The digital age is pressing down and the last of the new wave riders has sailed off into the sunset. It’s all around us but coming to a point for the movie theater industry right now.
Theaters are being “forced” to convert to digital projection technology and 35 mm film reels will no longer be distributed starting later this year. That means, for the smaller local theaters, that they will have to come up with around $70,000 to purchase a digital projector just to remain viable.
Here in Carbondale, the Crystal Theater is in the digital crosshairs and the owners, Bob and Kathy Ezra, are scrambling to raise the money to convert and stay open. I hope they make it. Carbondale needs the Crystal.
We are about to enter an era that leaves the last of the analog world behind. Phones? Digital. Music? Digital. TV? Digital. Resolution is up but there is a cost besides cash.
I’m sure that the new digital movie projectors are awesome and I’m certain that experiencing movies on the digital big screen at the theaters like the Crystal will be fantastic but it will be forever different.
I’ve been scanning a bunch of my old slides from my college days. Those film images are worlds apart from the digital images out there now. Looking at those old slides and prints is like taking a look back in time. In those days you really had to know what you were doing to get a quality photograph. Film selection, exposure, chemicals for developing film and printing all played a role. Now, I don’t even think about that stuff. Just point and shoot. Digital makes it easier, more automatic and less cerebral.
Music led the digital revolution. The advent of digital technology in music changed everything, some would argue for the better and some might not. There are still plenty of audiophiles out there who prefer analog recordings and playback devices, such as turntables. Some musicians and bands still cling steadfastly to the analog process because they think it sounds warmer, fuller and better, which I have to agree that it does.
A friend likes to listen to satellite radio in his car. It sounds digitally horrible and insufferably tinny to me but he doesn’t seem to notice. Our standards for quality have been compromised for convenience.
Same with film. There will be producers who insist on working old school, only converting to digital at the last step of the process. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly gets lost when something is converted from analog to digital but it is substantial. High-end digital recordings sound almost too good, and the same goes for digital TV and film. Nothing sounds worse than low-end digital sound.
We are in danger of forever losing the mystique of the third wall. When you can see every speck of makeup and every bump and fold of flesh, there’s too much resolution and too much information. There are plenty of software programs to help to make those high resolution digital images look more like real film. Instagram is a great example of taking a digital image and making it look analog. Cute.
On a positive note, digital technology is helping us recapture the long, lost past. Some of you may have heard about the recovery of the very first recordings of any kind made by inventor Alexander Graham Bell in 1885. Some clever engineers figured out a way to recover the audio from fragile wax and paper analog recordings using laser technology. The recordings feature his master’s voice saying, “In witness whereof, hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell.” On another you hear Bell counting. It sounds like audio from a very distant and mysterious past come to life.
Someday, people will look back on this year and note that it was the year when movie theaters switched to digital. Some will remember the good old days when homespun theaters like the former Isis Theater owned by Dominique and Kitty Linza in Aspen or the lovely analog Crystal Theater owned by the Ezras in Carbondale served up the best popcorn and added their little human touches to the movie theater experience.
We love that old-fashioned touch but now it needs to be digital if we are to feel it at all. You can help usher in the digital age by donating to the Crystal Theater digital campaign. Information is at crystaltheatercarbondale.com.
Steve Skinner would rather go digital than dark. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.