by Aleck Bennett,
Halloween has once again swept in, carrying along with it a nostalgia that evokes childhood memories of ghost stories, trick-or-treating, dressing like monsters or simply watching them on the screen. It’s the perfect time for projectionist extraordinaire Ben Ruder to team up with the Cinevision Screening Room to bring us Monsters in Black and White: a series of films celebrating not only the monsters of old, but the formats that brought them to us. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and DRACULA will be presented in gorgeous 35mm, and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON will screen in a restored Dolby Digital 3-D projection. All three will, of course, unspool on the screen in glorious black and white! Each screening will be introduced by a very special guest (check the Enjoy the Film website for up-to-date listings), but the night before Halloween will see Kool Kat Shane Morton, also known as, Ghost Host with the Most—Professor Morté of the Silver Scream Spookshow—materialize with a bevy of bloodsuckers to deliver Bela Lugosi in DRACULA!
Ben Ruder has been a constant fixture of Atlanta film screenings for close to a decade now. A former projectionist and manager at the Plaza Theatre, he now runs free 35mm screenings for Emory University’s Cinematheque (which sources its pristine prints from the UCLA Film & Television Archive) and hosts special film events at the Cinevision Screening Room through RuderMedia and Enjoy the Film. I recently asked him about this month’s film series, the importance of presentation, and the futures of both film and digital as media.
ATLRetro:Celebrating the 35mm format is certainly bucking the trend in Atlanta, with so many venues converting to digital projection. But at the same time, it’s a huge topic of conversation in the nationwide film community, especially this month with Quentin Tarantino‘s recent takeover of management of the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. What fuels your passion for the format, and your efforts to keep it alive?
Ben Ruder: I really enjoyed showing movies and running theaters in the mid ‘90s in St. Louis. When I returned to the world of movies in the mid-2000s, running film and then managing the Plaza Theatre for Jonny & Gayle Rej, the bug really stuck and I have been involved in it ever since. Both analog and digital formats have their place and it’s really the quality of the product and presentation that’s important. The film prints that were exhibited should still be seen if they can be done well, but for many reasons they no longer exist or the quality is bad. New prints happen on occasion, but are very expensive and rarely see much of a run. Movies can be accessed in countless forms these days, but they are really intended to be seen on a large screen with an audience.
On a related note, what are your thoughts on the push for digital archiving? There are currently a lot of back-and-forth talks between Kodak, Fujifilm and the major studios about keeping archival film in use, with the studios pushing for digital.
It’s extremely complicated, of course, and it comes down to business decisions as funds are limited. The US has produced so much great film art and puts so little behind the preservation of it in comparison to countries like France, Germany, Norway just to name a few. Here, a lot of the work is up to private organizations and institutes such as the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
What went into choosing which films you were going to showcase at these screenings? Were they personal choices, or technical ones?
These films were chosen because of the Halloween season, of course, but also because they have all screened in that room before and we know how amazing they look and sound. The presentations will be in a room designed for technical performance, and unfortunately mass audiences don’t get the showmanship or quality that they deserve in many venues. I want to show how much the presentation factors in to seeing a movie. The multiplexes are no longer filled with scratched & dirty film prints, but still can suffer from dim bulbs and misaligned 3-D equipment. The Dolby Digital 3D that will be shown is not seen in very many venues, but will really show off how well 3D can look when done right.
What do you think the future holds for film in the motion picture world? Do you see a developing backlash against digital or will film be largely relegated to repertory screenings and the like? Or do we face a future where digital becomes the accepted new format?
Digital is the accepted new format. I wouldn’t want to see a new action blockbuster on film that was shot and processed with digital in mind. Special films like the upcoming INTERSTELLAR 35mm & 70mm shows may lead the way for unique events. We just need to make sure that passionate and educated staff are taking care of the presentations and equipment.
I am working with the team at Cinevision on a four-feature series for January and we are seeking out groups that want to see all kind of genres on the big screen. Whether it’s horror, foreign, film noir, action or just titles that don’t get an Atlanta date. We want to show people movies in the best possible way and make each show special. During the winter months, I’ll be focusing efforts on producing a documentary series about the passionate exhibitors & preservationists that I love talking to and heading to Germany to interview some film veterans there. I can also be seen this fall up in the booth projecting 35mm at the free Emory University screenings.
So there you have it. Come out to the Cinevision Screening Room to catch three retro creature features the way they should be seen: on the screen, with an audience and with experts handling the projection for the best possible viewing experience. For a film geek like me, it’s a means of presentation that has yet to be bettered.
Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com
All photos courtesy of Ben Ruder and used with permission.