New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott has a very thoughtful essay about the transition from movies on film to digital images and the perennial question, “are the movies today as good as they used to be?”
Scott writes about the good:
[T]he history of film is now more widely and readily accessible than ever before. We may lament the end of movie clubs and campus film societies that presented battered prints of great movies, but by any aesthetic (as opposed to sentimental) standard, the high-quality, carefully restored digital transfers of classics and curiosities now available on DVD and Blu-ray offer a much better way to encounter the canon.
And he puts the concerns into context with exceptional insight:
And yet movies, at the moment, feel especially fragile and perishable. That may be because film is so much younger than the other great art forms, which have had centuries to wane, wax, mutate and cross-pollinate. But there is also something about cinema’s essentially modern character that makes it vulnerable to fears of obsolescence. The camera has an uncanny ability to capture the world as it is, to seize events as they happen, and also to conjure visions of the future. But by the time the image reaches the eyes of the viewer, it belongs to the past, taking on the status of something retrieved. As for those bold projections of what is to come, they have a habit of looking quaint as soon as they arrive.
Nostalgia, in other words, is built into moviegoing, which is why moviegoing itself has been, almost from the beginning, the object of nostalgia. It hardly seems like an accident that so many movies embrace this bittersweet disposition. This week Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” which visits the earliest days of cinema, will open on the same day as “The Artist,” Michel Hazanavicius’s silent film about the silent era. Both films recapture some of the heady magic of the old days, and both make use of the latest technology in doing so.