May 05, 2010

If I still have your attention… Save Plus-X!

If interested in helping to preserve all the currently available Kodak black & white motion-picture film stocks for use by artists and others, please sign this petition created by Alain LeTourneau and Pam Minty of 40 Frames.

I was very excited to discover that, due to my post from yesterday receiving an astonishing number of Tweets (including from some movers-and-shakers) it, and more importantly, the message it helped to convey, has spread far and wide—our cause has built momentum. An unfortunate vagueness in that piece, however, led some to believe that Kodak plans on ceasing sales of ALL black & white motion-picture film stocks. This, thank God, is NOT the case, but might rather be described as HALF the case — while their low speed Plus-X Negative and Reversal film stocks (in 35mm, 16mm, and Super-8 forms) are scheduled to be phased-out, their HIGH speed Negative and Reversal black & white stocks, Double-X and Tri-X, remain in production.

Plus-X is a low contrast film stock designed to be shot in situations in which there is a decent amount of light, whether sunlight or that provided by the high-wattage bulbs typically found in a studio. Analogous stocks were standard in the glory days of Hollywood, and used for all kinds of films: dramas, westerns, comedies, musicals—all the sublime genres and territories which made Hollywood back in the day so variegated, so infinite…  It is ironic, therefore, that Kodak, a company associated with a high-volume, big corporate ethos, has scheduled Plus-X for elimination, and retained the high speed, high contrast, and relatively large-grained Double-X and Tri-X, which, over the years, have proven more often the staples of low light, experimental, or at least low-budget productions.  Double-X and Tri-X are also fantastically beautiful stocks, in which, over the last eight-or-so years, I myself have shot roughly thirty hours of footage.  But I put it to you—is there any sense in there only being two black & white motion picture stocks manufactured in the United States, the center of international film production?

Eastman Kodak, like any other major American corporation, is a seeker of fads to exploit, rather than a nurturer of sustainable markets.  Like any other big business might find itself, it’s an addict of, and a victim of its own willful gigantism. Having failed to exploit its own invention of digital photography, Kodak in the 00’s began the attempt to find a new business model, and in its various thrashings about, has shown little regard for the diehards who love its products. There is still a decent and sustainable market for a wide variety of specialized film products, if only they’d give it the respect that millions, as well as billions, are due. The endless efforts to streamline company profiles, sustain corporate bureaucracies, and to seek immediate shareholder value, as opposed to long-term viability, have Eastman very much in their grip.  The end results are often disastrous for their aficionados.  An example: the discontinuance of Kodachrome, the greatest-ever color film stock, both in motion-picture and still photography formats. As sales began to slump, instead of paring back production, they ceased altogether. BUT—not one frame of Kodachrome motion-picture film went to a dumpster. Profoundly valued by its loyal fan base, every roll was snatched up—this proves that Kodachrome was still very much a highly, if not hugely, customer-desired item. The results of Kodak’s behavior are yet more examples of art suffering at the hands of commercial malpractice. Customers tired of this dance might take their business elsewhere: Fuji and ORWO also make very exciting black & white motion-picture films, albeit in forms different from the creamy, velvety, and justifiably cherished Plus-X…

Band together, sign the petition, and wake Kodak up from their corporate complacency!


Comments (1)

  • Timoleon Wilkins says:

    Brecht–Thank you so much for these pieces, more erudite and solid than any other current writing on the subject. I have been waking up each day since hearing the news in such a funk–very much akin to the grief after the death of a loved one–wondering how I can possibly go on and face making another film (and I am primarily a Color reversal shooter, though Plus-X was/is my medium of choice for B&W). It has occurred to me off-and-on since the mid-90’s that in the future, filmmakers may really have to become film MAKERS (ie, manufacturers), ala Lumiere or Edison, (though there will be plenty of left-over cameras to choose from)–this prospect, however, is no comfort, for there really is ‘no going back’ after a century of the luminous achievements of cinema (film stock, the unsung hero). Let us not forget the humble, even further unsung employees of Kodak (current and past) who actually care very much for what they do–American workers of ingenuity and utmost skill, who haven’t all (yet) been outsourced/eliminated, and even, heaven forbid, have health insurance.

    Really what I meant to write is: Don’t count on ORWO or FUJI to take up the slack left behind–unless they are listening, and have the wherewithal to make inroads into the American market, you will find these stocks virtually impossible to come by, if they even exist beyond rumor. I have no doubt that if they tried, Kodak would just take that as an excuse to axe all their B&W motion picture film.

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