Roger Ebert posted the following to his Twitter account today:
The Tweet is a bit melodramatic, I went to the link he posted and it seems Kodak is not planning to drop production of all Black & White film stock, rather just the low speed Plus X Negative and Reversal in all gauges (35mm, 16mm and Super 8). Either way this is very sad news to me as Plus X is the first film stock I ever used and essentially the film with which I learned how to become a filmmaker.
When I began my 2nd year of film school at NYU I was taught on the 1st day how to load a dummy reel of 16mm reversal film into an Arri S 16mm MOS camera.
It took me over and hour to figure out how to load the fucker correctly. We stood around the basement of Tisch in groups of 4 with these cameras in our laps desperately and delicately slipping the film through the spools and around the little track and registration pin.
The second thing we were given was a voucher for a couple 400 foot spools of B&W reversal film. We were told we could either shoot Plus X or Tri X. Plus X was ‘good for outdoors and bright sunny days’ and Tri X was ‘good for everything else. Naturally Plus X had the finer grain and produced the more beautiful image but yet required more light. I chose the Plus X.
I shot a number of short films on Plus X, some of which are still circulating YouTube. This short film called The Vitamin C Theory became the official video for Dr. Octagon’s “Blue Flowers (Automator Remix) and somehow went viral years before YouTube even existed. Coincidentally it stars Ben Rekhi, the producer of my first feature Bomb the System.
One of the great things about the Arri S was that it shot slow motion. You literally turned a crank on the side to make the film run through the camera faster and the image came out slower (more frames per second = slower playback). Needless to say I loved the slow motion feature and I think it appeared in every one of my films. The drawback of the Arri S was it wasn’t a crystal sync camera so you had to shoot MOS. That made it ideal for music videos and silent films.
After shooting the film I took it down to a little hole in the wall place on 1st street between 1st and 2nd avenues called Pac Lab to have it processed. They’d turn it around in a couple days and I’d rush back to NYU to project it and see how it looked. There was a real nervous anticipation back then that no longer exists in the world of HD. Now when I shoot I can watch back immediately. Which I admit has its benefits. I remember the very first day shooting The Carter I went back into Lil Wayne’s bus and showed him all the best clips I’d shot that day. He was impressed and that immediately earned his trust.
After developing the Plus-X reversal (we weren’t allowed to shoot negative until halfway through the semester) I’d go into an edit room and cut the film on a Steenbeck flatbed film editing suite. And when I say I’d ‘cut the film’ I literally mean cutting with a razor blade and taping the edits together (you can see some of my splices in the short film above). The year I graduated NYU (2001) they sold all their Steenbecks and replaced every editing suite with an AVID non-linear computer editing system. Now I wonder if they’ve moved on entirely to Final Cut Pro. I work exclusively in Final Cut Pro now but I’m immensely grateful that I got a chance to learn how to cut on a Steenbeck, chopping Plus X film up with a razor and knowing (because it was reversal and not negative) I only got one chance. Every cut was permanent.
Two years later I shot one half of the split screen of my MF DOOM video for “Dead Bent” on Plus X 16mm Negative film. The image quality is cleaner and crisper than the reversal. 16mm reversal and negative produce beautiful and mysterious images, especially when projected. It sucks to see them go.
The argument is there’s no need for these film stocks anymore. You can create Black & White images in Final Cut Pro in 2 seconds. You can even do it on your iPhone with a free app. But every artist knows that’s bullshit. Artists rely on every tool at their disposal, no matter how archaic or outdated. It’s the process, not the outcome that matters most. There’s an incredible amount to be learned from shooting Black & White film. And for that reason alone Kodak should continue to sell B&W forever, at the very least in small quantities to artists and experimental filmmakers.