Monday, June 26, 2006

Theater vs. Home

Here’s something that’s been on my mind lately: making an inventory of the nuances of difference between the theatrical and home video movie-watching experiences.

It is of course a happy truism that watching a movie in a theater is the inarguably ideal way to experience it. For a movie-lover, the theater is a sort of temple, and the experience touched with religiosity. You look up in hushed awe at the screen—in contrast, you look down at a TV screen, as Godard once noted—and the darkness dispatches all distraction, leaving only the light and sound emanating from the screen.

And then there’s the enveloping scale of the image, which you can regulate in relative terms by sitting closer or farther away from the screen. Cinephiles often have their favorite rows and vantage points (when I’m alone: usually fourth or fifth row center; when I’m with others: based upon a process of grumbling and negotiation). Most of all, you relinquish control over the movie by submitting to its (unbroken and continuous) terms, accepting its rules of temporality.

And yet, and yet….there’s a part of me that sees this hushed, worshipful submission to the terms dictated by the work of art as….a tad stifling. Here’s one thing I believe with all my heart: art is meant for use. For use in our daily lives, to be incorporated and integrated into the very fiber and fabric of our quotidian existence. Home viewing can allow this to happen in slightly unique and different ways from theatrical viewing.

I like the “impurity” of the home video experience—the way you can enter the work in new, unfamiliar and changeable ways, interactively, both as a whole and in fragments, disrupting unity and linearity, developing an intimacy with it, committing aspects of it to memory, and thus making use of the work and making it part of yourself in fresh ways.

I’m reminded of the memorable opening passage of Calvin Tomkins’ 1965 book, The Bride And The Bachelors: Five Masters Of The Avant-Garde:

One day in 1957, speaking as a "mere artist" before a learned seminar on contemporary aesthetics in Houston, Texas, Marcel Duchamp proposed a somewhat surprising definition of the spectator’s role in that mysterious process known as the creative act. The artist, Duchamp said, is a "mediumistic being" who does not really know what he is doing or why he is doing it. It is the spectator who, through a kind of "inner osmosis," deciphers and interprets the work’s inner qualifications, relates them to the external world, and thus completes the creative cycle. The spectator’s contribution is consequently equal in importance to the artist’s, and perhaps in the long run even greater, for, as Duchamp remarked in another context, "it is posterity that makes the masterpiece." Like so many of the ideas put forward by Duchamp, who has for years been the most enigmatic presence in contemporary art, this theory tends to make a great many artists uncomfortable. Artists, as a rule, do not like to think of themselves as mediumistic beings who blindly perform only one part of the creative act, and their attitude toward the spectator is not always one of respectful collaboration.

Much as the theatrical viewing experience richly allows this collaboration to take place, I think that home viewing, by giving the spectator a certain degree of control, can make available alternative avenues and opportunites. Even before the age of home viewing, this mode of watching films was not entirely unknown. Jonathan Rosenbaum writes in his essay on Manny Farber:

Discontinuous viewing was [Farber’s] way of watching a movie, a method he shared with Godard; if a movie he liked such as Ordet was being shown several times in the campus screening room over a given week, he’d turn up each time for a different reel or two—or maybe even for the same reels, whatever happened to be on.

Sometimes, I even imagine the possibilities of software that will allow us to make “mixtapes” of shots and sequences on DVD, assembled together in some personally designed order. Or alternatively, watch a mixtape DVD on “shuffle” to set off new resonances and make unexpected connections.

There is nothing I love more than a theatrical screening, but the fact that I live in a smaller city forces me to look extra-eagerly to exploiting the capabilities of the DVD format. Watching movies in a theater is a big deal for me. There are no repertory theaters in Buffalo, and so the theatrical experience becomes part of a larger project of careful planning, road trips, and anticipatory preparation like reading. I cherish these experiences—they are real "events"—but for me they are limited to only a couple (or at most, a few) times a month. The rest of the time, what I have available to me is DVD/video.

Now I’d like to ask you: What your ideas on the subject? Your signal theatrical experiences and memories if you want to share any? The benefits and drawbacks of how we watch movies? How do movies affect you, or stay with you, any differently in the theater than at home? Are there certain kinds of cinema better suited to theater, or to home? In what ways does home viewing compromise the work, or attenuate it? In terms of production of critical thought on movies, how do these two viewing environments differ? How is film criticism enhanced—or hampered—by widespread reliance on DVD? And any other aspects of theater vs. home that you'd like to bring up or chat about.

