Up until the death of the cinematic roadshow in the 1970s, movies weren’t just played for an audience. They were presented.
Film reels were shuttled from city to city in traveling roadshows across America in the hopes of fostering a unique cinematic experience. When a movie like “Gone with the Wind” made its way to a town, people would dress up and head out to a motion picture show.
The movies were sometimes longer, and audiences often enjoyed intermissions, souvenir programs, and a musical overture. This was all long before millions were spent on advertising campaigns, and the digital medium allowed films to be easily transported and viewed without fanfare.
Recently, Quentin Tarantino was the latest director to take his fondness for vintage cinema to a new level with his latest western, “The Hateful Eight.” Shooting on 65 mm film, Tarantino and The Weinstein Co. enabled 100 theaters across the country to screen the movie early, projecting the flick in “glorious” 70 mm, which includes an extra 5 mm for sound.
The question: Why does it matter?
In addition to projecting “The Hateful Eight” in its proper film format, participating theaters have added experiential elements hearkening back to the old days, replete with a musical overture, intermission, and a longer cut of the film.
Roadshow movies are time-consuming and costly to produce. However, the effect of films shot on reels is mesmerizing. Visuals like cigarette burns sizzle on the big screen, and other scintillating details draw the audience in for a more immersive experience. The care and attention to detail taken during projection also reflects the pride filmmakers take in the process.
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Cinematographers and directors often argue until they’re blue in the face about the merits of film and digital. It boils down to taste. Digital cameras have democratized the market, making it cheaper to make a movie and arguably raising the bar for what can be captured.
Film, on the other hand, is still lauded by directors like Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese and Tarantino. To shoot and project film certainly requires a distinctly different approach and understanding of film narrative. Images aren’t as concise or sharp. On the other hand, colors contrast in a visual melody. These elements impact the way a story is told.
Tarantino took his film one step further by using 65 mm rather than standard 35 mm film for “The Hateful Eight.” These frames are wider than any other available and capture more picture than standard 35 mm film or any digital camera.
The differences between film and digital are hard to compare, but average moviegoers today aren’t finding the choice terribly troublesome — just different.
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Audiences are accustomed to digital movies now because of the convenience of the platform. Content is crisp, versatile, and familiar at this point. But many Americans are hungry for new experiences in modern culture, and directors who are reintroducing film are banking on the nostalgia factor.
Moviegoers who see “The Hateful Eight” in its glorious widescreen presentation will undoubtedly find the imagery stunning and the experience more memorable. The flicker of the screen and the contrast of light and color sets film apart from digital in a distinctive way. With theaters constantly under threat of extinction by a generation of “Netfix and chill” consumers, directors like Tarantino are using film as a tool in the filmmaking arsenal, and meeting both publicity and storytelling goals.
Telling a compelling story is one thing. Fostering an experience, it turns out, is intriguing audiences and helping directors draw attention and set themselves apart.