Formal Aspects - a statement

story © Michael Betancourt, March 26, 1997 all rights reserved.


Formal aspects of the film material -- frame lines, tape splices, dirt, fingerprints etc. -- have been claimed by some filmmakers as the only way to make film “pure.” Often these arguments for purity proceed from the basic idea that the material of film, the base which supports the emulsion, is the basic aspect of what film is. Such arguments are based on the idea that the projection is separate from the film, separable from the film. But when we consider what it is that makes our experience of film different from sculpture or painting, we realize that this experience is based around the projection of a film and its development within the duration of that projection.

This is not to say that the material aspects of the filmstrip are not an inherent part of the experience of seeing a film. Quite the opposite. Simply that by placing the material aspects of the film above the way that a film develops within a specific duration. Films whose development is based entirely upon the material -- as we watch the film it gradually accumulated more and more dirt within the film field, for example -- do show us how a film ages as it is projected, and encourages us to think about the material aspects of film, but they tell us very little about the nature of the film experience; their focus is the material of the film rather than the experience of the material.

The physicality of the material is not the film, although it does have a very clear relationship to it. This 1:1 relationship between the material of the filmstrip and the film has led some to consider that the filmstrip is equivalent to the film itself because -- what could be more obvious -- any mark made on the filmstrip appears within the film. However, when we consider the filmstrip as such we immediately realize that it is not the film. It is transparent, not luminous. It is still, the film is in motion. It has a serial character to the images, while the film does not. The filmstrip is a template for the film, rather than the film itself; this is why any marks made to the strip will appear in the film, and their inclusion within a motion picture can connect to the development of the film itself.

When the material of the film intrudes into the projection it is generally recognized as “noise” since, under normal conditions it is “noise,” given the most common experience of watching a film projected. However, there are situations where this material “noise” becomes an important part of the development of the film as a whole, and that is when the film is using these material signifiers of its projection to assert its status as a film; that is, for self-reference.

Copyright © Michael Betancourt  March 26, 1997  all rights reserved.

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