Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Man Behind the Curtain

This isn't about the Wizard of Oz shamefully hiding behind a pretence, more of an appreciative note to those up in projection.

The digital takeover has most certainly arrived and, in most cases, is in full swing. Entire cinemas have said "so long!" to the 35mm projector and welcomed the upgrade. Some new cinemas are constructed without projection booths and instead, the efficient digital replacement is built into the wall of the screen and accessible at the push of a button. What with the guarantee of clearer sounds and sharper images - available on a ginormous scale and/or 3D - technology is advancing at an incredible rate. But what will become of the 35mms and the bit part character that ultimately starts things (literally) rolling, the projectionist.

A large number of chain cinemas will now be fully digital and then it will only be a matter of time before the departure of the last projectionists - the few who stayed on to see in the new machines that have made them obsolete.

The projection booth: The top of the cinema; a dark fairly noisy place but removed from the general hubbub of the rest of the cinema - no shouting children, no incessant arcade-machine beeping - just the whirring of projectors; the smell of machinery; halogen lamps and stray film cells...

Perhaps that's rather a romantic view of a projection booth but it was comforting to know that people were up there keeping a check on things. And, if there was a problem, there was someone who knew what to do. New technology is brilliant but it's not without flaws - it's ever changing and evolving. Some cinemas have been installed with digital projectors that will soon be outdated themselves and will fail to survive the next software update. Who do you talk to then? Or rather, who do you blame then? The poor guy at the end of the phone providing support for digital projectors?

But all is not lost. Some cinemas still show their 35mm prints and one day there will be a revival and a demand for the knowledge of how to lace-up a 35mm film and the projectionists will be laughing. For all  our intent to push things forward, society loves nostalgia and delving into the past. They'll dig out the key to that airplane hanger and dust the cobwebs off the old projectors.

For now, the votes are in and have been counted. The winner for Best Supporting Role goes to.....the Projectionists.

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