fbpx Program 12 | Blind Date with Nitrate | George Eastman Museum

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Advance tickets recommended for nonmembers; click here to purchase tickets for future dates. Masks required in the Dryden Theatre.

Program 12 | Blind Date with Nitrate

Sunday, June 5, 2022, 4 p.m., Dryden Theatre

Blind Date with Nitrate

In Nitrate Picture Show tradition, this title will not be revealed until the screening begins. Full program notes will be distributed after the screening.

Every encounter with a film projected in a theater is a blind date of sorts, even if you are familiar with the cinematic work you are about to see. The size and makeup of the audience, its average age, the specific circumstances of each individual member—all this affects the screening, sometimes dramatically, making the film genuinely believable or ridiculous, boring or amusing. But so does the weather, the events that preceded the screening. How many of us have revisited a film that once impressed us and went out of the cinema utterly disappointed? That’s because we have changed, inevitably; the film hasn’t.

Or has it?

The screening of a film print, rather than a digital copy, is already a step toward the unknown. That’s where the projectionist’s performance becomes a key issue. Is the focus good, does the tension of the thread affect the quality of the sound, are the changeovers disturbingly noticeable? If the film is silent, what is the projection speed this time? A drama projected one-and-a-half times faster than intended turns into slapstick; a comedy watched at a slower pace may lose its humor completely—these things occur all the time.

If the print happens to be a vintage one (the new festival euphemism for old), that adds a new layer of unpredictability. How often do the splices swallow a punchline, perhaps even kill a dialogue? Could there be a whole scene missing? Do the scratches spoil the poetry of a romantic shot, or do they rather add something to it? Is this color scheme intended, or might it be a result of fading? 

The older the print, the more mysterious it gets. Once we reach the nitrate era, everything becomes a surprise. Strata of history could be excavated in such a screening. Was the missing shot eliminated by the censors, or excluded by the distributor, or simply cut by the projectionist whose girlfriend wanted an image of her favorite actor? Are the opening credits original, or were they remade to highlight an unknown debutante who woke up a star? If the seventy-year-old print is nearly pristine, does that mean that the film was not particularly successful? Or are we actually looking at the director’s cut, hidden from the producer?

Given the singularity of every screening, knowing the titles beforehand becomes irrelevant . . .

Or are we going too far?