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The Deaths of Cinema, cont.

Roger Deakins: Film is Dead, Long Live Film.
Uncas Blythe

Above: Harris Savides doing his “Nestor Almendros on a date with Gordon Willis” thing with the Arri Alexa.

“The Alexa is a game-changer. This moment has been coming for a long time, really, but with the Alexa I believe digital has finally surpassed film in terms of quality. What is quality? It’s really in the eye of the viewer, but to me, the Alexa’s tonal range, color space and latitude exceed the capabilities of film. This is not to say that I don’t still love film — I do. I love its texture and grain, but in terms of speed, resolution and clarity of image, there is no question in my mind that the Alexa produces a better image. There is a beautiful roll-off between highlights and shadows [on the Alexa] that I haven’t seen before. There’s a subtlety in color rendition that is fantastic. I tested it in candlelight, and it was beautiful how the camera picked up variations in skin tones and texture. If you shot that same scene with film, you’d get a very monochromatic feel — just a color wash — but the Alexa can read subtleties that film cannot. Sometimes I get annoyed with the garbage I hear about film vs. digital...Most of it is simply nostalgia and silly thinking. I love film, sure, but this camera has brought us to a point where digital is simply better. In my opinion, there are now more advantages than disadvantages to digital cinematography.” —Roger Deakins, in the November 2011 American Cinematographer

The Alexa uses a High Dynamic Range process, that more or less takes a double exposure simultaneously and sums it in the processor, analogically like a two strip film that handles one part of the exposure range, and another behind it that handles the rest. This means less lighting and less chance of clipping; a bigger, brighter room. You can see the “Alexa look” right now in Anonymous and Deakins’ own In Time. Deakins’ opinion will be good enough for 90 percent of the DP’s out there, and brings to a close an interesting period of official experimentalism with digital textures. Even though the Vermeerish hyperreal has perhaps won out against the thicker, wilder, more painterly pop textures of Miami Vice or the more subtly strange shimmer/artifice of Che, be consoled that it is already pushing image making further out of the adequately lit standard of the Television Safe and deeper into the unknown crepuscular of Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice. It is up to filmmakers now to fully exploit the gap between what these cameras can record and what can be seen on the paltry HDTV screen.

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