Sleeper Celluloid: Real Reviews of Fake Movies

A Review of Kodak: The Film

Director: Martin Scorsese; Narrator: Bill Cosby

(To see the official Kodak: The Film poster, click here.)

A week before the iconic film and camera company received the dire warning from Wall Street, threatening the delisting of its shares from the New York Stock Exchange, Kodak: The Film opened a limited run to a disappointing box office in select theaters in Los Angeles and Rochester, New York. The film, Kodak: The Film was filmed on what is thought to be the last remaining film stock of Kodak’s VISION3 200T Color Negative Film 5213/7213, a formulation the company had hoped would compete with the evolving and less expensive tape and digital recording formats. Found stored in what was once the RKO Radio Pictures Studio building in Culver City later purchased by Desilu Productions and now an independent post-production facility, the Kodak film of Kodak: The Film is iridescent and shockingly vivid in the visual and sonic information it conveys.

Kodak: The Film stars no one really but the material means of production of photographic reproduction—cameras, chemicals, emulsifiers, negatives, filters, film—exposed and not. Narrated by the comedian and educator Bill Cosby who was at one time the company’s commercial spokesman, Kodak: The Film might be thought of as a documentary docudrama hybrid. It is a 3-D, super-color-saturated version of March of the Penguins spiced with the 16mm coarsely grained b&w capitalist-socialist realistic propagandistic shorts made during the Cold War by the AFL-CIO called Industry on Parade.

Though these primogenitors suggest movement, what is most striking about Kodak: The Film is that it is a movie that does not move, shot, as it is, in a series of stills. The static motion technique of Kodak: The Film harkens back to the haunting 1962 film, La Jetee, by Chris Marker who acted, at ninety-two, as a consultant to Kodak: The Film’s director Martin Scorsese. The technique teaches the viewer, as the slide show slides by, the filmstrip nature of the film as the film is stripped of its essential illusion of movement. We are asked to appreciate the apparent invisible vibrant and constant nature of light itself, both wave and particle.

Kodak: The Film is itself haunting as it haunts itself, opening as it does with a photomontage of superimposed “found” images salvaged from dumpsters near photo processing labs where snapshots discarded by their owners were discarded. Thousands of pictures of random people posing (one after the other), waving, dissolving into pictures of people in costume—for Halloween, the prom, weddings, first communions—fading into one-hundred years of birthdays—the cakes on the tables, the air made madly solid by the spent candle smoke caught drifting, illuminated by Instamatic flash cubes that are themselves pictured flashing and turning and revealing, in the red afterglow of the flash, the picture after picture of people taking pictures of people taking pictures, the floating pinpoints of light coming to light on the contracted irises of red-eyed starry-eyed startled pets that bleeding into the overexposed nebula of nebulous social gatherings, graduations, gardens, grandstands, gratuitous sexual organs.

Kodak: The Film is a paean to point-of-view, to point-and-shoot as the camera pans and pulls, tracks and racks. One is submerged in this new sublime subliminal atmosphere of aperture and f-stop. The light here is a liquid ceaselessly flowing arranging itself in pixilated pixel patterns that sort themselves into image after image of images of images of actual water of light falling over the High Falls of the Genesee River in headwaters of the river of film, Rochester, NY.

Finally, there is finally no finality to Kodak: The Film. It is all collage and cutting. One jumps over the chasm of invisible darkness between the frames, the stutter steps over the stepping-stones, the endless loops, the speeds of stillness going nowhere fast. Kodak: The Film is the filmiest film school film filmed. Another section of the film highlights film leaders. It becomes a kind of film within a film film. A number of film leaders, their numbers counting down, lead to a film of numbers counting down. There is a poignant collection of hand-scratched changeover cue marks that promise reels of film that never arrive. The somber Kodak: The Film is both record and method of the annihilation of space and time before our eyes. It ends not as a consequence of consequence, nor through the machinations of plot or narrative of cause and effect or character drive or growth or change. Kodak: The Film ends in entropy; its final montage sequence pitted against our perceived notion of sequential time.

The movie’s whole and wholly on-message message has been this stunning relentless resistance. No beginning. No middle. No end. The final sequence consumes itself, a rapid-fire firing of the artifact of plastic time catching fire. Pictured are frames after frames of frames spontaneously combusting, melting, dissolving literally, evaporating, jammed and jellied, reduced and rendered, boiled and fried, warped and scorched, effaced, vaporized before your eyes. The sprocket holes gape open like the scream in The Scream. This goes on for hours. I mean for hours literally, in homage to Andy Warhol’s 1964 film Empire, the camera does not look away from this serial sizzling stasis. You are steeped in the banality of boredom, of the repeating images of images of time-lapsed explosion, implosion, of the deep breathing and frustrated sighing of Bill Cosby on the frayed and fraying sound-track. But you do not want to look away because (spoiler alert!) the next frozen image of decay might actually be the actual animation of Kodak: The Film’s self-destruction as all of the prints (and now there are so few left to see) are treated to ignite of their own volition, sooner or later, and disappear completely into volatile vapors and very little ash.

Michael Martone is a professor at the creative writing program at the University of Alabama, where he has been teaching since 1996. He is the author of more than a dozen books. His 2005 work, Michael Martone, is an investigation of form and autobiography. It was originally written as a series of contributor's notes for various publications. His literary forte is "false biographies." Martone attended Butler University and graduated from Indiana University. He holds a MA from the Writing Seminars of Johns Hopkins University. He has been a faculty member of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and has taught at Iowa State University, Harvard University, and Syracuse University.