Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Curse of Film

A Portion of my latest order from Freestyle

There's a show on TV about hoarding. I've never watched it, but I've seen the commercials for it. I'm pretty sure I don't have to see the show. I get the gist. It's about people who "collect" a lot of one kind of thing. They collect it in a desperate, maniacal fashion, and soon things gets to the point where it's obvious to others that there's a problem.

For example, I saw one commercial for the show that featured a woman who hoards cats. There's a shot of the woman standing in her kitchen surrounded by hundreds of meowing cats. It's obvious that things are out-of-square in her life.

I was accused of hoarding recently when a co-worker saw my freshly delivered Freestyle order of eight cans of 100' 35mm Arista Premium film. I felt a bit silly and afflicted as I tried to explain the how and why. There was pity in his eyes as I described the dwindling supply of film and the narrowing of film options by the film manufacturing greats, Kodak and Fuji.

"Well, supply is dwindling..." I began to explain.
"But you said film is not dead." He said.

He was referencing another conversation we had when I made that proclamation in reply to his accusation that I just couldn't let go of film. He had suggested that film was dead, and that I and everyone like me needed to let it go, let it die.

"If it's not dead, then what's the rush, why hoard the stuff?" he asked.
"I'm not hoarding." I said.
I checked the space behind me for cats.
"I'm stocking up." I added.

He was persistent, just like everyone else who seems to want the demise of film.

"So was there a sale on this stuff?" he asked, picking up one of the cans and examining the label with a disgusted look.
I relieved him of the offending object and placed it back in the stack with its brethren.

"No." I replied.
"Well, sort of.."

You see, it's been a worst kept secret amongst film photographers for some time now that Freestyle's Arista Premium films are actually rebranded and repackaged Kodak film. Specifically, Arista Premium 400 is allegedly Tri-X, and Premium 100 is supposedly Plus-X. Many swear by this. On a couple of forums, the tale has persisted about the friends of friends who have the ability to test and compare the emulsions of both the Arista films and Kodak films using "scientific methods".
From a post on RFF:
Arista Premium IS plus-x. There's no question it is, the film is American Made, has the same dev times as Plus-X and there were even a couple of chemists on APUG who tested the emulsion scientifically and determined it was chemically identical to plus-x. Arista Premium 400 is Tri-X and was verified the same way.
There's also the group who are out shooting and working with the film (including yours truly) and who have noted the similarity. If that's not enough, then Freestyle's shrouded message on their website about "a new partnership with a major film manufacturer" should get the ol' conspiracy juices flowing.

So assuming this is Kodak film rebranded, and comparing the prices of the film at Freesyle, one would be a fool not to at least pause before adding a can of Kodak Tri-X or Plux=X to one's cart. In both cases, Arista Premium by comparison is heavily discounted. For example, Premium 100 lists at $34.99, and Kodak Plus-X lists at $69.99 (!!!).

So, yes. It's kind of like getting the film "on sale".

"But that's the regular price." my co-worker deduced.
"Yup!" I announced proudly.
"Is the stuff being discontinued?" he asked.
"Going on a trip to some remote location?"
"Then you are hoarding!" he countered, as if announcing checkmate.

I had to make a quick decision. Would I allow myself to be pegged as a hoarder, or would I have to uncover my deep-seated fear that indeed I do envision a day when film would be clinically dead?

The cat lady appeared in my mind's eye with her parallelogram life of service to a one-hundred-headed meowing monster.

I hung my head. There was a way out. The truth was best.

"I acted on a rumor." I admitted.
"So, I stocked up."

On the same (previously mentioned) photo forum, a rumor popped up that Freestyle was about to show 'no stock' on their Arista Premium films. The word was that the company was selling Kodak back stock, and now, the back stock had run out. The supply listed was to be the last. Acting accordingly—as a panicky user would—I made the order for the eight cans of film. It was all I could afford at the time. Otherwise, I would probably have drained their supply and my bank account.

"Admit it." my co-worker insisted.
"Film is dead."

I'll never understand why this is so important to these people. What joy can they possible find from the demise of film? What joy can they find from the loss of pure magic? Have they never exposed and processed a roll of Tri-X in an elixir of D-76 or some other solvent developer? Have they never imagined the fizzing violence of the developer activity occurring on the microscopic level? Have they never pulled a freshly developed roll from a developing reel and held it up to the light? Have they never exposed a negative onto a piece of paper fat with silver and slid it into a tray of developer? Have they never seen the magic of the image appearing in the safety of a darkroom, and rushed a out into the light with a wet print glistening in a tray?

Have they seen a silver print hanging on a wall emitting a light of its own? Even barring all of that experience, have these people ever really looked at or held a strip of negatives in their hands and realized the preciousness.

What is wrong with these people?  I've come to the conclusion that this is proof that pure evil does exist. This bug-eyed enthusiastic anticipation for the demise of film is like a mad pack hunt for the last unicorn.

Yes, I fear for film. I fear for a time when Tri-X, Acros, Plus-X, and other films will be unavailable. We've already seen manufacturers such as Kodak and Fuji cut their lines to a select few film types, and it certainly feels as if they will be out of the business all together. There is much flux in the film manufacturing segment. Film is not dead, but the offerings will dwindle even further and the prices will increase. Those who wish to continue to use film will be able to do so, I feel certain of that. So, as I maintained in my conversation with my co-worker,

"Film is not dead." I said. "And, I am not a hoarder."

I don't have an affliction. It's more like a curse. You see, I'm of the generation that grew up in a film-only world. For me, for a while, film was all there was. I have that experience. I know the magic. I want the magic to continue, and I am guilty of panicing on that level alone.

I know people who have shot film and have left it completely to shoot digital. I also know those who shoot both film and digital (including yours truly). I know those who have left digital frustrated and returned to film, and I know newcomers to the craft who are discovering the film process for the first time (they are often film's most ardent supporters). There's digital, and I use it, but I will shoot film for as long as I can.

Long live film!