The Celluloid Universe

Sad to learn that Eastman Kodak has filed for bankruptcy. I still really want to play with celluloid! Below is an old blog entry from four years ago. I hear that the lab in Ngee Ann is long gone too. It was my favourite playground.

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The Celluloid Universe
16-01-2008

I so miss playing with celluloid film. The last time I had the opportunity to work on celluloid was for Changi Murals, which was shot on super-16. I miss how breathtaking the 35mm images looked when I first walked into the telecine session of Family Portrait in Barcelona. The colours looked so delicious I could eat them!

I remember the days and nights I used to sit in the lab in Ngee Ann, physically splicing film together. There was a real respect for the Frame. The only true way of understanding what ’24 frames-per-second’ means, is to hold up 24 physical frames against the light, knowing that the distance between your fingers will last only one second when passed through a projector. Especially when there wasn’t much movement in a shot, editing to the film’s rhythm meant counting the number of frames physically, chopping it on a splicer, sticking it to the end of the previous shot with clear tape, then passing it through the light of a flatbed edit machine. I miss the process of it all!

During experimental film class, I enjoyed scratching out words and punching out holes within the Frame, knowing that each tiny image that I was creating had the potential of being enlarged a million times on a screen, but will only last a twentyfourth of a second. That intimacy with the Frame can be so intense sometimes, hours would pass without me even realising it. And throwing away footage was so much more difficult, because throwing away 10 seconds of it meant dumping close to 10 feet of 16mm film into the rubbish bin. It was very often too precious.

And I’m only talking about the Frame, not yet the Grain. When a digital video is projected, signals transmitted through cables reach a video projector which projects out pixels. With celluloid, the image seen on the screen is the result of light passing through a positive print of the film. Unlike the pixel, which enlarges to become a single-coloured square, the film grain we see on screen is the result of light in a scene chemically exposing the millions of grains within a frame through a lens, 24 times a second through the spinning shutter of a camera.

I remember enjoying reeling up a film projector, turning it on and hearing its mechanisms at work. Then I would stand up-close in front of the screen and marvel at the image composed of millions of dancing grains. There’s something so organic and infinite about it, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the medium. My experimental film lecturer, Ken Rosenthal, called it the ‘Celluloid Universe’. It is a universe I have yearned to be able to dive into. I was always so close to doing that during those late nights in the lab.

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