No matter what your taste in movies, it’s fair to say that, for many moviegoers, one of the recent revelations in film presentation — in the experience of just going to the theater and experiencing cinema — has been the small but ambitious uptick in wide format exhibition. But for those responsible for making the films, it’s no mere matter of aesthetics. The renewed availability of these formats, especially in terms of film over digital, has everything to do with the politics of the industry and deference to the best of film history — without which the experience would be impossible.
On the eve of the release of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, the filmmaker sat down for a forty minute discussion with Pete Hammond, the awards columnist at Deadline.com, and fellow director Paul Thomas Anderson, who had recently seen a final cut of the film. Refreshingly, Hammond avoided the typical pre-release press gibberish in favor of a planned discussion about 70mm films — The Hateful Eight, for example, and Anderson’s The Master — and why they matter. It’s the sort of discussion that will send you to your repertory cinema straight away.
After some preliminary thanks sent to Harvey Weinstein and Erik Lomis — Tarantino promised to deliver both of their eulogies as a token of gratitude for promoting the film — QT discussed The Hateful Eight ‘s unspooling in 70mm in about 100 theaters across the country, which is astounding if you think about the previous dearth of available cinemas for the format. Tarantino apparently didn’t realize how large of an endeavor it would be until he learned that only a handful of cinemas were prepared to show the film non-digitally. “It was truly a herculean task,” he told Hammond.
“By the same token,” Tarantino added, “I didn’t realize to what extent 70mm would be a drawing point. You can’t even have an intelligent argument about it being bested [by digital] — that it might actually be film’s saving grace, that it might be film’s last stand, that it might be film’s last night in the arena. And it might actually conquer.”
For The Master, Anderson admitted, they “aimed much lower,” for far fewer theaters. But as Tarantino quickly pointed out, it was Anderson’s film that paved the way — both culturally and technologically — in terms of retrofitting the available cinemas, for The Hateful Eight’s more ambitious 70mm run.
“When we got a couple of those theaters hooked up,” Anderson added, “it was clear that people were coming out for 70mm more than they were coming out for the 35mm.”
From here the discussion became a festival of film geekery, with Anderson mentioning that he saw his first (blown-up) 70mm as a child — The Empire Strikes Back. Tarantino, who is a few years older than Anderson, recalled other blown-up 70mm films, like The Exorcist and The Wild Bunch, and reminisced about Krakatoa, East of Java and Custer of the West, his first true 70mm film experiences.
After Hammond rightly asserted that both The Master and The Hateful Eight, while not exactly chamber films, are at at least not the panoramic epics one might associate with such a wide format, Anderson explained that Tarantino’s staging justifies the format. Tarantino likewise argued that The Master takes place in an era that agrees with the 70mm look. “The big scope formats,” Tarantino said,” “can actually offer up a more intimate experience.”
Tarantino was also quick to state that the big chain theaters had be surprisingly quick and ready to install older technologies once they saw their potential. “They see the excitement in not just filling a seat,” he said. “They see the excitement in presentation.”
He went on to argue, rather convincingly, that the erasure of film projection in cinemas was a function of ignoring the people who make the films. “Filmmakers weren’t brought into the equation when the studios and theaters decided to get rid of film,” Tarantino said. “I see no reason why film had to be eradicated.”
“It requires us blabbing our mouths off as much as we can,” Anderson added, “and hopefully there is a generation behind us that wants to keep this alive.”