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June 2, 2005

My Own Private Screening Room

Nick at Digital Poetics explains that he is "left cold" by watching movies on the web, adding that the experience is often solitary, quite unlike "public" theater screenings associated with going to the movies. Nick wonders about the "pleasures of web cinema," and implies that much is lost without the theatrical experience (and given how often I go to see movies on the big screen, I must have some affinity with Nick on this point). I also spent a fair amount of time thinking about these issues a few months ago when I was writing my media horror article (still in publication limbo), which seeks to trace out how these horror films narrativize the move towards home screenings. I think it's well worth asking how our viewing habits might be changing (although I still think it's too easy to blame computers for declining movie attendance).

Like Nick, I'm aware of the qualifications here. Moviegoing has changed considerably over teh last one hundred years. Plus, as Isabel Cristina Pinedo observes, darkened movie theaters are only "semipublic" spaces, with audience interaction often constrained by the spatial arrangement of seats as well as pre-movie requests for silence. I'd also note that watching movies distributed online doesn't preclude the possibility of watching them with an audience, as the grassroots distribution of Robert Greenwald's films implies, but of course, that's the exception, not the rule, but it does illustrate what I believe is a desire for some form of public participation or dialogue that isn't fulfilled by wtaching the same movies at home. Ernest Miller suggests that we "have to get video content on the internet off the computer screen and onto the big screen in the living room," but moving the screen from one room to another in the same house (or apartment) won't, by itself, sustain the public quality of moviegoing that I find so valuable.

There are other pleasures associated with web cinema. Nick observes that "watching a movie on the web lays bare its tricks," adding that a viewer can "easily click to another web page if I'm bored, or it loads too slowly, or the sound is bad." But in my experience, this is potentially one of the more interesting pleasures of web cinema (maybe not the slow download time). For me, there's still a certain amount of pleasure in watching a film online that exposes these glitches, in part because it makes me more aware of the craft that went into the making of the film, the fact that it was made, whereas most Hollywood films do their best to hide that very fact, at least in the initial theatrical experience. Encountering these "glitches" still gives me the sense of discovery, that I've found something that others haven't.

I do think that Nick is right to imply that certain aspects of the moviegoing experience as we know it now will soon appear to be historically contingent (let's hope that's the case for The Twenty), but of course, a blog entry is too small a space for me to speculate on this topic any further (plus I need to run to the post office before it closes).

Posted by chuck at June 2, 2005 2:47 PM

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I very much like what you say, Chuck, about the pleasures of discovering the "glitches" of web video---as you say, "the sense that I've found something that others haven't." This is one of the attractions, maybe, of microcinema. Your suggestion that certain movies--horror films and others--"narrativize the move toward home screenings" is intriguing. Perhaps the problem isn't that movies don't look good on micro screens, but that they are still made for the big screen, and don't translate well to smaller screens. I wonder of the next generation of filmmakers--at least those who make content for smaller screens--will make aesthetic choices about frame composition, pacing, length, etc. based on their awareness of the new medium that will distribute their content...?

Posted by: Nick at June 3, 2005 10:09 AM

Nick, you've articulated what I only implied. I think we will see filmmakers making films for microscreens (and that, to some extent, that practice alreay exists), their choices informed by the medium that will distribute their content.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 3, 2005 11:55 AM

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