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Inside the Walker’s New Projection Booth

 

A hole in the back corner of the booth.

Our projectionist's temporary "office," the biggest in the Walker.

 

Our old 35mm projectors. We'll be ripping them out to put in brand new 35mm/16mm projectors.

This box contains our brand new digital projector. We’ll be pulling it off for Pina on February 1.

Implements of destruction.

La Jetée (The Jetty)

Pushing aside the thick black curtains to step into a small black box in the gallery is taking the first step into another world.  Chris Marker’s 1962 short piece is a film of photographs, a series of long still images, each occupying the frame for a long moment.  It’s as if stepping through the curtain […]

Pushing aside the thick black curtains to step into a small black box in the gallery is taking the first step into another world.  Chris Marker’s 1962 short piece is a film of photographs, a series of long still images, each occupying the frame for a long moment.  It’s as if stepping through the curtain time slowed—as if the film’s 24 frames per second sputtered nearly to a stop and what would be incomprehensibly fast became poetically slow.

The credits identify La Jetée not as a film, but as a photo-roman—literally a photo novel.  But yet what sets it apart from its cousins (graphic novels) is inherently filmic—it still controls the time it takes you.  The film determines how long you watch it, how long you hear its music, sound effects and narration.  There can be no flipping through the pages to see the end.  It is time based; its speed and structure are fixed and limiting.

And La Jetée deliberately exploits that limitation with its narrative.  Set in a post-war, radioactive Paris, we are forced to ask, how did we get here?  What could have happened to bring us to this point?  Is this a story of the future or of a possible future?  But, of course, we can never know until all of the images roll out in front of us, and we can remember it, like the film negative remembers the light that once struck it.

Installed as a part of Event Horizon, La Jetée will be running continuously in gallery 2 until Sunday, May 2nd.

Paranoid Park’s aspect ratio conundrum

I worked for years as a projectionist in archival screening venues that handle films of all kinds from all eras. These venues, the Walker counted among them, are typically equipped to handle just about anything that comes in the door, often via the octagonal shipping cans like those pictured on the left. As most projectionists […]

I worked for years as a projectionist in archival screening venues that handle films of all kinds from all eras. These venues, the Walker counted among them, are typically equipped to handle just about anything that comes in the door, often via the octagonal shipping cans like those pictured on the left. As most projectionists can attest, it is not uncommon to receive a print that is not marked with the film’s proper aspect ratio. This typically isn’t an issue, especially with a modern film produced in the US. 99.9% of the time, these films will be one of two aspect ratios: 1.85:1(often referred to as ‘flat’) or 2.35:1 (referred to as ‘scope’). A quick look at the image on the print will quickly determine which of these a particular film is.

Paranoid Park arrived, unmarked, and a quick look determined that it should, being a modern film produced in the US, be projected in the 1.85 aspect ratio. A few sources on the net confirm this. In the hours preceeding the screening, I glanced at the film’s press kit and noticed that an aspect ratio of 1.33 was noted. 1.33 (often referred to as ‘academy’, and more accurately 1.37:1) is basically the aspect ratio from the earliest days of silent cinema, and the predominent aspect ratio of the first five or six decades of film history. It also matches the aspect ratio of a standard 4:3 television. Outside of some video production (most of that has shifted to a 16:9 aspect ratio) and standard 16mm production, that format is very rarely used these days. We were a little puzzled. Was it possible that Paranoid Park was actually intended to be presented in the 1:37 ratio?

A little more in-depth research found that to indeed be true. What cemented that for me was the lead-in to an interview with Gus Van Sant on the excellent film blog Twitch. It describes a conversation between Van Sant and Andrew Bailey at the Letterman Digital Center:

“Van Sant mentioned that–because the Letterman Digital Center is one of the few places equipped to do so–Paranoid Park was going to be projected in its original aspect ratio, 1.37–“so it’s a big square.” He explained that he’s been shooting his last few movies in this format, partly because they were commissioned as HBO television projects, allowing for the square format. Likewise, when he was a film student in school, he used to shoot in 16mm so he’s continued to do so. Though 1.37 is Paranoid Parks original aspect/ratio, it’s sometimes shown in different formats due to the limitations of in-house projection systems. When it comes out in theaters it will most likely be shown in 1.66 [the predominant ‘flat’ format in European cinemas] or 1.85. The rare opportunity to screen in the Letterman Digital Center allows the film to be projected as it was meant to be seen. Andrew offered the keen insight regarding using aspect ratio as character development, with which Van Sant fully concurred.”

