Mike Leigh Calls Tarantino’s Fight to Save Celluloid “Bollocks”

Mike Leigh Calls Tarantino's Fight to Save Celluloid "Bollocks"

Notoriously honest filmmaker Mike Leigh, whose J.M.W. Turner biopic is now in theaters and contending mainly for crafts Oscars, spoke candidly about dogged celluloid defender Quentin Tarantino in a recent interview with The Star.

Tarantino, currently at work on his beleaguered Western "Hateful Eight," has publicly decried digital film as "the death of cinema," and turning his newly commandeered New Beverly in Los Angeles into a bastion for 35mm films.

So what does unapologetically frank, Brit auteur Mike Leigh, who also recently aired grievances about filmmaking in The Hollywood Reporter’s Directors roundtable, have to say? "That’s bollocks."

“It’s a ludicrous statement," Leigh said of Tarantino’s outspoken remarks, "because apart from anything else, it’s a backward-looking statement that is irresponsible. I remember a time in the late ’70s when people said, ‘Cinema is over.’ There are young filmmakers doing all sorts of fantastic things and part of the reason that’s possible is the democratization of the medium because of a new technology, so (Tarantino’s fight) is twaddle.”

READ MORE: The Genius of Mike Leigh’s System: Leigh and Cast on Gorgeous "Mr. Turner"

At the American Film Market in November 2014, Tarantino promised buyers that "Hateful Eight" would be a "70mm event… I’m hoping it’s going to stop the momentum of the digital stuff, and that people will hopefully go, ‘Man, that is going to the movies, and that is worth saving, and we need to see more of that.”

From his cult classic "Naked" to success d’estime and Oscar nominee "Secrets & Lies" and more, Leigh has long advocated (and preferred to use) celluloid as his canvas. But, along with cinematographer Dick Pope, he chose to shoot the gloriously beautiful, celluloid-seeming "Mr. Turner" digitally. More on that, in our interview below.

READ MORE: How Cinematographer Dick Pope Shot "Mr. Turner": Straight Up Digitally

Leigh, 71, is not the only director of late to query Tarantino’s radical manifesto. In our recent video interview with Martin Scorsese at the Toronto International Film Festival, we asked the director what he thought of Tarantino’s radical decision: "It’s just a last stand. However, I grew up with film. I love film, celluloid, and I shot ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ on film. The problem is that technology is going by, but it doesn’t mean we can’t use the old one if we keep the labs going for awhile. Because one of the most important things about celluloid is that it’s the best medium for preservation."

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Comments

Doris Bettencourt

I love film the feeling u get from it is better .bring the fill back . executive Producer

JoeS

RE: Björn: " the argument to archive films on celuoid instead of digital is simply not valid, it was a few years back but not eny more."

Virtually EVERY study by people in the preservation disagrees. The basic point is that a film vault is a pretty basic technology vs. the constantly changing digital world. How many programs and back-up discs from even a few years ago still work in your new devices? You throw a film can in a vault and take care of it, and it’s "preserved". With a digital master, somebody has to constantly upgrade the software for the digital information to remain readable. That’ll likely do for the big studios (although there was the TOY STORY near-disaster), but, who’s going to do those upgrades for some tiny indie who’s distributing company went out of business decades earlier?

Rudy

Quentin Tarantino must also be against the use of cell phones and other technology.

Björn

Brian and everyone else that thinks film is best for preservation. Do you realize that to preserve film you need to have i refrigerated and every time you change temp you degrade the film… Well, to keep a feature in the fridge for decades cost quite a bit. To keep a feature on multiple digital copies that gets updated to new discs over time now cost less and in the future media will be costing even less than now. So the argument to archive films on celuoid instead of digital is simply not valid, it was a few years back but not eny more.

vernie

Agreed. Though along with the change in technologies, there has been a change of attitudes. I started out before just before digital started to be used, and later advocated. With film running through a camera at about a Grand per minute (we’re talking old money), people had to be on-the-ball.

Nikki

Kodak film makes the image quality on any production stand out!

