By Vincent Ragay
Through the Internet, a friend bought digitized copies (that is, Mpeg files) of films taken or produced by the pioneering spirit, Thomas Edison in the late 1890′s and early 1900′s. Many of the films covered events during the Philippine-American War as well as the Spanish-American War. Apart from recognizing many of those short clips as propaganda materials (remember those “world news” in between movie screenings?) of the new colonizer (US, who else?), one sees their importance in terms of recording the cultural and historical realities of that lost era.
For instance, one catches a glimpse of Filipino “rebels” (as the caption calls them) in pristine white cotton clothes desperately shooting it out with American scouts in close range. Unlike realistic movies, you can’t see blood spurting (with those white shirts you couldn’t have missed the blood in those black-and-white films). In fact, even while the carnage progresses, you can see American nurses coming out from nowhere and braving the “crossfire” to help the so-called wounded. Then one realizes it‘s all a mock war for the camera. Then what should have been a serious historical journey becomes a comedy show. And that’s how they sold the imperialistic game back home way back then.
Another distinguishing feature of those films is that in spite of the fact the they were taken before Charlie Chaplin’s popular movies in the 1920′s or 1930′s, the actors move almost as normally as modern films and not in the giddy fast-motion popularized by Chaplin’s movies. Whether digital technology had something to do with it or Chaplin intentionally made his films move in a funny way is something for the historians to uncover.
Apparently, digital technology can help us appreciate not just such “ancient” films but also classic films now available in VCD and DVD. More and more people collect such movie greats as Gone with the Wind , The Sound of Music and all of Kurosawa’s works for them to enjoy at home at any time they want.
Which brings us to the area and the era of real or original digital cinematography, a development that has started to revolutionize film-making worldwide. Talk about Star Wars and you get an idea of the limitless possibilities open to the digital filmmaker. In the Philippines , digital photography gained respect courtesy of the definitive film Boso . Some successful commercial movies (like Crying Ladies ) have utilized digital technology either in part or in full, proving the viability of this format even in the local environment in spite of the costs.
First of all, we have the cost of the digital cameras and related hardware and software for making the film. (A decent digital camera may cost anywhere from P300,000 to a cool million.) Then you have to have the properly trained people to manipulate and process takes from shootings. And finally (and not necessarily ultimately) you have to convert movie theaters into digital friendly venues for showing those movies in the new format.
Yes, the products of digital filmmaking look crystal clear owing to the much finer resolution and the advantages of enhancing software that can eradicate unnecessary marks and to refine backdrops into perfection. Not to mention the additional attraction of realistic SFX and digital-quality soundtrack. Movements of actors can even be woven seamlessly into the next sequence or location providing for a mesmerizing drama never before available to any director. Talk about the power of technology and you talk about dreams becoming palpable in real-time and even super-real-color.
Remember the time when Betamax captured our minds in the 1980′s? And how movies finally became domestic property and thus began the slow death of the movie industry? We thought we had it all captured for our personal delights right in our bedroom or living room. And yet, that format was analog and crude, not even digital. And even with VCD’s, many of us are no longer satisfied with the quality of video and audio reproduction. DVD is the thing now. Of course, nothing can match the aura of grandeur in watching a movie inside the theater house especially in THX setup. But even in those small dark dens called home theaters, digital films can provide the same ambience (sometimes better, depending on how much you paid for your equipment) that once was the exclusive domain of movie-houses.
So with digital films, we can expect not just a revival of interest in movie-making and movie-going but also the evils attached to commercial films. Piracy will persist because people will always love movies and bargains. And because producers will always want to recover what is due to them, the raids will also continue. All in all, the final benefactor would be the common moviegoer who wants nothing else but the fun and adventure of experiencing pure and clear dreamscapes in digital format.
Until they can make movies that will not just shake the audience with interactive seats and sense-surround speakers but can also allow us to smell and even touch what we see onscreen, digital films will suffice to bring the good-old high from watching movies “the way they should be made” and not just “the way they used to make them”.