So we proceeded with the plan to present the film in the 1.37 aspect ratio, but decided, thanks to the never-ending patience of our projectionist, Aaron, to run some tests to compare the 1.37 presentation with a 1.85 presentation. This was an interesting experiment, and it demonstrated how different a film can ‘feel’ with a different aspect ratio. The images below aren’t directly from the print, but you can get a sense of the difference. On the left is an image from the film in the 1.37 aspect ratio. On the right is the same image with the top and bottom blacked out, mimicking the presentation the film would have in a theater that can only show the film in the 1.85 aspect ratio.

pp137.jpg pp185.jpg

With the film presented in 1.85, the top and bottom of the frame is cut off. It’s clear that though Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li shot the film with the images composed for the 1.37 frame, they were very cognizant of the fact that the image would likely be presented in theaters that needed to eliminate the top and bottom of the image. Audiences seeing the cropped image won’t miss any details important to the plot, but they will, in my opinion, have a very different viewing experience. The cinemtography on this film is absolutely stunning and I can’t recommend more highly that you see the film projected from a 35mm print. If you missed the screening at the Walker last night, you can catch it locally at the Lagoon Cinema starting this Friday, March 21.

Jonas Mekas on your iPod

No, I’m not kidding. Jonas Mekas is hitting small screens of all kinds this fall. He has two projects in the works. Firstly, he is curating a series of short films. The first of which, Hans Richter’s Rhythmus 21, hit jonasmekas.com on September 15. Judging by this first entry, each film will feature a video […]

No, I’m not kidding. Jonas Mekas is hitting small screens of all kinds this fall.jonasrhy1.jpgjonasrhy2.jpg

He has two projects in the works. Firstly, he is curating a series of short films. The first of which, Hans Richter’s Rhythmus 21, hit jonasmekas.com on September 15. Judging by this first entry, each film will feature a video introduction by Mekas.

jonas.jpg

The second project has the venerable filmmaker making a film every day for 365 days. This project is scheduled to hit the web starting on November 9th. Head to Jonas Mekas’ website for more information and a video introduction that bodes very well for things to come.

This is another reason to look forward to the Fall.

Digital independence

This morning’s New York Times highlights an innovation in film distribution, IndieFlix.com: independent filmmakers, at no risk, can submit their work to a website where visitors can log in and browse a catalogue of films, select which ones they like, and get a freshly burned DVD version mailed to them. And it’s cheap: $9.95 for […]

This morning’s New York Times highlights an innovation in film distribution, IndieFlix.com: independent filmmakers, at no risk, can submit their work to a website where visitors can log in and browse a catalogue of films, select which ones they like, and get a freshly burned DVD version mailed to them. And it’s cheap: $9.95 for a feature-length film. Just prove you’re not infringing anyone’s copyright, and you can distribute your work, without having to produce or store inventory.

It’s another development that seems to bode well for filmmakers working geographically or thematically outside Hollywood’s sphere. Not only are DV cameras and editing software becoming more affordable, but demand for content is on its way up. Film Threat cites the release of the video iPod, the rise of videoblogging, and the recent acquisition of iFilm.com by MTV to back up that claim. And with popular, new peer-to-peer filesharing protocols like BitTorrent, maybe there’s hope for the continued health of truly independent cinema.

Digital Cinema: the “end of film reels”?

With the price of DV creeping downward and the cost of film transfer still sky high, digital video has emerged as a real democratizing force in not just Hollywood but world cinema: filmmakers who can’t afford shooting or editing on film can get a relatively cheap DV camera, and, if they’re outside of traditional distribution […]

With the price of DV creeping downward and the cost of film transfer still sky high, digital video has emerged as a real democratizing force in not just Hollywood but world cinema: filmmakers who can’t afford shooting or editing on film can get a relatively cheap DV camera, and, if they’re outside of traditional distribution channels, their work can feasibly find an audience via satellite or the internet. Which is why digital projection has been a hot topic in the Walker’s film/video department. This morning Wired reports that a digital standard has been agreed upon in Hollywood, which could mean an end to film reels:

Studios spent more than $631 million in 2003 on film prints for the North American market alone, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Subtracting reels from that equation could reduce total distribution costs by as much as 90 percent, according to U.K. digital cinema analyst Patrick von Sychowski. Add in costs for overseas distribution and exhibition, and the move from prints to digital files could mean an eventual annual savings of up to $900 million.

Advocates of the shift to digital exhibition say theater owners also would benefit from new flexibility: If a movie sells out in one theater, an owner can quickly switch other screens to that feature to accommodate the unexpected demand. And if a supposed blockbuster turns out to be a bomb, it can be yanked from screens just as instantly — no new prints from the studio, no reel swaps.

Proponents say there’s something in it for moviegoers, too — digital in-theater display means no out-of-focus projection, no out-of-order reels, no scratches and pops on film that’s been played too many times on old projectors. And digital systems could make other kinds of content possible in theaters, including live, high-definition coverage of sports events, Broadway plays or group games…

Click here for a pdf of the DCI Digital Cinema System Specification.

Update: Xeni Jardin, author of the Wired piece and BoingBoing blogger, has more.