* * *

I’d like to send a shout-out to Jen Macmillan at Invisible Cinema and her Leonard Cohen blog-a-thon. What I’m bringing to her party is a small cooler containing mp3’s:

  • I like Cohen’s music a lot, but I have a special—perhaps heretical!—weakness for the period that begins in 1987, when he (1) discovered synthesizers, and (2) dropped his singing voice to the bottom of the ocean into the bass register. “Everybody Knows” is off the album I’m Your Man, and I will always remember it from the disturbing strip club scene with Mia Kirshner in schoolgirl uniform in Atom Egoyan’s Exotica. Off The Future, here is the title tune, and “Waiting For A Miracle”.

  • I’m a big fan of the Detroit duo Was (Not Was) who made several eclectic records in the late 80s/early 90s. Neither of them—Don or David Was—was comfortable with his own voice, so they wrote twisted ditties for famous guest vocalists to sing. (I’ll be doing a full entry of these warped match-ups soon.) On the record Are You Okay?, here’s Leonard Cohen singing (or should I say rapping?) a mighty strange tune called “Elvis’s Roll Royce”.

  • Jennifer Warnes made a Leonard Cohen cover record in 1986 called Famous Blue Raincoat. The best tune on it is the opener, “First We Take Manhattan”. I have fond memories of buying this on vinyl and discovering that it was the best-sounding LP I had ever heard: the immaculate recording and mastering; the clear shiny arrangements; and a delicious snare drum thwack! that leaps right off the wax. (You’ll see what I mean when you hear the tune.) The little vinyl snob in me still thinks that the LP sounds a tad better—warmer—but the CD sounds really great too. The highlight of the tune: fantastic lead guitar intro, fills and solo by a then-little-known session player, Stevie Ray Vaughan.


Anonymous Michael said...

Girish, first of all, let me say that I, too, was once very fond of that Jennifer Warnes album -- like you, I bought it on LP and thought it sounded just great (engineering-wise). I think I bought it to hear "Bird on a Wire," but ended up liking "We'll Take Manhattan" just as much.

Regarding your main subject -- the differences between home and theater viewing. I've been thinking much about this lately, especially in regard after watching Malick's The New World, which I only saw on DVD. Dave Kehr pointed out that the film doesn't quite work on the small screen, and I think that many cinephiles would say that, yes, films -- especially widescreen films -- don't have the same visual impact on a TV screen due to the sheer difference in the size of the image.

But this had me thinking about something Sontag once alluded to, just tangentially, in (if I recall correctly) her essay on the decay of cinema. With home video, with DVD, the difference is not just visual or technological (the way we tend to think of it), but it's phenomenological. That is, the emotional, psychological, visceral, and existential experience of the cinema is minimized, perhaps even lost, when we go from the theater to the small screen. Cinema is an immersive experience, and when we immerse ourselves in it -- when we become overwhelmed by the size of the images, by the atmosphere of the public theater -- cinema becomes transformative.

I don't necessarily agree with this, nor do I think it is true all the time, but I think there's something to it, at least at a philosophical level if not an experiential one. I know, for example, that my experience of Cronenberg's A History of Violence was different once I saw it on a small screen. In the theater, not only was the film more visceral, but I think its meanings were much more immediate and transgressive. When I saw the film several months later at home, the impact was greatly diminished. At first, I thought perhaps this was due to the fact that I had seen it before. But then I thought, no, I was much less immersed in it. I think its subversive qualities, the way it up-ends its genre as well as our notions about violence and the family, were "compacted," as it were, on the small screen.

Funny thing is, watching The New World only at home, it was a transformative experience, especially during the film's second half. From this, I can't quite come up with a theory for the difference between this experience and that of watching A History of Violence; though I do wonder just how much more transformative The New World would have been had I seen it in a theater.

At any rate, I'm going on far too long here, but let me close with this: the advent of DVD is really a god-send, even if Sontag is right. Without DVD, it would be nearly impossible to feed our cinephilia and to experience a wide range of film that I think can transform us, even on the small screen, if we participate in at every level. I think the phenomenological difference is still there, but it is a difference of degree, not of kind.

June 26, 2006 1:48 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Good subject, G, though I'm wondering if we're on the same planet.

"For a movie-lover, the theater is a sort of temple, and the experience touched with religiosity. You look up in hushed awe at the screen..."

Even at the bourgeois cinematheques I used to frequent in Manhattan (as well as Long Island's New Community Cinema), audiences were -- as early as the late '80s -- getting a little slovenly as far as their social skills were concerned.

The screwheads jabbering on their cell phones (an idiotic invention beyond my sphere) are, at the very least, open game. I stopped going to the movies once my "better half" expressed concern over my packing a loaded .38 to the theater. Anyone who conducts business or personal matters loud enough for all to hear shouldn't be dealt with subtly.

