35mm Isn’t Dead Yet…

Austin TX 35mm Projection Booth-2015

The last thing I expect to see in a movie theater nowadays is a movie  projected on film, but that’s what happened this weekend, quite by chance. I’m still catching up with pictures I missed during my illness and went to see  Jurassic World at a second-run theater in Sherman Oaks, California. Imagine my surprise when there were no trailers, just a beat-up Pacific Theaters logo announcing their Feature Presentation followed by the movie itself. I had to pinch myself: this couldn’t be a digital presentation—it had to be on film. And it was.

There was a little damage to the print, and the sound levels varied from reel to reel—with some surround channels coming and going—but nothing detracted from my enjoyment of the movie, which I found very entertaining. 

When it was over I found a staff member who confirmed that all five screens at the Pacific Sherman Oaks 5 use 35mm projectors and mostly “they run fine,” he said with a smile. 

And why shouldn’t they? No one ever complained about the quality of 35mm except when prints were damaged or the projection bulb grew dim. I remember seeing prints that looked battered after just a week of wear from those platter machines that took the place of old-fashioned dual-system projectors. 

Philippe Noiret-Salvatore Cascio-Cinema Paradiso

But I never dreamed that I’d feel a pang of nostalgia seeing lines and splices as I did on Sunday. As for the absence of trailers, it occurs to me that perhaps the studios are no longer circulating them in 35mm.
Mind you, I’ve got no quarrel with digital projection; it works fine with movies new and old. I just don’t understand why the movie industry had to make 35mm obsolete in order to adopt the new technology.

Yet there are still signs of life. Laemmle Theaters is taking over the long-deserted Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills and is maintaining a 35mm machine there so it can screen vintage prints when the occasion arises.

And, of course, Quentin Tarantino has shot his eagerly-anticipated The Hateful Eight in Super Panavision, which has the folks at Boston Light & Sound scavenging parts to put as many 70mm projection systems together as possible for its premiere engagements. 

Meanwhile, I’m still screening short subjects from my 16mm collection at USC in my Thursday night class, where we show major new feature films, mostly in the digital format. It gives me pleasure and a sort of pride to keep the 16mm equipment humming, just for the heck of it. 

Yes, motion picture film is still alive; you just have to seek it out.


  1. CJ Hart says:

    Amazing that not once did you mention Kodak.

  2. Marv Newland says:

    Leonard, I have 16mm duplicates of a few Rocketship films. I would be happy to make them available to you. Send a snail mail address. Marv.

  3. George Read says:

    The last film I projected, after a 65 year career as a projectinist, was "Gone With The Wind, a complete roadshow version. That was last May. A sad feeling after I left the booth!

  4. Marla says:

    35mm forever!

  5. Nelson Lopes says:

    Easy to answer: it is more cheap on every level.

    You can automate projections and distribution is a lot easier and cheaper.
    Imagine the difference between doing a film print for each room, that is heavy and expensive, comparing to copying a film to an hard drive that you can ship for $30.

    On many projection rooms, you don’t have room to keep the digital and the film projector. Even when you have, you can’t keep both on optimal position. The film one eventually is removed to that the digital can be were it needs to be: the center.

    That’s it.

  6. ALAN APERLO says:


  7. Eric says:

    Great news, Leonard! One small (very large?) correction to your blog is that THE HATEFUL EIGHT was shot in Ultra Panavision, which is anamorphic 70mm. The widest projection format of all (2.76:1 aspect ratio vs 2.21:1 for Super Panavision).

  8. Peter says:

    Many of the few remaining drive-ins have had to close because they could not afford the switch to digital. Studios would not send them film prints anymore.

  9. Paul says:

    All of the hue and cry over the evolution of film projection is just pure nostalgia. We cried over compact discs and analog television too. Does anyone really miss snowy UHF reception just because it was where you first saw an Abbott & Cosrello film?

  10. Buck says:

    This is fantastic!! I miss seeing film so much. It has a depth and warmth and even life that digital just can’t match. Digital was truly a downgrade. The resolution is hardly better than a home TV.

  11. Dave Kirwan says:

    Yup! Something about film on film! The members of our local Sons of the Desert tent still demand that at least half our shows are courtesy of 16mm presentation!

  12. mike schlesinger says:

    You were lucky. Every single time I went to that five-plex, I had to go out and complain that the film was out of focus, out of frame, wrong lens, wrong masking, no sound, ad infinitum. The break finally came when I went to see THE CROODS. It was so out of focus that I couldn’t even read the credits. I went to complain, as always, and a few minutes later, having seen no racking of focus, I went out and complained again. (I was the only one in the theatre. Wonder why.) The manager snottily told me that that was "the best we can do." I told him he hadn’t even tried, and it was patently obvious that the ‘Scope lens was not flush up against the prime lens. He said he didn’t know anything about that, but that he would give me a pass if I was dissatisfied. I told him to save his pass, because I was never setting foot in the place again until they switched to digital, a vow I have maintained, even though it’s the closest theatre to my home. I went to Burbank and saw the film there and it was perfect. 35mm is fine when handled by professionals, but the clowns at the SO5 do not fit even remotely into that category.

  13. Karen Colizzi Noonan says:

    Kudos to the Sherman Oaks theater for keeping the faith. Long Live 35mm!

  14. Norm says:

    Somehow the flicker of a film is like a heartbeat will still need updating for digital projectors, how about that for a LM class assignment…After digital, then what…

  15. Karen Snow says:

    HURRAH FOR 35MM ! May the platters keep on hummin’ along !!

  16. Constantine Santas says:

    Great to hear that, Leonard. I have missed the burr of the projector, which I’ve been hearing since, well … 1935!

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