Nolan, director of The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and Memento, was set to release his newest film Interstellar everywhere on November 7th when, barely a month in advance, roughly 50 locations set their opening night for Wednesday November 5th. Why? Because only those locations will be screening this highly anticipated release on either 35mm, 70mm or IMAX 70mm film-stock.
Some of you reading this might well be hooting and hollering already. Yes. This is a tremendous feat.
For some background, Christopher Nolan is a major proponent for keeping celluloid film an integral ingredient in the film industry. Alongside few, but mentionable names (Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Judd Apatow and J.J. Abrams), Nolan is of an endangered species.
Of course, there are some obvious reasons for why film is being phased out of the industry. It’s expensive, the stock itself and the cameras that support it are more cumbersome than digital equipment, and the process is slower.
In fact, because of the digital trends in studio production, Kodak filed bankruptcy in 2012. The company only continues to produce film stock today because a group of A-list directors successfully lobbied a Hollywood studio coalition to commit to buying a certain amount of film stock for future productions. Every filmmaker who works on film seems to have their own reasons for why they choose it over digital (re: Darren Aronofsky, J.J. Abrams, etc.), but the bulk of the argument for film lies mostly in the preservation of cinema. In the words of Martin Scorsese:
Film is still the best and only time-proven way to preserve movies. We have no assurance that digital information will last, but we know that film will, if properly stored and cared for.
Unfortunately studios and private owners have done an immeasurably poor job of preserving film up to this point. Check out this alphabetized list of films from the Silent Era presumed lost, this list of Vault and Nitrate fires, or read this extremely depressing statement by Robert A. Harris at a National Film Preservation Study in 1993.
Studio attitudes around this issue did not improve with the advent of digital movie technology. In fact, in the late 2000s, many American distributors began requiring movie theaters to trash their old film projectors with the purchase of new digital systems to ensure the medium’s demise.
Of course there are a few revival cinemas (also a dying breed) around the world that are still very committed to film. The 2012 documentary Out Of Print looks inside The New Beverly, one of the last remaining revival houses in Los Angeles, and addresses some of the problems they’ve faced in keeping 35mm alive. Those of us with an appreciation for film have been boiled down to a gaggle of awkward aficionados, not too different from vinyl geeks, or vegans. We like a thing a certain way, and we don’t want it taken away from us or killed.
So what exactly is Christopher Nolan saying with an early release of Interstellar exclusively on film? Well:
- He’s honoring the few cinemas around the country that have remained loyal to film-stock. Those cinemas will have two days exclusive run of the films and it will certainly draw numbers, thus sending a huge signal to digital multiplex owners around the country, especially the big tycoons. In fact you can buy Interstellar tickets here in whatever format you’d like.
- He’s shown us that the studios aren’t all powerful. Despite having announced early in 2014 that Anchorman 2 was to be its last film-stock release, with Wolf of Wall Street subsequently becoming its first entirely digitally-distributed film, Paramount Pictures turned around to produce Nolan’s Interstellar. And…
- (perhaps most importantly) He’s literally putting a 'Nutrition-Facts' label on movies. Because why shouldn’t movies be labeled organic? A ‘film-stock’ guarantee sends a message to casual contemporary movie goers that there is, in fact, diversity in the projection booth—knowledge which inevitably leads to awareness of a long, rich and beautiful cinematic history.
Hoot and holler, folks. This is an enormous victory for cinephiles everywhere.
But let’s not kid ourselves—let’s not pretend that we don’t watch most of our movies alone (or in the company of a few hand-picked individuals) on screens that fit in your pocket or your bag. You might like to know that Netflix just did this. Just remember, cinema ends when we stop watching movies with strangers, or when we’ve forgotten where it came from. And let me tell you, not all movies came from Casablanca. See you November 5th.