The Fragility of Our Past


Title: Noir City 2016

The local movie theater is having a little film festival celebrating film noir. Over the next five or six days, it will be showing something like seventeen movies.  Not knowing what to expect, I went to the first movie.

These are all movies that were made in the 1940’s. I just checked the first movie and, sure enough, you can buy a DVD of it on Amazon for $9.99. Even with my member discount, it still cost me $10.

So, I really was expecting a sparse crowd. I was very wrong in that expectation. I arrived close to twenty minutes early and the theater (which really isn’t that small) was already filling up.

Up front, before the movie started, was a trio of musicians, wearing formal wear, playing 1940’s era music. There was a saxophone, a stand-up bass, and, believe it or not, a ukulele. It was quite the mood setter. And yes, there were a number of people wearing fedoras.

The director of the festival came up and spoke a few words. Apparently, the noir films are becoming a vanishing species. However, I later went and searched Amazon for the first three movies. All were available either to buy on DVD or to rent on Instant Video. What he meant was that they are becoming harder to find in their original 35 mm format. In many cases, there is only one print left and the movie studio refuses to release it because of potential damage to the film.

This reminds of the essay that I read about a group of odd ball collectors that were somewhat obsessively searching for long lost records of black blues singers. They would travel all over the country searching for records for which only a single copy existed. They would zealously hoard the records that they own.

In this essay, they listed a number of songs that were single record only. These are the rarest of the rare. I turned around, searched, and, in each case, was able to find it on iTunes.

Clearly, the collectors (and the director of the noir festival) would instantly stand up  and says it’s not the same. I see their point. I’m sure that there is some nuance or atmosphere that is lost even in the most accurate of analog to digital conversions.

For the purpose of legacy, it’s probably good enough. Especially for a non-connoisseur like myself, I’m probably not going to tell a lot of difference between a digital copy and the original analog.

It does beg the larger question. We’re saving everything to digital, and that’s fantastic from a storage and a cost perspective. However, is it really great from a longevity perspective? Sure, bits never wear out, but at some point, those bits are going to become unreadable. Does anyone really think that a hundred years from now, we’ll still be using Acrobat Reader to open documents?

That was the advantage of stone tablets. Yeah, not real efficient from storage or cost, but really good at longevity.

We have this problem at work. In some cases, I’ve worked on applications where the requirement is that the documentation must still be accessible eighty years from now. Eighty years! In the world of IT, that could easily be at least ten generations of software. What is the probability that software in the year 2100 is going to be backward compatible with data from 2016?

We already had files that were in the repository that were created on engineering workstations in the 1980’s. They were written in a weird proprietary technical documentation format that I believe one person still has the reader for. Something happens to that person, and it might as well be a lost language.

So, I’m changing my mind. Preserve the 35mm! It’s the only thing keeping us from anarchy!

And yes, I know that I started writing about a film festival and ended up ranting about data retention policies. So sue me. The film festival was really cool. I really enjoyed the first movie that I went to. It was called I Wake Up Screaming. It was early but very clearly noirish. Besides being a cool title, I have no idea how it was named. Several people were woken up unexpectedly, but no one screamed. One person was murdered but she was definitely wide awake when was murdered.

Regardless, still a cool title and an even cooler genre.




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