Having come of age at repertory film screenings, I learned to appreciate older movies in no small part for the fragility of their medium. Weathered prints taught that movies not only reflect the moment of their creation but continue to exist in time. To dream of the era a beat-up film came from was no mere nostalgia; it was an exercise in creative thought, requiring you to reconstruct an ideal film in your mind from the evidence that remained. I like that it should take work to communicate with the past. For one thing, it gives you a firmer bearing on the present.
I’ve been feeling nostalgic for the anti-nostalgia of old prints since I saw A Separation at the Logan Theater a few weeks ago. The movie was projected digitally, and that indescribable gloss lay consistent across it. Something felt off, as if the film were under shrink-wrap, insulated from the elements that would age it. How unfortunate, I thought, that this copy of A Separation, a movie that’s very much about the daily hell of living in Iran circa 2011, would appear forever stuck there.
I’ll concede that some things have been gained in the conversion from film to video projection—and not only technologically (for a thoughtful explanation of what’s being lost, check out Gendy Alimurung’s recent report in the LA Weekly). It’s bracing to know that, on digital, the social crisis depicted by A Separation will always seem to transpire in the present tense, that Farhadi’s measured outrage will endure. And perhaps it will be easier to teach future generations that good art is timeless as it becomes harder to distinguish old moving images from new ones. Of course, future spectators will continue to forge personal relationships with the movies they see. But I worry that they’ll be more like the relationships one has with his peers than the ones he has with his teachers.