Open letter to IFC: send 35 mm to UM’s Cosford Cinema!

December 15, 2009

After letting Antichrist stew for a couple of days, I think Lars Von Trier created a fine piece of psychological filmmaking that exists beyond the images– no matter how shocking– he committed to the screen. That said, a full thoughtful review cannot come until I see it again, and I would indeed like to see it again, due to the fact the audience had to endure awful technical difficulties thanks to the flawed digital projection of the movie.

In my last post I had dreaded yet another digital presentation of a movie at the University of Miami’s Cosford Cinema. The inherit problem with digital projection is that the images lack the warmth of those captured on 35 mm. Colors seem flatter and colder. Also, I have sat through too many digital presentation with glitches that take you out of the movie. A second of pixilation can destroy minutes of getting back into a cinematic experience.

The projection of Antichrist, however, was the worst experience I had yet with digital projection. God bless the Cosford for taking chances and showing works like Antichrist, which, judging from the size of the crowd on a Saturday night, has a small audience. But, curses to IFC for giving them only hi-def computer files to project the films they distribute, especially one with technical difficulties.

The opening sequence unfolded nicely. But when the dialogue finally began a line that is obviously a flaw in the source file and certainly looked like a computer glitch, displaced the image as if you were looking at something over the surface of water in a glass. It slowly ran down the image and the speaking fell out of synch with the images.

I wondered whether this was an artistic flourish, as up to that point, no character had spoken on film yet. It went on for a couple of minutes, taking me out of the dialogue and concerning me with the image. Then the projectionist brought up the house lights and fumbled with the file, going to the opening logo and the first scene. Of course there was no time to sit through the first 10 minutes of the movie  again, so he flipped through the file until we were back in the middle of the first scene of dialogue again.

After that horrifying jolt out of the movie experience, the “line” that ran down the screen returned, like a badly tuned TV channel and would recur at least three more times in the movie, and I dreaded the sound falling out of sync with the images again. I think it might have become off by some barely perceptible split second, but then I was lost in the movie again. I’m sure Von Trier would have been enraged to hear about this.

After the screening, I went over to the projectionist who stopped the end credits early to fumble with the file. I asked him what happened, and he blamed the file. I asked where is 35 mm projection, and he said, the theater has put in a request to IFC to send 35 mm films but so far they have not been granted the prints. So, let this be an open letter to IFC: send 35 mm film to the Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami. The fans who attend those screenings are true film aficionados who want to see their movies on film.

A problematic screening does not make for an ideal setting for a proper, thoughtful review of a movie, so I do hope to somehow see this again and provide that.

(Copyright 2009 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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