The Resurgence Of Film
Has a dead technology risen from the grave?
The resurgence of film is not unlike that of vinyl recordings. It is a “new-nostalgia” for a bygone and inferior technology.
The whole movement makes no sense, but nonsense is consistent with much of the state of the world. So let’s take a closer look.
The bottom line is that one has to pay a good deal more for both inconvenience and inferior quality. There is a semi-pleasing moment when the package of prints and negatives is returned so one can be surprised to see that perhaps two of 36 images captured are worth keeping. Is that enough?
There is enough business there for Lomo, a well-established funky photo company, and others to make a few bucks, so this resurgence may be enabled for some time. But for how long?
What is being called “film resurgence” would not even register vs. the volumes of the 90s. The old Kodak would not be interested at all. Not nearly enough volume. Looking at the profits of Lomo, the resurgence provides tens of millions of dollars vs. what was once billions.
Film resurgence is quite likely to peak and fade away. This is not only because film imaging makes no sense in a digital world, but also because the infrastructure necessary to create film and paper is very, very complicated and expensive. Laying down multiple coatings of photosensitive gelatin in perfectly balanced layers (in the dark!) is no easy task. As the last of the production lines begins to fail, there will be little incentive to invest. Unless, of course, other reasons for such coatings can be found. Note that Kodak made significant efforts to find other applications for “curtain coating” to no avail.
And there is the matter of processing. There are certainly many labs available for developing film and printing images from the resulting negatives, but it is becoming difficult for retailers to get film processing equipment and materials. Those items and the chemicals necessary to use them are unlikely to be produced in the distant future.
Seed money does not follow declining small markets. Is anyone funding fax machine development? Cassette and 8-track tape manufacture? Or closer to the point, slide projectors?
So if grainy film prints are your thing, enjoy them while production capability lasts. Or perhaps you should buy a lifetime supply of film and put it in your generator-backed-up freezer. By the way, when it became apparent that film volumes would fall precipitously, one concept floated around Kodak was that the film production facility should go full blast for about six months and then be scrapped. All that film could be refrigerated and slowly meted out to satisfy declining demand.
Vinyl resurgence will stay with us longer since many insist that the sound is better and more likable. Evaluation of sound quality is quite subjective and personal. Without accurate technical evaluation of sound quality, consensus is unlikely. Consumers rarely say, “Let’s compare analog and digital recording sources captured on the waveform analyzer.”
Additionally, it is ludicrous to think that aging experts can still detect any differences if there are any. Particularly for males over 50, hearing deteriorates. And even the purists have been shown to fail to know by listening if digital conversion has been used.
The recent scandal regarding the Mobile Fidelity (MoFi) production chain shows they can’t tell. Several experts placed MoFi records on their “best analog recordings” lists without knowing that there was a digital step in the production chain. Listening alone can’t detect the difference, but many people don’t want to “hear” that.
Also in favor of continued LP production, the pressing process used to create LPs is simple and straightforward in comparison to film manufacture. The infrastructure necessary is much less capital-intensive, so manufacturing can continue without huge investments in maintenance and creation of new equipment.
But perhaps these resurgences are based on something other than quality and ease of use. Maybe there is a deeper need satisfied by photographic prints and LP records.
My friend Peter is someone who still buys an occasional CD and book (both similarly superseded technologies but not quite dead). While he is quite aware of the benefits of virtual image sharing, electronic reproduction of text, and streaming music, he misses his 5 CD changer that finally succumbed to old age.
Peter suggests that the desire for tangible media might be driving the resurgence of film and vinyl. Can it be that many feel a need to hold something in their hands even though delivery need not be corporeal?
When friends drop in, we often play LPs (Long Playing vinyl recordings) from my collection. Everyone seems to enjoy hearing the old songs, selecting from the basement trove, and noting the mechanical rotation of the disks on the turntable. And I enjoy showing them the 12" by 12" jacket artwork they’ve forgotten or never seen.
But I’m not adding to the LP collection.
And I recently sold my Victrola. It was a fun novelty for a short while, but eventually became buried in the basement. 30 years of idleness finally convinced me it was time to move on.
And my film cameras left long before the Victrola.