One of the last times I went to the movies was at Lincoln Center to see "Swimming Pool" when some tony couple emerged from the previous show and revealed the plot loud enough for all of us to hear. Ten bucks admission down the drain -- I sat there for 90 minutes thinking back on what they'd said instead of keeping my attention on the screen.

During "Lost in Translation" I found myself stuck in a full house with a wheezing asthmatic behind me. Had there been a bridge handy, I wouldn't be alive today to tell the tale. (Meanwhile, I could've bought the DVD for less than it cost for the two of us to go to see that piece of shit.)

Throughout the '70s I used to go to the movies about three times a week, sometimes more. Neighborhood screens, revival houses, museums, film societies -- for the most part, the people in all of those places looked at the screen in hushed awe. It was a different world. People knew how to behave in public.

It simply isn't that way any longer.

June 26, 2006 1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing that most theatre-vs-home viewing discussions (especially the more heavily pro-theatre ones) conveniently leave out is that the only reason movie theatres were ever around in the first place was because they were absolutely necessary if the film was to be seen by more than a couple of people. Big screens, I'm convinced, were merely a result of larger-capacity theatres, which themselves probably only came about from repeated warnings from the fire marshall regarding the maximum occupancy of a ten-by-ten room with only one exit.

Home theatres are nothing new, though. Feature films have been commercially available for home viewing for many decades. Every filthy rich bastard had a world-class viewing room in his mansion, and even the middle class could afford the crappier equivalents. Searching eBay for "Super8" will get you, among other things, reels upon reels of The Three Stooges and Mickey Mouse. But only recently (this past decade) has the home version become better quality than the original theatre version, both visually and aurally.

It is now, rather unfortunately I must admit, no longer necessary to shake my wallet empty and be herded into a dank, sticky pen to have the pleasure of sitting in gum and straining to hear dialogue over incessant corn-munching and whispered explanations of jokes; to find out just how long I can last before my bladder explodes from that fifteen-dollar, four gallon bucket of Small Diet Pepsi that I was happy to hear could be refilled for free. Damn you, technology!

It is odd that people are no longer flocking to worship the silver screen when the churches are more packed than ever. Oh. Nevermind.

Of course, the price of a decent home theatre, with the high-definition plasma widescreen and full surround sound, still keeps real home viewing limited to the filthy rich bastards.

June 26, 2006 2:04 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

Nice eye!

Thanks for all of these songs, G. We cannot have a Leonard Cohen blog-a-thon without music! I will listen to these later when I can really focus on them.

Theater vs. Home is an intriguing post. I love the description of Duchamp's perspective on the artist/medium! I think that the roles of spectator or reader (my other favorite) are all too undervalued. Maybe experiencing anything as profoundly as possible is a creative process?

The center is everywhere! All of us have to make the most of what is available to us, and if renting movies to watch at home or seeing movies on-line are the main options, then work that.

Personally, I really prefer seeing experimental film in a theater. It's a workout for me! I go to actively experience the cinema . . . so maybe it is a state of mind as well . . .

June 26, 2006 2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously though, there are neat things about big screen viewing that I do enjoy. The way it's sometimes necessary to turn my head from one character to another, for example, makes me feel like I'm there participating in the conversation; I like noticing those little black ovals and anticipating the faded scratchiness of the next reel; I like seeing strangers' reactions to certain parts of certain films (old ladies can be especially surprising).

June 26, 2006 2:13 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Michael, I think the immersive, transformative nature of the theatrical experience is irreplaceable and precious. I believe that 100%.

You make several great points. Thank you.

I just wanted to add: I did not mean for my post to lean one way more than the other. The theatrical experience is richer and cannot be duplicated or matched at home; but there are also certain useful opportunities that home viewing provides, and I'm glad for them.

This was my own (intended) position, vague though it may have seemed in its emergence from the post!

Flickhead, you're absolutely right. It is courting annoyance (if not outright anger) to go the first-run movies today. I always pick the days and times so that there will be fewest people in the audience. (So much for celebrating movies as a communal experience.)

But the two theaters I tend to frequent the most for older films are the Toronto Cinematheque and George Eastman House in Rochester, and they both have strict rules about talking, cell phones, etc. I love how groups of people will turn around and hiss viciously if people are too loud or if the phone rings! Group enforcement of group norms, gotta love it.

But it certainly is a different world in a movie theater today than it was a couple of decades ago.

Expostulatron ~ Thanks for the comments; and may I compliment you on your awesome moniker?

