The Castro’s New Digital Projector

Note: I made a slight alteration to this post on June 30, at the request of a Castro employee.

The Castro has a new digital projector. I’m not talking about the kind you might use for conference presentations, then bring home to watch DVDs. I’m talking about the kind of big, 2K projector that’s becoming common in multiplexes.

You may have noticed, if you’ve perused their schedule, that they’re advertising their forthcoming five-day run of Up as being in “Disney Digital 3D.” This is the gadget (or more like “the behemoth”) that makes this possible.

Film purists will object—it’s not film, it doesn’t look like film. My take: If digital projection makes it cheaper in the future to keep classic titles in circulation, I’m willing to compromise.

The Castro is easily the most technically versatile theater in the area. It has two variable speed 35/70mm projectors, a Wurlitzer pipe organ, and Dolby, DTS, and magnetic sound. Digital just adds more versatility.

I asked programmer Event Producer/Coordinator Bill Longen if revival films are likely to be presented digitally. “For the time being they’ll be in 35mm, but eventually they will be digital, too.”

The 2K Christie DLP projector they have now is actually a loaner. The one they ordered—a newer model with a brighter light—is on backorder. But it will also be a Christie DLP projector. The movies come on hard drives that plug into a nearby computer.

And no, you can’t play DVDs or Blu-ray discs off this machine (which sort of surprised and disappointed me; I still want to see how Blu-ray looks on a really big screen). They’re keeping their older video projector for the assorted video formats they sometimes get for festival fare.

Here’s some of what I saw:

castroproj1

All three projectors. New digital projector in foreground.
Two 35/70mm film projectors in background.

castroproj2

Christie Digital Projector

castroproj3

Projector control panel
(sorry about the soft focus)

castroproj4

Part of the stack of computer stuff beside projector.
Now look closely at that blue screen near the bottom.

castroproj4a
That’s close enough.
It displays what the theater is licensed to play.

castroproj5

3D attachment mounted in front of lens.
This spins during 3D projection,
polarizing light in one orientation for frames intended for the right eye,
and in the opposite orientation for the left.

castroproj6

Older 3D
Controller for running two 35mm projectors in sync
for 50’s-style 3D

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3 Responses

  1. hi lincoln,

    i’m sure it’s no surprise to you that this film purist objects. and so, i think, do most people connected to the castro who aren’t bill longen. now, there’s nothing really wrong with showing UP this way since it’s a CG cartoon, but it doesn’t augur well for repertory at the castro, which is its meat and potatoes. i skipped the digital run of CRUISING there, as i will whatever else they show through this machine in the future.

    as for versatility, if memory serves, the position occupied by the new behemoth once housed 16mm capability. i wonder if this format is no longer supported? true, it hasn’t been used much lately, but the upcoming frameline festival has a program of classic avant-garde shorts in 16mm… and it isn’t showing at the castro.

    • If studios kept pristine 35mm prints of their entire library available for rent, and replaced these prints regularly, I’d agree. But economic reality states that that isn’t going to happen. A good 2K projector is therefore an acceptable alternative.

      Besides, just because a movie was meant to be shown on film doesn’t mean that watching it on film means you’re seeing it properly. 16mm isn’t 35, prints get scratched and torn, and print film technology changes. To watch a tinted silent film or a three-strip technicolor movie on an acetate Eastmancolor print is, arguably, as far from the original as digital projection.

      Shakespeare wrote Hamlet as a star vehicle for Richard Burbage. it’s been about 400 years since anyone has seen Burbage in the part, yet Hamlet is still a well-loved play. A great film can certainly survive changes in projection technology.

      It is too bad that they had to dump their 16mm projector. But I’d rather see 16mm at the Roxie anyway; the Castro is too big for that format.

      • the 16mm avant-garde shorts i mentioned were made in this gauge, as were (and still are) many ephemeral, homemade, and artists’ films. 16mm reductions of 35mm films are certainly not ideal, and eastmancolor (or what have you) ain’t technicolor. but they maintain the spirit of the original far better than does digital. and you better believe i am an advocate of technicolor’s return, unlikely as that prospect is.

        scratches, dirt, and other forms of print damage are regrettable but localized, and most importantly, preventable! rather than insisting on regular print replacement (which entails either excessive wear and tear on negatives or excessive generational loss), i would instead work to ensure that theaters not damage prints in the first place. penalties for such damage are rarely assessed, thus “economic reality” dictates that it happens all too often.

        if theaters, in sufficient numbers, insist on screening 35mm, studios will provide prints. and if enough viewers insist on watching film, it will be shown in theaters. we all have a say in the economic reality. we should aim for the best.

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