City Cinema and the end of 35mm

It’s a bad couple of weeks for analog here on Prince Edward Island: first Queen’s Printer stopped printing and then, on Sunday, City Cinema projected its last 35mm film. In both cases the enterprises continue — Queen’s Printer duplicates digitally now, and City Cinema projects digitally — but their analog technologies, more than 100 years old in both cases, are retiring.

City Cinema’s 35mm projector had a rather more honourable retirement than the offset presses up the road: the 7:15 showing of Cloudburst was followed by a Q&A with the film’s writer/director Thom Fitzgerald, producer Doug Pettigrew, and stars Ryan Doucette and Marlane O’Brien, and then a reception at The Haviland Club.

Many years ago I was substitute projectionist at City Cinema for a week, filling in for owner Derek Martin who was traveling. It was, without a doubt, the most harrowing job I’ve ever had: an exhausting film-winding-on-to-big-reels process at the beginning of the week followed by night after night of waiting for the projector bulb to burst or the film to split or some other calamity to befall the operation (as it happens the film did split, delaying the start of the second show by 30 minutes; 30 very stressful minutes).

As with letterpress (and even offset) printing, there was a physicality to film projection, an intimate relationship between person and machine, that is almost completely missing from the digital era. While it’s easy to be needlessly nostalgic about all this, the simple notion that someone is paying attention to the craft is something to give thought to: it’s so easy to be completely absent from a process where media gets created and distributed by pressing “Play” or “Print” on a machine, and I can’t help but think that has an effect on the result.

We’ve survived and thrived in the post-analog world of so many other media — all my TV streams into the house on the Internet now, I haven’t used an analog phone in years — so I expect we’ll survive this to. And this week will be one of the weeks we remember when we’re trying to remember the time before the bits took over.