Well, Walt’s dead. Not that we couldn’t see it coming. But the same thing goes for that wonderful world of light-transformed-celluloid. I haven’t seen the numbers, but I don’t need to.
Eastman-Kodak went TitsUp last year. Fuji stopped making stock two years ago. More and more projects are being shot digitally, so much so that now it’s not really something to even note. Red, Arri, DSLR’s, every aesthetic is accepted by the audience’s eye and even more so, oftentimes we can’t tell what we’re watching.
But go to the camera houses or the gear-rental places and have a look at what’s there and what’s renting. Yes, there are some die-hards and many projects still being shot on film, but the last two Academy Awards for Cinematography were granted to films shot digitally, pretty much every TV show is shot digitally and the migration is happening at a ridiculous rate.
So what do we make of this. This isn’t new. It’s been said before. But something else is dying a little bit too, or at least, heading into a new phase in the whole “what’s my life mean now?” process. And that is the feature film.
All you have to do is watch Steven Soderbergh’s wonderful diatribe on the state of the union for films and you’ll realize he’s spitting a lot of truth, regardless if you want to hear it or how he spins it.
Feature films aren’t entirely in the dumper — more and more are being made every year — but the economics of feature films are scarier and scarier, and if it weren’t for the fact that everyone in this business is desperate to be in it, stay in it, or do better at it, it would never be making as much product as it is right now.
It doesn’t make any sense. Most films lose their money. An overwhelming majority of them. So why in the hell would otherwise smart people get into that part of the business? It doesn’t make any sense. What lures us — all of us — is the promise of something better, the belief that we can beat the odds, that there’s a pot of gold at the end of that Rainbow, and damnit if this isn’t starting to sound like the ending to a movie, right?
That’s the point. Everyone working in movies believes their own paradigm: They want to win at the end.
We may shoot to different formats, but the process is pretty much still the same. We block, we call “Action” and “Cut” and actors hit and miss their marks. There was something permanent and fixed to FILM that isn’t there when the same string of zeros and ones can be replicated ad infinitum. There are no negatives anymore. And now that cinemas are displaying on much improved (yes, I said improved) digital projection the tangible quality of intangible assets are gone.
So is some of the magic that Cinema created. The butter’s been taken out of the popcorn a little bit. But have no fear…
Because we are presently in the Golden Age of Television. Think about it. Every medium has it’s heyday. Theater isn’t as sexy as it once was (I don’t care how many stage versions of Disney films get put on Broadway, they don’t stand up to the glory days of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller and lord knows how good it was when Shakespeare was putting up his plays, never mind how audiences reacted to Sophocles, etc.) and it really is only blue hairs who go to see the Orchestra lately.
So perhaps in the dawn of hardcore videogames and five-minute online clips, feature films are just finding their rightful place as the stuff that dreams were made of. Maybe that’s just how it goes. And maybe the film itself is going with it. Two siblings born and raised together, lived life together, and now one is dying and the other is retiring and mourning. But….
“Breaking Bad” started its life in 2008, and it shot film. How this decision was made we don’t know and we don’t care. But it was. AMC, as we’ve learned, was beautifully committed to this project and gave creative freedom and true support to let Vince Gilligan and his incredible team of artists and technicians play out the world of “BB” exactly as it needed to do.
Interestingly “BB” fits into a genre from the Golden Age of the silver screen — the Noir. Noirs are hotly contested and have been for a long time. Many say it’s a style not a genre, but after studying them for the better part of 20 years in some form or another, one colleague put it me really simply, “A Noir is a story where, somewhere in the beginning, you realize that for the protag, it’s just gonna end badly. It might have it’s ups, it’s downs, they might be a detective or someone impersonating a detective, they might be sympathetic and still greedy, but invariably it’s just gonna end wrong for this poor sucker.”
And I thought, yeah, that is a great way to define what this kind of storytelling is. And that’s “BB.” There’s something great about Noirs — they live up to their name most of the time. Whether it’s “The Maltese Falcon” or “Touch of Evil” or “House of Games” or “Memento,” these stories often go expressionistic, dark and moody. And as Storaro once said, “Where you have a shadow, you have the subconscious”.
Enter “BB.” Enter Michael Slovis (50+ episodes) Enter Villalobos and a few other amazing pinch hitter DOP’s. Enter Gilligan, Rian Johnson, Michelle Maclaren, Bryan Cranston. Enter New Mexico. Enter the lightning in the bottle. Enter Film.
What came out the other end was one of the most wonderful, long arced, compelling stories ever told and locked on camera negatives. And look at the variety from end to end of this show. How many memorable sequences do we take away?
- The cooking sessions.
- Walt confronting Tuco with the Nitro.
- The death of Gus Fring.
- Gus’ specialty red lab and the “bottle” episode with the fly.
- Jesse hiding out in the arcade.
- The nighttime Exteriors.
- The Barren Landscape on the outskirts of Santa Fe.
- The Bauhaus design and feel of the German equity/management company.
- Walt and Skyler’s place.
- Hank and Marie’s purple laden palace.
- Skaters hanging up and down Walt’s pool.
- The pink bear floating in the pool.
- The shafts of light coming in through the windows.
- The electro-magnet heist.
- The mexico connection.
- Possibly the best sequence hitchcock never directed: Hank’s parking lot confrontation with the cousins.
- Possibly the best acted sequence of the whole story: Jesse’s breakdown in group (episode, “problem dog”).
- The short lived but wonderful snow-drenched scenes in New Hampshire.
- The darkest of the darks in Season 4. (let’s face it, blackest of the blacks).
Seriously, these guys stretched the medium to the limit. They pushed grain, they pulled back on it. Then went 3 stops over and 3 stops under. They gave it consistency and at the same time they had tremendous variety to the visual style. They used long lenses, wide lenses, some nifty trick photography and managed to throw a 36-inch pizza on a roof in one take. And the f—er stayed there, by the way.
The gave us long takes and short takes, they handheld, they dollied, they kept on sticks, they steadicammed, they craned, they told the fucking story as elegantly as they could and Film didn’t give out once.
Breaking Bad gave us 62 hours of gut-wrenching, thought-provoking, gorgeously told Noir. All shot on good old fashioned film.
As the idea of “story” evolves to us, to the new generation, in ways that we really can’t even as yet comprehend, “Breaking Bad” gave a wonderful final BANG to an old friend. Just like Walt,
Film had one last hurrah. You can hear the cans of Camera Neg calling out from the Kodak factory, the Arri ST sitting on the shelf singing along in unison, all saying “Just get me onto the set. Please. Just get me there, load me up and let the mags roll, get me onto the set, and I’ll do the rest.” Well the same God that put Walt in for one last go around did the same for Film.
The medium hit the height of its perfection in the last 10 years, technically. What a way to go out. Walt, and Celluloid …. we’ll miss you guys.
Now shhhhh. If you thought Film missed you, don’t worry. Go to the fridge. Pull out that little can of 35mm. Open it up. You know what you’ll hear? If you listen very closely you’ll hear it say, “I did it for me.”