Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for...Xenon

Xenon is a gas.  It has many uses, but in my world, it's used to project film on screen.  You see, the lamp inside a film projector is a xenon arc lamp.  The light created by the arcing xenon is equivalent to midday sun, so easily bright enough to shine through celluloid and throw whatever image is printed on it onto a screen many meters away.

While xenon projectors are a whole lot safer than the earlier, carbon arc projectors (I'm old enough that I used carbon arcs in one of my early projection jobs.  Scary things.  Never want to do that again), there is still a risk of the lamps exploding.  Usually this only occurs if the lamp is handled badly or inserted incorrectly, but I have seen xenon lamps blow up for no particular reason.  It makes a huge mess inside the projector, and more often than not, shatters the mirror that focuses the light in the correct position.  It costs a lot to repair this kind of carnage, believe me...

With digital projection becoming the industry standard, the exploding xenon will become a thing of the past, much like the carbon arc projector and the super flammable nitrate film that was used in the early days of cinema.  While it is a relief not to have to deal with some of these hazards, I can't help feel sad about the demise of film and film projection as an art.

The cinema I run still runs its film through two projectors, switching between the two at the end of each reel.  The projectionist needs to know what they are doing and projection is both an art and a skill.  Projectionists at fully digital cinemas need to be computer geeks more than anything else, and projection is no more a skill than pushing buttons on a microwave.

There are definite benefits to digital.  It's cheaper to transport the films around the globe for one thing, and this has made it possible for studios to release films worldwide on the same day in every location which cuts down on piracy (supposedly).  Digital prints can't get those horrible green emulsion scratches flickering through them.  But there's something about film...  Real film, 35mm celluloid traveling past the xenon at 24 frames a second, that can't be replicated by digital.  It's a warmth, a depth of color and focus, a feel you just don't get on digital.  It may be the way of the future, but I'll always love film.

Do you have any thoughts about the 35mm vs digital revolution?


  1. Wow! Thanks for the tutorial! I've learned something new today! :D

  2. I certainly learned something new. I love my digital camera, but I crave bigger and better.