Side By Side Review

Film Still
  • Side By Side film still


Keanu Reeves reveals his tech-bod alter ego as host of this frisky if unrevealing documentary on digital filmmaking.

You’d suspect that Keanu Reeves' Rolodex is the size of a ferris wheel on account of the wading phalanx of showbiz pals he coaxes out for Side By Side, his and Christopher Kenneally’s bitchy, tech-focused examination of film’s stuttering transition from a photochemical process to pixels captured on a light-sensitive panel.

Reeves himself is the Marty DiBergi of the piece, attempting to delicately prod and needle his subjects into revealing their innermost secrets about the uncertain future of the medium.

So we’ve got David Fincher swearing like a docker, Christopher Nolan swaddling himself in good old celluloid, George Lucas coming across like an old geezer who likes to tinker with toasters in his shed, Robert Rodriguez hungry to shoot quickly, cheaply and stylishly, and Martin Scorsese pointing out that a filmmaker’s work is all for naught if the cinema projectionist – the last person in the grand transaction of filmmaking – doesn’t do his job correctly.

It’s a particularly brusque Steven Soderbergh who utters the film’s best line: "When I first saw the Red One [digital camera], I wanted to call up film and tell it I’d met somebody."

The sense you get with Side By Side is that we’re seeing the soundbite-driven highlights of a much larger project, as the film hurtles from shooting to issues of practicality to colour correcting to processing to preservation and to exhibition while only scratching the surface of each vast topic.

Anne V Coates, instrumental in what many deem the greatest edit of all time (the 'match cut' in Lawrence Of Arabia) is propped in front of the camera and then hurriedly disposed of. Yet the star-spangled participants add a kind of bizarre sex appeal to the potentially grey proceedings, and Reeves does well to fold the testimonies of this diverse array of specialists into one another.

Yet the overall feeling is that highly paid, entitled filmmakers are desperate to make it look like they are in total control over the format in which they shoot. Danny Boyle claims that he and Anthony Dod Mantle would never have been able to make Slumdog Millionaire if shooting on film.

But you only have to think of something like The French Connection or Breathless or anything by Jean Rouch to wonder, why the hell not? The question of economics – the simple fact that shooting digitally is cheaper – is lightly touched upon, but really feels like the heart of this entire debate.

Ironically, the (digitally shot) film itself looks pretty dire, with lots of jarring film clips and interviews in which the subject is speaking but the camera is locked on the jovial, inquisitive Reeves. And then, as if placing two pencils up its nose then slamming its face into a desk, the film ends by (boldly?) undermining everything that’s come before it by having David Lynch rightly assert that, if the story’s good enough, people don’t care about format.

There’s something oddly self-defeating about structuring a series of intricate arguments and then idly reminding us that, in the end, if you’re not an industry nabob, none of this actually matters.

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