Thursday, January 23, 2003

The silver screen
There was a time when I used to go to movies regularly. A number of things conspired to get me out of the habit.

I used to take Evenings Off (or, actually, late-afternoons off) and go to discount matinees. But when my hobby came to consume an evening every week, and the kids came along to take most of the rest, I lost that time to myself.

I used to work in a movie theater. I thought that would be heaven. Nothing can put you off going to a movie like working there. I saw the first and last 15 minutes of E. T. dozens of times. I mounted the film on the platters they use for projectors nowadays: I hated that. It eliminated the need to synchronize multiple projectors, but it also produced an explosion of splice marks at each reel transition. And not only was this esthetically unpleasing to me, but I was responsible for it.

Plus I made popcorn and mopped up spilled "golden seasoning", whatever that was. We all pretended it was butter, but we knew it wasn't.

Then, yes, affordable home video came along. For the price of going to a movie, I could own a copy and watch it at home. DVD was the final nail in that coffin: The picture at home is actually better than anything I can see at the theater. I saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in a theater... and I was horrified! The film grain is enormous. (When this isn't obvious, it's because it's out of focus.) The image was so contrasty as to be almost posterized. The music's too loud and the dialogue is too soft.

And I really resent paying good money to see commercials on a 50-foot screen. Raise the ticket price if you must, but it's them or me, Regal, them or me.

And cinematography has gone to hell. Television standards have taken over. Fast cuts and close-ups look fine on a 26-inch screen: In the theater, when Potter's knitted brows fill your field of vision, it's like being beaten with a blunt instrument. Come on, guys, I don't need to count nose hairs. Close-ups are for subtleties of expression: Tell your stories with medium shots. I need to see context, location, ambiance.

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