Film is coming to an end, folks. Sad, but true. Why, this time next year, there probably won’t be any new films for us here to write about, and we’ll be reduced to doing endless retrospectives on ever-more obscure directors and fevered speculation about who will take home the coveted “Best Re-Release” statuette at the somewhat slimmed-down Oscars.
No, don’t worry, this nightmare vision is but a wild fantasy. “Film” is coming to and end, but in a narrower – though still sad – sense. Over the weekend, the LA Times reported something that many had expected, but hoped not to hear: that the first major studio — in this case, Paramount — was going all-digital and ending distribution of actual, physical film prints. Though they didn’t announce it at the time, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” was the last Paramount film for which 35mm prints were shipped (way to go out on a high?), while “The Wolf of Wall Street” became their first all-digital affair (an irony, given that Martin Scorsese is a passionate defender of old formats and old filmstock). It also feels significant that the last physical film and the first all-digital one from the studio are about wild 1980s businesses…but it probably isn’t. Just a thought.
Like I say, we knew this was coming, but no-one wanted to be the first: there’s still a strong nostalgia for physical prints, and a small but significant 8% of cinemas in the U.S. can’t screen anything else, so this does have a market impact. That Paramount didn’t announce it until after the fact suggests they are indeed a little ashamed about it: but now the secret is out, we should expect others to follow, with the LA Times piece suggesting we might see the end of all projection from prints within the year. For the small corpus of people who actually care, it’s a sad day. Mark it by going down to the cinema and seeing something projected old-style. While you still can.