DVD: Side by Side (2012)

December 12, 2014 | By

Film: Excellent

DVD Transfer: Excellent

DVD Extras: Very Good

Label: New Video Group

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released: February 5, 2013

Genre: Documentary / Film History / Cinematography

Synopsis: Timely case study of the rapid marginalizing of film stock as digital technology has overtaken the production, post-production, and exhibition of movies.

Special Features: Deleted Scenes (3 mins.) / Additional Interviews with Filmmakers (14 mins.)




Christopher Kenneally’s documentary on the film industry’s switch from film stock to digital media comes at an important time when the fate of film – in terms of stock, cameras, and modes of exhibition – has been apparently written off like the LP.

Kenneally smartly doesn’t take sides; instead we get a chronological examination of each medium’s emergence, development, and usage, after which the two threads begin to collide as interviewed cinematographers, producers, and directors  begin to reveal their respective positions as favouring one, lamenting the demise of another, or outright detesting one format for reasons subjective or practical.

The funny thing about Side by Side is there’s no conclusion as to which format’s right, nor whether film is headed for outright obsolescence, and that may be the lone positive within the doc, because while film has been marginalized and portrayed as a niche format preferred by arty filmmakers stuck in a time vortex, digital is anything from perfect. The leaps that occur within a few years have ensured digital will eventually supersede film’s resolution and versatility – the fact idiot-proof consumer cameras can be used to shoot a movie is perhaps the biggest death-knell to anyone filming a low budget movie on 16mm film with its inherent rental, processing, and materials expenses – but film will probably hover as an alternative media, if not the ultimate safety master for any digital production whose master media will inevitably become obsolete.

Not dissimilar to the LP, a film need only be threaded onto a projector and its instantly viewable, whereas digital requires the machines, codecs, and un-buggered hard drives or flash cards to play back, and there are some cautionary takes within Side by Side of media which has either gone bad, or the gear required to play back the product is now an antique.

Film may ultimately survive as both an alternative capture medium, and the most reliable storage media once a digital production has been locked, but it’ll unlikely be able to retain its position as a viable, affordable, accessible media if the post-production businesses that carry a movie from lab work through editing, timing, and print manufacture shut down or wholly shift their business model towards full digital.

The choice of Keanu Reeves as interviewer / narrator / commentartor may seem a little unusual, except Reeves also co-produced the film, and as an experienced actor he helps both directors and fellow actors comment on how the shift in media has changed their jobs – namely, allowing performances uninterrupted by reel changes, , but conversely enabling directors to let takes run on longer than necessary, and editors stuck with a greater body of footage to log and sift through prior to editing scenes.

Side by Side isn’t meant to be exhausting – it can’t when the industry shift is ongoing – but it captures the stage where creative minds are either struggling with a major change, or have utterly abandoned film for reasons that reflect their own working methods. For the lovers of film, the loathers are represented by David Fincher (sharp and quite barbed in his pokes at camera manufacturers), David Lynch (enamored by the freedom to be grungy and create improvised scenes and narratives), and Steven Soderbergh (almost venal in the way he describes the bulky, costly, inconsistent quality of film gear and stock).

Interestingly, George Lucas doesn’t come off as a monster (he’s still taken to task by colleagues for claiming ‘film is dead’ when he switched to full digital using imperfect gear), but as a forceful ideological pioneer who affected the industry with his own rebellious steps in acquisition, post-production, and exhibition; the resulting films may have looked poor and been weak works, but his bullheadedness and refusal to settle for the status quo is part of the reason other creative forces adopted similar stances and ultimately affected change; Hollywood makes decisions about money, but it’s the filmmakers who agree to the changes because the curiosity and creative rewards are sufficiently magnetic.

The doc starts to slow down near the end as Kenneally’s made every point possible, but Side by Side should provoke further discussions, if not a follow-up work where the so-called demise of film is reassessed, and the impact of digital has settled down for a few years before the next, inevitable, shake-up – like maybe 3 years from the date of Kenneally’s production date.



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan


External References:

Editor’s Blog — IMDB Official Website


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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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