Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

The Digital Divide

I wrote this piece recently about the digital and analogue divide and debate across film, music and photography, asking if digital is really delivering on its promise that it will improve everything, or whether it’s a poor imitation of bygone …

Wed, May 9, 2012, 11:53


I wrote this piece recently about the digital and analogue divide and debate across film, music and photography, asking if digital is really delivering on its promise that it will improve everything, or whether it’s a poor imitation of bygone analogue products. Obviously, it isn’t a black and white issue as that. There are loads of greys – some even in 3D. The people I spoke to about it were Irish experts in their field – the cinematographer Tim Fleming, the music producer Jacknife Lee and the photographer Richard Gilligan – and all of them spoke about the issue with a kind of ‘on one hand this, but on the other hand that’ sentiment. Even though their opinions were evenhanded, that didn’t mean they didn’t have a lot to say on the issue. Fleming especially said he could talk for days on the topic. Particularly in film right now, it’s a raging debate that doesn’t appear to show any signs of waning.

One of the instances I referenced in the article was something that happened before Christmas, when Christopher Nolan invited a load of Hollywood directors to a short preview of The Dark Knight Rises, then told them he had an ulterior motive, and then made a plea for celluloid. You can read about that and more on the film V digital issue in this lengthy but fascinating article in LA Weekly recently.

A preview of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit added to the debate recently, with those who saw ten minutes of footage at CinemaCon giving mixed reactions to how the film looks. Entertainment Weekly reported that the look of the film – an ultra crisp image which Jackson got by shooting it at 48 frames per second – took a while to adjust to, as currently the cinema-goer’s eye is used to seeing films shot at 24 frames per second, so watching a film look like a HD sports programme might take some time to get used to. The Great 3D Debate has been raging for sometime now, so prepare for the great 48FPS V 24FPS debate to follow.

There’s an arrogance to modernity in that we think what we are using was better than what has gone before. From kitchen appliances to DJ equipment, technology definitely drives innovation, but the idea that it drives quality is surely not an infallible one.

This morning, I trawled a few shops in Dublin city centre trying to find a Polaroid or Polaroid-esque camera as a present for my young niece. While it would be pretty easy to pick up a digital camera, I know that for kids, they want to see a finished product, and that a child would probably gain more pleasure out of having a photo to feel and to look at rather than something on the screen. The idea of pressing a button and having a hard copy of something a few minutes later is far more magical for a child than its digital counterpart. Eventually a kind assistant in a computer shop told me to go to Urban Outfitters, because apart from anything else, analogue is also now a hipster endeavour. In Urban Outfitters while Lana Del Rey’s album played in the background – a woman who has made herself a star by pretending to sound like she’s from a bygone era, making her, perhaps Analogue Pop – I picked up a Fujifilm Instax 210. Next to it on the shelf was a pile of these guys:



At first glance I thought the box said ‘curiously analogue’, which would make sense, since analogue is a sort of curiosity these days. People who put film in their cameras are practically regarded as eccentric. But no, it’s ‘gloriously analogue’. While we may canonise the past, and nostalgia is something of an opiate, there is something rather glorious about a video camera that doesn’t fit in your pocket. That said, it’s probably a pain in the arse to actually use.


Further reading:
Why the digital revolution has yet to benefit independent film – MovieScope

Keep an eye on Owen Weetch’s research, he’s working on how stereoscopy (in particular 3D) changes narrative strategies in films.

An interesting piece in The Guardian last year addressed life after 35mm film.

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