Movies Work

Artistic Films


Just a quick one about artistic films. Not artsy films as in the ones that look good but nothing of any real interest happens, or ‘artistic’ films which look stylised or just flat out impressive, I’m talking about art films. Abstract films. Ones you find in modern art galleries and art installations.

I’ve ranted in writing about modern art before. Not here, it was written before blogging was a ‘thing’ that people did so it was just a rant I had to write down. I might post it if I remember to look for it when I get home (and if it’s as good as I remember). The short version: it makes no sense, and not in a good way. More in a ‘are you feeling all right? You sound funny, as you having a stroke?’ sort of way.

This post is not about modern art. It’s not even really about these modern arty films. It’s about the poor bastard projectionists who have to screen them, and the lack of consideration for them when the ‘artist’ is putting their work together.

Take today for instance. I have been talked with screening a 16mm art film as part of what has been dubbed an ‘installation’ but which really is a cinema system equipped lecture theatre.

First, a quick technical point about 16mm. Unlike 35mm (which you find in most modern cinemas), 16mm only has sprocket holes down one side of the print. The other side is reserved for the film’s soundtrack. If the film has no sound, the space often contains sprocket holes, just because. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is the best way of making sure you’re running the film forwards, and in the right orientation. In 35mm the soundtrack sits inside the left sprocket holes, but that’s not really relevant. I just find it all fascinating and could go on about it for ages. Don’t worry, I’m not going to.

Back to this film. It is unfortunately silent, meaning it is double sprocketed (ie it has sprocket holes down both sides). It also does not feature the other staple of film prints, the numbered header (the handy bit that counts down to the start of the film).

What does this mean for the hapless projectionist? Well, lets just say that in the case of this particular art film, I had run it for 15 minutes before I even realised it was upside down. And it ran for a further ten minutes before I was able to confirm that it was in fact going backwards. It still might be back-to-front (ie mirrored). Fortunately this was a test screening to an empty auditorium so no harm done. Yet.

I’m reasonably experienced at this game. I’ve run artistic films with the director standing at my shoulder. But even I could only just tell that the film was going backwards and was upside down.

The question that then occurs to the projectionist is, what if it’s supposed to be like that? It’s an artistic film, who can actually tell? I’ve encountered that one before. Usually you wait for someone who can tell to come along and point you in the right direction.

It’s just slightly embarrassing when it’s the person who actually made the film in the first place.