[Review] – Side By Side

12 Sep

Title: Side By Side
Year: 2012
Director: Christopher Kenneally
Writer: Christopher Kenneally
Starring: Keanu Reeves, James Cameron, David Fincher, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Robert Rodriguez, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 99 min
IMDb Rating: 8.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Metacritic: 84

For a while now I’ve been hearing just the best of stuff from people who have seen Side By Side. That only made me want to see it more, since this already seemed like the sort of film I would be so deeply in love with. It’s a documentary for film geeks, basically, but also for anyone else who wants to get into one of the most heated debates in the industry nowadays: film vs. digital. It’s about the history, the process, the feel and differences that come between working with digital film and the good ol’ photochemical stuff.

That’s a subject I adore, because we’re getting to the point nowadays in which people are saying that film is dead and digital is the new standard, so hearing about it, about what’s so good about both of these technologies, about just where we’re at today and what seems to be the outcome of the future regarding this, was an absolute thrill to me. What made it all the more thrilling was the amount of people that were going to be featured in the interviews here; from Martin Scorsese to James Cameron to Christopher Nolan, Side By Side gathered a ridiculous slew of industry heavyweights to explain their takes on this incredible argument.

What may be most surprising about this film is that the guy that takes you on that journey through the history of film and how digital started a revolution in the medium a couple of decades ago is none other than Keanu Reeves, who served as a producer on the film. The guy who’s seen his stock decrease like crazy in the past few years, becoming the subject of an internet meme and just being thought of as rather cuckoo was elemental in getting some of the big names to take part in this film and is the one in front of them asking the questions. And he really does a fantastic job at it.

This really is the perfect kind of film for me and really for anyone who really loves film, the best documentary of the year so far, as you see this amazing slew of people, that not only include the big-name directors but also cinematographers, editors, colorists and other genius people getting into the specifics of their beloved craft. I mean, this was just heaven for a film junkie like me, seeing these people that I admire so much talking about what this change to digital will mean for movies in the long-run and hearing both sides of the story, with a master like David Lynch on one side defending digital and then another master like Christopher Nolan representing the other side of the coin, steadfast on preserving celluloid. It was just utterly fascinating.

This really is like a year of film school bottled up in less than 100 minutes, getting to hear all sides of the argument about how technology is changing the medium and hearing it from a symposium of dream professors. You get to hear from them as presented to you by Mr. Reeves, who proves not only charming but also very witty and informed in the questions he asks, and we get to see clips from movies shot on film and digitally and go into editing rooms and take a look at some awesome high-def cameras to help contextualize the discussion in the most perfect of ways. It’s really super easy to geek out over this one.

It really is a fascinating debate, by the way, and Side By Side does a great job at examining both sides of the coin. We get to hear a lot of why celluloid is so awesome, the tried-and-true method if you will, but then again, like with pretty much everything, the high-tech new stuff many times ends up being the winner. There’s of course so much going for digital, the fact that it’s more portable, more immediate, cheaper in many cases, and how it can allow you to really innovate with CGI and all these kinds of things. The film medium has always been about innovation, and the change from film to digital really is something as groundbreaking as the change from black-and-white to color.

Martin Scorsese has always been one of my three or four favorite directors, and that has to do not only with the fact that he’s an absolute master and produces legendary films every decade, but also because when you listen to him it’s so clear that he drools over his art. He’s long been a defender of the old-school mode, shooting in film and spearheading the most significant campaign in America on the preservation of film, but then last year he gave us Hugo (my favorite 2011 film), which was this 3D film shot digitally. It seemed appropriate that his first film shot digitally was one about Georges Méliès, one of the most ground-breaking visionaries in the history of film. It was as though he was saying that to him film was still king, and was celebrating it like crazy, while at the same time acknowledging the need to go forward and embrace the change.

Even if you don’t know much about this whole debate, even if you just like to see films as they’re given to you and leave it at that, you’ll no doubt be fascinated by this. It’s a documentary that really latches onto a revolution just as it’s happening, the sees both the people who are leading the change as well as the ones who hold the old stuff so dear to their hearts and feel that the change is sacrificing real artistry for the sake of convenience. It’s really geeky stuff that’s maybe a bit complex to understanding but director Christopher Keanneally and Mr. Reeves to a brilliant job at giving it to you straight and really enrich your understanding of the issue at hand.

As for me, I’m not entirely sure where I stand. I mean, I love film, everyone obviously does and it has this romantic feel to it that does seem to be being thrown overboard by those who opt for digital. But then you consider digital and the advances it provides and how, being used by the right people under the right circumstances, it really is bringing forth the future of filmmaking, allowing pretty much anyone with a voice an outlet to let it out. The change is inevitable, that’s why Mr. Scorsese is shooting digital now, but at least we have people like him, like David Fincher or Steven Soderbergh, who in their embracing of this new technology are giving the pointers needed to the technicians who develop it so that we can really get the best of what we need. As for Side By Side, if you love the art of cinema then this is essential viewing.

Grade: A

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