Jonathan Melville: Digital killed the 35mm film star

Jack Nicholson  in One flew over the cuckoo's nest. Pic: Comp
Jack Nicholson in One flew over the cuckoo's nest. Pic: Comp
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THE more things change, the more they stay the same. In the week it was announced that The Wolf of Wall Street is the first major film to be released in only a digital format, I’m planning to watch two classics in the traditional 35mm format at an Edinburgh cinema.

Paramount Studios, who distribute Martin Scorsese’s Wolf... have decided that the costs are too high to justify making multiple prints of the stockbroker drama, or any other film. The recent Anchorman 2 was their final movie distributed on 35mm, though the majority of copies seen in cinemas were digital.

Things have been changing for a while now, with many filmmakers deciding they’d rather shoot, edit and distribute their pictures digitally. Apart from the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to shoot on reels of film, there’s the £1200 cost of making a print for cinemas, which drops to just £60 for a digital version.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday I headed to the Filmhouse to watch a 35mm version of the brilliant Jack Nicholson film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, flown in specially from America for a single screening.

On Sunday I’ll be back to see the 1971 Australian cult classic, Wake in Fright, on the big screen. This time the 35mm print has been sent from Down Under.

Seeing these prints up close is still special. On Tuesday, I found myself wondering how many projectors have unspooled that copy over the years and where in the world it’s going next.

Digital restorations can be impressive, often better than deteriorating old copies, but given a choice I’ll always try to see the original 35mm. They’re a little bit of history and by the sounds of it we might not have them forever.


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