J. ~ Thanks for inviting me to your Leonard Cohen party!

June 26, 2006 2:28 PM  
Blogger girish said...

About seeing movies in theaters:

--I find I remember movies much better when I've seen them in a theater.

--Sometimes (as I might've mentioned before), the cinema of a certain director doesn't fall into place and make sense for me unless I see films by the filmmaker on the big screen. This has happened time again for me, most crucially with: Bresson, Hawks, Fritz Lang, Max Ophuls, Sokurov, Sembene, and Olmi. (I'm sure there are others I can't think of right now.)

--I like the way being in a movie theater actively focuses your concentration. It's simply harder to will yourself into that kind of unbroken and intense concentration during a home video viewing. I mean, theoretically you can do it, but practically it's really hard. It really helps to have that control (over pausing, letting your attention waver, being distracted, etc) taken away from you in the movie theater.

June 26, 2006 2:40 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Whenever I stumble into this discussion, I think first about the one and only time I saw 2001 projected in 70mm onto a cinerama-sized screen. I'll get to my great love of home theater in a second, but I always have to start with 2001, because, although I'd seen it 15 or 20 times before on variously sized TVs, that afternoon at the Uptown Theater in D.C., I swear I saw a different film. It was a categorically different experience, though I'd be hard-pressed to name those categories. It's not unlike the difference between looking at Raphael's cartoons in a book as opposed to staring up at them in person.

During that one week in September every year (TIFF), I see more films in a theater than in the other 51 weeks combined. Partly, that's because Knoxville has only one decent theater, but, truth be told, I often skip even the best films that play here. (Most recently, I missed L'Enfant during its one-week run.)

I've been spending my allowance on music and movie technology since I was 12. When I was twenty, I had a HiFi VCR, a 20" TV, and a Dolby ProLogic receiver. When I was twenty-six, I upgraded to a 27" TV, a DVD player (in January '98), and 5.1 sound. Now, at 34, I'm fortunate to have a 100" home projection system and 7.1 sound. With each upgrade I get closer and closer to recreating that 2001 experience.

When I do go to the theater, I'm always always agitated by the time the film begins. The barrage of pre-film advertisements, the obnoxious, seizure-inducing trailers, and the cellphone-gabbing, dumb-joke-guffawing, nacho-cheese-breathing morons who surround me on all sides -- they all make my crazy, I tell. ;)

I look forward to TIFF every year for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones is that it turns the theater experience into something reverential. The crowds, even at their worst, evidence a real love of cinema. In my day-to-day life, I have to go online to find a film community. It's like a glimpse of heaven to get to experience that face-to-face every now and then.

June 26, 2006 2:48 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Nicely put, Darren!

Yes, TIFF is my great theater fix of the year as well, and the week of the year I look forward to the most.

I have a horrible nightmarish feeling every year that it's the one week of the year I'll get the flu and miss the festival. I mentioned that once to Doug, and he said, horrified, equally superstitious, and perfectly serious, "Oh my god, don't say that. Or it'll come true...!"

June 26, 2006 2:56 PM  
Blogger That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

I've got to side with Flickhead on this one. I still go to the movies, but what annoys me even more than the jabbering cellphoners is the poor projection. Quite frankly, with the exception of a few movies (MOULIN ROUGE, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, KING KONG) that just don't translate on a smaller screen, I've never felt any emotional/appreciative/immersive loss in watching movies on my computer screen or even on a tiny portable DVD player. I know they're made to play on a big screen, but DVD really does give you in most cases a clearer, crisper image and a better sense of what the filmmaker intended than you get in most commercial theaters. Of course, if you're seeing movies at a film fest or an Eastman House or the time I saw CITY LIGHTS performed with an orchestra, yes, those experiences capture that communal feeling. But the everyday experience of going to the movies, between the projection, the audiences and the ridiculous price of popcorn, it's lost the magic for me. I only go when I'm bored and the family's out of town, or if it's a big blockbuster I feel I need to see on a big screen. I totally appreciate your opposite view, but I feel I can get more easily lost in the mystical qualities of film sitting on my bed with my laptop and earphones. Or in a theater where there aren't a lot of poeple. Of course, maybe I'm just gettin' old...


I wanted to blog on Cohen, but ran out of time. I love so many of his songs, but I still come back to THE STRANGER SONG. Watching MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, I realized that much of the "immersive mood" you get from the very beginning of the film is due to the qualities of Cohen's song. The hypnotic rhythm of the guitar strumming, the coal-cellar sound of his voice, and the way the lyrics hook up with the character of McCabe — "He was just some Joseph looking for a manger, he was just some Joseph looking for a manger." And I love the line about "the smoke curling like a finger above your shoulder" (I may be misquoting that some), but it's such a purely written description that you can visualize as well as hear. Cohen is a genius.

