which actually drew a few responses and you can find it below somewhwere if your curiosity is piqued. But start at the start. The Ulladulla Arcadia is a nice name for a cinema of the future and if you wanted to see Transformers or the latest Harry Potter or a couple of others you would have been served with a picture provided by a nice warm, comforting 35mm print. If however you choose to see Clubland you pay your money to see murky grey green yellow images, entirely lacking in definition or clarity, drained of color and with lines occasionally rippling up the screen. The image is far worse than you would have ever seen by hiring a VHS video of the film and playing it on a twenty year old TV set. That image was provided by some digital device or other and there was a screen announcement that it would be screened that way an instant before the film started. I feared the worst.

This was somewhat a pity largely because the film seems to be a very bright sparky comedy with lots of very knowing things to say about how young people start their sex lives, the sort of pressures they place on themselves, the fake mature analysis they put themselves through and, towering above some of them, the mothers from hell who can manipulate, manipulate, manipulate and manipulate and when they've finished manipulating start manipulating again. Brenda Blethyn does this act with scrupulous and hilarious intensity. Its quite amazing to see a Brit pro do this sort of performance and do it every inch and every second of the show. It's hard to see her being beaten for the AFI best Female Actor award. Similarly it's hard to go past the performances of the two kids for sheer winning qualities as well. Emma Booth as Jill is simply gorgeous as well as brilliant and she delivers a lot of those lines where she has to race through dialogue about her self-esteem, her image and her standing in her girl friend's eyes with great technical skill. Ultimately its's very funny indeed. Keith Thompson's script may well be the most funny ha ha script written here in a decade or more. Off the top of my head I cant think of anything that surpasses it. But.....

Back to the image. Truly you have to wonder why it is that such a shoddy thing was shown at all. An enquiry to the very charming young manager, who asked as we left had we enjoyed the show, led to the following points being made. and I quote as near to verbatim as my memory permits: "Yes it was a very poor image indeed but this was the only film they were screening in digital. It was supplied by a "little distributor" and the cinema, deep on the mid-South Coast, could only expect to get digital copies from that source. More generally digital copies were supplied by one of two labs. One lab usually provided good copies. the other usually provided mediocre copies. This one came from the other. Yes, there were ripples, yes the color did bleed and spray out, yes the blues had turned to yellow on occasion. Sorry about that. Come back and see something else on 35mm."

Given the experience you have to wonder whether you might be wary of such future presentations. You also have to wonder whether equipping cinemas with digital projectors is worth the money. If patrons begin to instinctively sniff that certain films might be digitally projected and if those films include the best or near-best Australian film made this year then the expansion of access to these films via cheap digital copies may, thanks to distributor parsimony I suspect, turn counter-productive for those people, especially those in the backblocks who will only see the films under these conditions. People who sit through such images may eventually choose to wait for the DVD or worse, not bother to watch it all.


Paul Martin said...

You've touched on one of my pet peeves at the cinema. Cinemas do not adequately warn that a film is going to be digitally projected. I agree that you're better seeing such films on a TV, as the quality can be atrocious. My experience is that if a film is murky due to digital projection (or screening from a DVD, I don't know), it doesn't matter how good the film, it just doesn't engage me.

I personally didn't think anywhere near as highly of Clubland as yourself. I found it perhaps better than average for an Australian release, but that's not saying much. It had moments, and its heart was in the right place, but it just seemed such a well-worn path while Blethyn's role seemed a rehash of her role in Little Voice.

Film Alert said...


You and I and a small band of brothers and sisters are going to have to defeat this new threat to our civilisation. I'll ponder how we start

Paul Martin said...

Interestingly, today I caught an excellent film at MIFF, Still Life, which was shot on HD digital video. While it didn't have the lushness of say 35mm film, it exploited all the advantages and avoided most of the disadvantages of the medium and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is, however, rare. Yes, what can we do? I'm wondering what I'm going to think of Inland Empire, also shot with HDD.