Slumdog Millionaire winning the Oscar for Cinematography last night is meaningful to me in two nerdy ways.
But mostly what I love about Slumdog winning is the clips played all throughout the Academy Awards ceremonies. Of course the awards show highlights only the most emotionally resonant moments of the film (there are so many to choose from, it is a magnificent movie). And those emotional moments, almost without exception, featured key shots captured at 12 frames per second (or less) and double-printed for a staccato, dreamy feel.
This is a scary time for people who love the way movies look. Technicians are proposing all kinds of ways to shore up what they see as film's deficiencies; 8K cameras, 48 and even 60 fps acquisition, 270 degree shutters, and 120Hz motion smoothing in televisions. People who should know better are being led to believe that more resolution, more funny glasses, and more frames-per-second will make movies better.
Any TV you buy today will probably have that infernal motion smoothing turned on by default, so that you can enjoy your favorite films re-imaged as if they were PBS specials from 1983. Nobody seems to remember that audiences wouldn't accept video frame rates in dramatic narrative entertainment. We didn't want our cinema to look like soap operas before 24p HD cameras, and we don't now.
I've avoided blogging about this issue mostly because I just have so damn much to say about it that I don't know where to start. But Slumdog gave me a simple way in by showing that, in the hands of a gifted filmmaker, half as many frames-per-second can mean double the emotional impact.
Not will, just can. You must have the story to tell, of course. And if you do, guess what the audience doesn't care about? "Judder," flicker, and wagon-wheels going backward. But strangely, they do seem to care that their movies look like movies, not plays.
So television engineers and home theater nerds with nothing better to do, please stop trying to find ways to make movies more like reality. As you can see from this year's cinematography Oscar winner, film is at its best when it is unmistakeably unreal.