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Hesiod's ancient history names five ages of man, beginning with the Golden Age and ending with the Iron Age. More recently, there have been several names given to the age in which we currently live: Information Age, Computer Age and Digital Age.
All marked by significant advancements, these periods are defined by the remnants of culture, art, medicine, science, literature, religion and politics. Photography, which captures a static moment in time, was one of these advancements, furthered by the discovery of moving pictures, or film, and then the addition of sound.
As noted by film critic Dave Kehr in his book When Movies Mattered: Reviews from a Transformative Decade, film is "the one medium that is able to form a unity of permanence and change, the one medium that is able to preserve movement, in all its freedom and freshness, forever."
What we don't know, however, is whether
Digital media major Jonathan Schlegel '09, now a video producer/editor with Zar Media in Boyertown, Pa., says he remembers taking "Film Making" with Jerry Tartaglia '72 as an undergraduate and having a lot of fun working with actual film. "Celluloid film is more of a physical representation of film," Schlegel says.
"It's right there in the room with you, rather than a file in a computer. It makes filmmaking more real."
Filmmaker and associate professor of Englishand art Gary Adlestein co-produced his first celluloid film in 1975 along with Reading filmmakers Jerry and Ida Orr and Costa Mantis '74. The feature length, experimental documentary Reading 1974, Portrait of a City went on to receive national acclaim. Along with many other filmmakers who started in the '60s and '70s, Adlestein has since switched to video, finding that its image-altering capabilities allow him to further pursue an area similar to film's optical printing.
"Most entertainment films are now exhibited in digital format," Adlestein says, "and just about all of them use digital technology as a camera-assist device or in the process of editing."
Many filmmakers, like Adlestein, say digital film recording has benefits, including infinite storage, cost savings and ease of preservation. The losses
Schlegel, who also does freelance video production at Albright, adds that digital film makes filmmaking much more accessible and efficient. "The speed of digital is a huge benefit," he says. "It allows you to easily record, edit and process a film in one day if you have to, whereas with film it has to be sent off to a lab to be processed."
Weighing in on the issue of advancement in his article "The Struggle for Space," in Film Quarterly (spring 2010), Joshua Clover notes that while"technology is improving, the achievement does not yet feel like a profound change in our experience of cinematic volume equivalent to Greg Toland's deep focus, the introduction of CinemaScope, or the onset of the Stedicam."
The issue of transferring celluloid film to digital for archival preservation also raises concerns for some. Beyond the monetary concerns of copyright, some filmmakers lament the loss of techniques, a sense of timing, and even the "flaws" of celluloid filmmaking—like the white flash between reels or the scratches and dirt that can appear on celluloid strips—effects that some digital media specialists are now trying to replicate in an ironic twist.
While Schlegel shoots predominantly in digital, he admits that film has a certain look and charm that hasn't yet been matched by digital technology. Matthew Garrison, an artist and associate professor of digital media, notes that, "artists immediately recognized the influence of film in shaping perception," but distinguishes digital video as a separate form.
"Digital video is not a photographic technology like cellular film but, in fact, is an entirely new medium that translates the audio and visual components of video into code," Garrison says. "As a result, digital video is more closely related to the imaginative characteristics of painting, where the screen becomes an animated canvas able to render images and atmospheres from the mind's eye.
"My own work," he says, "embraces the nature of digital media and its ability to expand Louis Sullivan's adage, 'form follows function,' to emphasize emotion as a function alongside material and scale.
"Digital media empowers artists with the ability to seamlessly merge images and effects capable of eliciting strong emotions and, in the process, generate uncharted conceptual terrain. In my work, digital media is perceived as a pervasive cultural force," Garrison says.
One of the most successful filmmakers to bridge—or rather explore—the gap between the industry of film and the artistry is Atom Egoyan, director ofAdoration (1994), Exotica ( 2006) and Chloe (2009), which stars Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore. As referenced in Emma Wilson's article "Desire and Technology: An Interview with Atom Egoyan," in Film Quarterly (fall 2010), Carol Desbarats observes that Egoyan's early films use video diaries, taped therapy sessions and amateur porn videos to "show a world where two traditionally incompatible spheres are joined: the private intimacies of family life and sexuality, and the public access allowed by modern media technologies."
Egoyan's more recent explorations of digital technology, from cell phone texting to chat rooms to instant messaging on social media websites, are examined in both film and a number of museum and gallery installations.
The disappearance of serious film criticism may also be attributed to the new digital age of cinema, although the reasons for this are uncertain. Dave Kehr and Johnathan Rosenbaum, Kehrs successor at the Chicago Reader, both say that since the late 1980s "the long-form journalistic review has practically vanished from print publications," and grimly contemplate the prospect of film writing "divided simply between quick-hit sloganeering on Internet sites and TV shows, and full-bore academia with its dense, uninviting thickets of theoretical jargon."
The Albright International Film Series (IFS), coordinated by Adlestein, has been exhibiting film and video at Albright since the 1970s and is one of the oldest, still-operating experimental film venues in the U.S. According to Adlestein, the series is dedicated to showing the art of moving images no matter what technology was used in their creation.
Filmmaker Albert Kilchesty '83 notes that the program traces its origin to the late 1960s when Harry Koursaros, a painter then teaching at Albright College, initiated on-campus screenings of underground films by New York artists such as Andy Warhol, Stan Vanderbeck, Jack Smith and Ron Rice.
Such exposure greatly influenced Jerry Tartaglia '72, lecturer in English, who founded the Cinema Club in 1970 when he was a student. Today, Tartaglia is a leader in queer-cinema culture.
Looking to the future for Albright's aspiring theater artists, musicians, writers and videographers, the departments of digital media and theatre recently collaborated to form a new digital video arts concentration. Gabby Fundyga '13 will be the first student to graduate from this new concentration. "I have been continuously impressed by the faculty's dedication to tailor a concentration for my specific interests and goals," Fundyga says. "The close-knit professor/student relationship has given me the
Similar new interdisciplinary concentrations between digital media and art, and music and communications are currently being discussed. Although its still unclear whether digital film has advanced the field, there is no arguing that it has changed it. According to Adlestein, who referenced an article by independent film producer and contributing editor to BOMB magazine Leon Falk, we have reached the end of an era in film production. Fox Searchlight announced that Beasts of the Southern Wild—an independent film now in theaters—will be the last movie it distributes that will be projected in cinemas on actual film.
However, at the end of the day, Schlegel notes, "It doesn't really matter what equipment is used or how a film is processed as long as it tells the story the way you want to tell it."
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