Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Side by Side (2012)

One of the most hotly debated topics in Hollywood over the past decade is the debate on which film celluloid is becoming more of an endangered means of shooting movies on, and is now giving way to a digital technological takeover. As a fellow enthusiast of cinema, this is a topic that I have cared about to a passionate degree. Even the topic of my final essay as a college freshman dealt mostly with the controversial debate circling both the future and overall consensus of the two. To sum up this popular debate, actor Keanu Reeves and director Christopher Kenneally set out on a journey to provide an insightful and historical account on the transition of film to digital by interviewing various Hollywood directors, cinematographers, editors, film students, and many more to gain their opinions on the digital evolution and how it has affected both them and the film industry as a whole.

First let me start off by saying that I don't lean more on side than the other in this debate. I show great admiration for both film stock and digital filmmaking, but I stand more in the middle of the spectrum. I love film stock because it provides more creative control of images expressed on screen for both the DP and director, but I will admit that it's tougher to combat both during and after the filming process. Digital though on the other hand, is much easier to utilize because it allows you to both conduct longer daily shooting schedules and be able to see your shot immediately while its happening in front of you. However, its main shortcoming is that it robs the DP and director of the creative control over the image once its moved into post-production. Thus, I'm pretty sure that thesis provides an overall consensus for how I don't stand for one side more than other, but it's still a topic that I'm always up to the challenge of both analyzing and discussing.

Actor Keanu Reeves is this documentary's main tour guide as he serves as producer, narrator, and interviewer for the course of the film. His main job film is mostly composed of interviewing famous Hollywood directors, editors, cinematographers, and VFX artists on their own personal viewpoints of a key topic explored at a certain part of the film, but also narrates numerous visual sequences that show how a film camera functions in comparison to a digital one. Some of the interviewees include famous Hollywood directors which include Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, David Lynch, Steven Soderbergh, George Lucas, and Danny Boyle to name just a few. Also interspersed with their passionate personal opinions are ones with longtime Hollywood cinematographers and editors, some who have worked in their field for nearly five decades at the most. All of these aspects build up throughout the course of the film where opinions become more hotly contested, and thus soon culminates in everyone stating where they think cinema currently stands now in the present day.

Though I've never been the biggest fan of Keanu Reeves' acting, he surprisingly carries this movie to a very respectable degree. He exhibits superb interviewing skills when discussing various film topics with the people he converses with, and even isn't afraid to tap into their own careers to tie in further analytical layers into their opinions. His narration is also serviceable to a commendable degree, because his delivery is both informative and fluid to where he breaks down every single detail of the photography technique being explored.

However as strong as Reeves is in his multiple jobs throughout the film, the interviews are the definite high point. Whether it be David Lynch discussing why he's finished making movies in this current technological generation, or George Lucas professing his passion for digital filmmaking, they're all entertaining in their own unique ways, and even very funny at times from the unexpected shock value of something one of the interviewees would say. My personal favorite though was David Fincher, because while he admits he stands much more for the digital camera evolution, he still managed to show enough admiration for film stock to acknowledge a mildly positive enough viewpoint on that endangered means of filmmaking.

A flaw that usually comes from numerous documentaries of this current age of cinema is that they're too overly biased on one side of the debate than the other. Thankfully, director Christopher Kenneally manages to avoid that fatal misstep by instead providing a thoughtful consensus of split opinions on the topic, and they all culminate into a thorough balance where neither side is favored more than the other. Any time that the movie starts to slightly lean on support of either the film or digital era, it's quickly contradicted by a transition to a new topic that follows the same structure.

Overall apart from pacing that's a little slow in the middle act, "Side by Side" is an absorbing, entertaining, and sometimes quite educative documentary on the current transition in Hollywood from film to digital. To where it comes to the point where Keanu Reeves will retire from acting, he's got a great future ahead of him as an interviewer, too. For those who are either film enthusiasts, critics, authors, or students studying the fine art, "Side by Side" is a must-watch for all of those who belong to one of those categories, because it's easily one of the most polished, entertaining documentaries that explores film in some time.

Final Grade: A-

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