Monday, February 18, 2013

Lincoln (2012)

WHO: Yes, Daniel Day-Lewis, and yes Steven Spielberg. But I want to focus this post more on cinematographer Janusz Kamiński's contribution.

WHAT: I'm not much of one for public Academy Award prognostications; I leave that to the team at Slant Magazine, who are almost as good at predicting Oscar winners as they are at being entertaining while doing so.  But I do keep my ear to the ground, see some of the nominees if they look like they might be up my alley, and watch the show even if it means going to a movie theatre to do so. It's the one night of the year when, historically, the television screen is paying tribute to the cinema experience rather than just drawing eyes away from it.

From my perspective, television and cinema and cinema are in certain ways converging more and more every year, even while in other ways they remain separate as ever, as illustrated in this terrific article. So while more and more people see made-for-cinema product using televisions or television-like technology, it's also becoming the rule for cinemagoing to involve technologies arguably just as television-like. Movies made on videocameras, projected via video projectors.

I appreciate the individuals working in the film industry who fight to keep the old, decidedly un-television-like working methods alive. Janusz Kamiński is one of these; he's the only one of the current slate of nominees for a Best Cinematography Oscar who has always shot his feature films on film. Lincoln of course is no different, which may be a disadvantage for him as a contender for the award this year; Slant puts him in second-place in this year's race, but gives the edge to The Life Of Pi's Claudio Miranda, who was one of the first to see one of his digitally-shot films nominated for a Best Cinematography Oscar, but who lost that year to another digital DP, Anthony Dod Mantle for Slumdog Millionaire. In the years since then, two out of three winners in this category shot digitally: Avatar (shot by Mauro Fiore) and Hugo (shot by Robert Richardson, who is also nominated this year for the 35mm-shot Django Unchained) were both Digital 3D works like Life of Pi, making Wally Pfiser's Inception the only film-on-film to beat a digital movie (Jeff Cronenweth's The Social Network) in this Oscar category in the past four years.

Who knows how much longer 35mm film stock will be used to make prestige pictures of the kind nominated for Academy Awards? And who knows how much longer they'll continue to be distributed to (at least some) theatres via 35mm prints? For me, this shift would not be as lamentable if it didn't feel like powerful forces were attempting to make it total. Filming on film requires acts of faith (in one's own abilities, at the very least) every time the words "Cut! Print!" are uttered. Seeing this disappear makes me want to root for any resistance against it. Lincoln may not be a perfect film, but it's photographed exquisitely using methods that could be obsolete before you know it.

WHERE/WHEN: Three shows daily at the Balboa Theatre, at least until this Thursday. Also playing at many other local venues this week, mostly large multiplexes.

WHY: Oh, yeah, and it's President's Day today too. Maybe you even have a day off and can take in a matinee. Happy belated birthday, Mr. Lincoln!

HOW: The Balboa is, to the best of my knowledge (and reflected in the Bay Area Film Calendar listings) the only place in the Bay Area to see Lincoln in a 35mm print. In fact, I believe it's the only place here to see any of the Best Cinematography nominees on 35mm; both Django Unchained and Roger Deakins's digitally-shot Skyfall seem to be playing only on all-digital screens now, while Seamus McGarvey's Anna Karenina is gone from cinemas completely, and Life of Pi never had prints struck at all.

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