This is an ode to cinema which seems silly to critically “review”. Presented in conjunction with The Tribeca Film Festival, director Christopher Kenneally’s Side by Side is not an entertaining documentary, but an informative and significant one on digital technology’s booming rise and film’s vicarious demise.
With the performance as a lifetime, co-producer Keanu Reeves plays himself as the amicable interviewer, speaking to various directors, cinematographers, colourist, actors and technological bods across the world about their thoughts on the technological debate. With names as diverse as digital devotee Steven Soderbergh to the celluloid stickler Christopher Nolan. it is often fascinating to see these industry hotshots speaking so nonchalantly about a subject they clearly hold so clearly to their heart, and art.
Neo is also on hand to be the omnipresent, stultifying narrator who turns the techie babble on camera advancements into layman’s English. With extensive archive footage, we see the significant changes in the film industry over the years: from Star Wards digital effects, to the Danish-led Dogme ’95 movement, right up to the highly contestable 3-D debacle. Although the examples may change, the questions always remain the same: what is better – digital or film, and what will both formats future’s hold? Although the interview-clip-interview sequencing just about holds our interest, Side by Side is neither nerdy enough for the semi-literate film buff, nor graspable for the novice. You’ll come away dazzled by the passionate chatting, but ostensibly at the expense of any discursive insight or education.
In it’s closing moments, Kenneally takes us into more sombre territory, causing the first emotive reaction in the audience for the entire documentary. With discussion on movie preservation, The Social Network’s David Fincher tells of the numerous VHS and Betamax originals he has of the music videos and ads he made when he was starting out a career as a wide-eyed filmmaker. Decades on, he now has no ability to play them back; the projection technology simply doesn’t function anymore. An industry that’s lost 90% of its silent films and which has consistently demonstrated a staggering lack of interest in its own history, with so much consideration on the future of moviemaking, one can’t help but feel depressed about the legacy that is being left neglected.
Side by Side is one hundred minutes of talking heads looking at the bickering matrimony between technology and art. The tussle between film vs. digital may be presented comprehensively, but it doesn’t make the presentation enjoyable.
Side by Side is available for streaming on Netflix, HULU & iTunes, with a limited UK release on Feb 15th, 2013.