Thursday, September 17, 2009

Best line I read today

From the GQ review (not online I don't think) of The Informant!, which looks great by the way:
Reversing the two mediums' original bailiwicks, TV is now awash in sophsticated storytelling, can-of-worms character motives, and provocative themes. But when America hits the multiplex, we want Transformers. The industry has only itself to blame for convincing a generation of moviegoers that that's all big screens are good for.
Maybe it is my age, or my general bias toward staying home, but I found myself asking: What are big screens good for?


candycanesammy said...


Dmnkly said...

I know that in typical fashion you're saying this to be provocative, but I'm going to answer nonetheless because I just can't help myself.

Watch Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen, then watch it on your TV, and you'll have your answer.

There's a special irreplaceable kind of gravity -- majesty, even -- that's purely a function of size.

Also, I can't speak for you, but I'm never fully immersed in a movie at home. When I'm at home watching a movie, I'm always conscious of the fact that I'm on my sofa and surrounded by my stuff. But when I step into that big, dark box (particularly when the theater is deserted, which I always shoot for), I'm only conscious of the film. I find it far, far easier to get lost and forget myself when I'm in a theater.

These are two very, very big things.

Rob said...

These are very true. There's a simple visual benefit, i.e. how things look on the screen (I think even widescreen TVs don't have same aspect ratio, right?), and there's also that big, fundamental difference in the relationship of audience and screen.

Let me also say that I'm not an extremely visually oriented person -- I like words and sounds more than pictures -- so I am sure this is one reason I don't value big screens as much as either of you two do. Not something I chose, I don't think, just the way it is. (Of course I do appreciate a beautiful shot, etc. -- I'm just speaking in relative terms.)

But let me ask you this. These qualities of majesty, gravity, immersion certainly seem to lend themselves most to "big" movies. Lawrence of Arabia! So is it not true that some smaller-in-scale movies lend themselves more readily to smaller screens?

The GQ critic seems to imply that it's not true. But he doesn't make an argument. I guess maybe the answer is just, greater immersion in the story.

Dmnkly said...

"But let me ask you this. These qualities of majesty, gravity, immersion certainly seem to lend themselves most to "big" movies. Lawrence of Arabia! So is it not true that some smaller-in-scale movies lend themselves more readily to smaller screens?"

Well, it's certainly true to some degree. I chose Lawrence of Arabia -- extra-wide ratio, big visuals, epic story, high drama -- for a reason. But this benefit is by no means limited to big, epic films and I'm inclined to believe that the scale is more meaningful for small, intimate films than most realize. Though there are many reasons, two specific ones spring to mind.

First, it's been said that for psychological reasons, drama works better when we're looking up at it and comedy looks better when we're looking down at it. I have no idea if there's any scientific truth to the claim, but I know that for me drama feels deeper, graver and more important on a big screen, even if the characters aren't epic, legendary figures set against an endless desert sky. Even if the story is told simply on the tortured face of an embattled protagonist, the drama feels more intense if you're engulfed by every detail of that 20 foot tall face.

Also, when it comes to quiet, dramatic "talkie" films, I think the big screen actually confers sort of a counterintuitive intimacy. When there are quiet, whispered dramatic exchanges, at home it's a discussion between those two people over there on the other side of the room. On the big screen, you can't help but be sucked into the conversation, as though you're seated between them.

A great example of the latter that springs to mind is the film Vanya on 42nd Street. It was a David Mamet adaptation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya (great screenplay -- not everything Mamet does involves con men and poetic profanity :-) that a number of well-known NYC stage actors performed from time to time for friends in their homes or around a dining room table. Louis Malle was invited to one of their performances, and insisted on filming it. So they went into this old, decrepit abandoned theater on 42nd street, set up a table and Malle shot their performance, simply working the camera around the table. It's a great film, and performances don't get any more intimate. And though I've watched it countless times at home, I think it has a lot more power on the big screen where you're sucked right into it.

Really, this just serves to remind me how much I miss film. I used to be a huge film nerd, and with the advent of the little ones, I pretty much stopped going to see movies in the theater. I've often asked myself why I don't take these years to watch more movies at home, but I guess I'm answering my own question.