DaDirecther

The preservation value of film is that to use it again in a million years, all you need is a light source and a magnifying device. Digital on the other hand poses a more complex problem. You’ll have to reverse engineer a device that will enavle you to read the storage unit and decypher the data simply to enjoy that movie.

john

The Academy did a thorough study of the preservation issue a few years back called "The Digital Dilemma." Turns out that digital media (magnetic or optical) does in fact degrade a whole lot faster than celluloid. Scorsese was very involved in that study, I believe, and is probably the most knowledgeable director on this topic.

Anthony

Tarantino, has become a parody of himself, which was a satire to begin with

Max mallen

mike leigh is nothin more than an film snob. His methods are non comercial. His movies boring, and his arsenal nothing in comparison with real strife. Start making movies with bollocks rather than tampering with nonchalant minutiae before taking the miick out of a real director…

Dave V.

This cracks me up. As a guy who got his first (film) camera over 50 years ago I welcomed the digital age with open arms. It will take a while, but digital cinema will be the accepted norm in the next 10 to 20 years.

cadavra

Digital is fine as a capture and exhibition medium, but anyone who thinks it’s a superior method of archiving is a fool. Film is the only preservation method that has been proven to last, while even some DVDs have started to deteriorate. Plus, as the old saying goes, film is the only medium that you can hold up to a light and see what’s on it.

JoeS

While I greatly prefer Leigh’s movies to Tarantino’s, Leigh’s comments are the ones that are "bollocks".
As others note, not only is film still the most reliable archival medium, it still just looks better when properly shot and projected. Leigh has bought into the economic argument about Digital without giving any kind of credible AESTHETIC one (something which is conspicuously common amongst Digital adherents).
And, MR. TURNER is a prime example. I cried as I watched the movie (I refuse to call it a ‘film’). The black level is clearly inferior to film’s and the frequently dark shadowy scenes were so milky looking that it looked like the house lights in the theater were still on (they weren’t). A movie about an artist and the full range of the color pallette destroyed as without proper blacks, you cannot show proper colors.
The bottom line is that there should be BOTH 35mm (and 70mm) film AND Digital available. One shouldn’t extinguish the other. Hopefully, most of us can at least agree on that point.

Trevor Tillman

the reason 35mm is he best for film preservation is not at all the reasons other commenters are citing. The bottom line is that the hardware of digital is always changing. As David Fincher put it, the source media for many of the music videos he made were on Betamax and there’s nothing that will even play that anymore. It’s not just about the possibility of digital files being corrupted. You can run a 35mm film strip made today in a projector that was made 100 years ago.

Brian

If "the grid" ever fails completely, it would probably mean the complete loss of the majority of films made in the last 20 years, while every 35mm print stored in a vault somewhere would still be available. I laugh every time I hear a techie explain that the key to preservation is to just back everything up onto new formats as they become available as if there’s some omnipotent authority who can actually make that happen at every studio and every film and TV company. Now where’d that flash drive go…? It was on my desk just a second ago.

JAY R

That’s not what Scorsese meant. Film (and analog) is a better preservation format because, as some put it, it "fails gracefully." With film, degradation is gradual. Even when it’s damaged or begun to fade, you still have some kind of image and it’ll probably be ‘viewable’ for a long while. Digital doesn’t do that. When a bit of data is bad, it’s a total loss, it’s just gone. In some cases, you can lose an entire file of data just from partial damage.

Ethan

Putting preservation-level digital copies of a film on "billions of HDD" would be great, if that were economically feasible. As it is, there are many factors of digital preservation to consider, including long-term shelf-life of hard drives, bitrot, practical obsolescence, etc. "Best" preservation medium is pretty subjective, but film is certainly the most reliable in terms of long-term security.

No one’s really wrong here, anyway. Leigh makes great points about accessibility, and I don’t think anyone in the film world, filmmaker or archivist, wants to go backwards. Tarantino is being unsurprisingly over-dramatic about it, but the point should be that film should be an option if filmmakers want it, and that option is very much in danger.

bohmer

"…best medium for preservation" is still a strange thing to say. A digital copy that could be reproduce at will and store on billions of HDD if needs be seems to me to have a stronger shot at survival.

Mr. Turner was gorgeous to look at even tough it’s digital. There’s a beautiful and interesting scene at the end in which the painter inquire on the daguerrotype that is very much a propos!

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