Film Review: Side by Side

Side By SideSide by Side is an impressive documentary that brings a crucial and fiery debate to the screen. The subject: is celluloid being replaced by digital film making? With front-man and narrator Keanu Reeves, director Christopher Kenneally picks the brains of some of the most influential and respected Hollywood members, from directors, to writers, to technicians. This alone should illustrate that this is no small debate. This is an analysis of the future of the world’s most influential industry. Celluloid was the only method available to film makers for over a hundred years, until the 90s when digital technology became available. It’s cheaper. The cameras are smaller, so it’s easier to move around and be creative. But does that mean it’s better?

Both sides of the argument are very well represented. Director Danny Boyle talks about how he will never go back to using celluloid, after the problems he had making probably his most negatively received film The Beach. Since then, Boyle has made every film using digital cameras, and is very happy doing that. Watch the trailer for his upcoming film Trance, and you can see how the technology has benefited Boyle’s alarming visual style. At the other end of the spectrum, we have directors like Christopher Nolan, who still insist on using film. His defence of celluloid is exactly the same as the majority of people in the pro-film camp; it’s more real.

While Kenneally and Reeves try to keep a step back throughout proceedings, their own viewpoint eventually starts seeping through. They are pro-celluloid, there is no doubt about that. When James Cameron suggests that digital film making is far superior to celluloid, Keanu Reeves intervenes in almost vitriolic fashion. He tells Cameron that his movie making style is fundamentally fake and devoid of reality. Cameron doesn’t lose his temper like you would expect him to. He simply smiles and responds to Reeves by making a very good point. He mentions all the times that Reeves has been stood on a street, that is actually a set in a sound studio. He points out all the times movies have used fake rain. As far as Cameron is concerned, cinema has always been fake and make believe.

Despite Keanu Reeves’ views, and the many people he finds who defend celluloid, there is no doubt that it is now on its death bed. No big camera manufacturer is producing celluloid cameras anymore. In some cases, they are even being pulled from sale, never to be used. It seems inevitable that digital will become the only way to make movies. Side by Side sees this as a bad thing, but it’s getting harder and harder to prove that is the case. When digital first came along in the 90s, it was rather dirty and imperfect. Now though, digital cameras have advances to such an extent that post-production effects to improve picture quality are becoming more and more obsolete.

While Side by Side attempts to defend celluloid, it completely forgets a reality that seems to be lurking in the background of some of the interviews. Digital film making could have saved Hollywood. It’s considerably cheaper to get hold of a digital camera than it is a film camera. It cuts down on the amount of time needed for post production, as digital cameras have the ability to show you what the image looks like before you record. With celluloid, directors have to wait to watch dailies. Editing, as you would expect, doesn’t take as long either. It saves money without hindering quality, which at times like this, will be music to Hollywood’s ears.

It still will be a sad day when celluloid disappears. It has given birth to entire industry, and delivered some of the biggest cultural moments ever experienced. While Side by Side is a little biased in its views, it is a heavenly film for movie geeks, and an eye opening one for everyone else. It shows the audience that cinema is at a crossroads, and the medium that we all so dearly enjoy will never be the same again once the material that brought it to us for over a hundred years bids us farewell.

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About Eric Wood

Eric Wood is 21 years old, from Bury in Greater Manchester, and a graduate of Salford University where he studied Journalism and English Literature. His first novel comes out later in the year, and he begins work directing his first feature length movie in the summer. Eric absolutely adores all forms of writing and loves movies so he’s the ideal film critic. His greatest inspiration for many years has been Michael Crichton, as Crichton has written novels, non-fiction, screenplays, and directed movies. Eric would love to be able to achieve all of those things in my lifetime.
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