OK, back to work!

June 26, 2006 5:37 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

DJ G, I've listened to the mp3s!

I love "Everybody Knows" and "Waiting for a Miracle." These songs seem so subtle & beautiful. I am embracing the synthesizers now . . .

"First We Take Manhattan" is one of those songs that I would rather read. I don't think that it needs any music. In both Leonard's version and this one by Jennifer Warnes, the music seems so overpowering. People need to chill out on the music for this song - in my opinion. :)

"Elvis's Rolls Royce" is truly out there. I have never heard this before . . .

Good job! I'm really overwhelmed by all the Leonard Cohen right now! He's not an easy one to figure out . . .

June 26, 2006 5:47 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

As ever, Girish, a thought-provoking post, the subject of which has repeatedly been rearing its head in the past year or so. I have come to the conclusion that this is not an either/or proposition, or shouldn't be at least. There's a place for the shared ritual of cinema in the movie house and the usage of cinema on a home entertainment system.

For example, a friend of mine--Cathleen Rountree--has just published a book on the social expression of film clubs that gather in homes to view select films and to complement those films with thematically-appended menus. That's a sociality that I feel is important to the ritual purpose of cinema.

That being said, I love to watch dvds at home because I can approach them like I would a book. I can return easily to favorite scenes. Rewatch what I didn't quite catch, etc., etc. But, without question, if I have seen a film on dvd that I really like a lot, the next life of that film is to see it on a big screen. Ultimately, I always want to see it on a big screen. At Frameline 30 I watched "Two Drifters" on screener first. I loved it. And I knew absolutely had to see it a second time on the big screen at the Castro and I was so glad I followed through because the movie was lustrous beyond the capabilities of my home entertainment system.

This theme also came up in B. Ruby Rich's keynote address for Frameline's Peristent Vision Conference, albeit inflected into a slightly variant position, when she suggested the role of film festival attendance as a necessary part of community building.

As for the Cohen blogathon, your mp3 cooler is a real delight, Girish. I thank you so much.

June 26, 2006 8:14 PM  
Blogger Doug said... you've put the omen in print, too! ;)

Roger Ebert, of all people, has actually written some informative comparisons between the theatrical experience and home video. One that has always stuck with me is that the visual mechanism in both forms is radicallly different--films are created with a shutter but videos are created with scan lines; one is intrinsically more soothing and regular, the other more jittery and nervous. This is why subtle films and the filmmakers you mention, Girish, are far more revealing on film. It really has little to do with the size of the screen, but the intrinsic technology. I bet if you projected the same films as 16mm prints on a wall on a screen no larger than 26", they'd still be more revealing than a big screen display.

Yet I'm a DVDphile through and through, and I'm glad the technology is available to us!

Darren used to mention how Ray Carney used to claim he'd start and stop films all the times when screening them in his class because he deliberately wanted to break-up the viewing experience and teach his students to see films as constructions and not as ambiguous, homogenous wholes.

When I was in film school, we'd watch films in whole, but the next day, we'd watch parts, or the instructors would screen certain scenes with the volume turned down as they pointed things out along the way. I think there's a certain "demystifying" aspect to treating films in this way that I appreciate. But I have friends who hate director or critical commentaries on DVDs because they claim the voices and comments become "ingrained" in their brains and a permanent part of the film thereafter. But I wonder if this isn't simply a reaction to treating film like an art object rather than a holy, immersive experience?

I remember Rosnebaum once remarking that sound seems to eminate from in front of the screen on most TVs and from behind the screen in most theatres, which has always intrigued me.

June 26, 2006 8:30 PM  
Anonymous Chuck said...

Girish, you've probably noticed that I'm intrigued by site-specific cinema, by the effects of location upon our "cinematic experience." Like you, I believe that art is meant for use, and for that reason I sometimes find the worshipful vibe at many cinematic temples to be somewhat stifling. Plus, like Michael, I find many movie theaters to be distastfully yuppified/bourgeois.

But extending the discussion a little (and I haven't read all of the comments--I'm imaptient that way) to argue that it's not merely the architecture but the publicness of theatrical screenings that I enjoy (the ideal situations, of course, are festivals with their Q&As). Because I often go to screenings alone, I will sometimes find myself in conversation with my fellow moviegoers before the film, and that makes teh experience more pleasant for me.

I'm also inclined to suggest that there are "in between" cases. You mention "discontinuous" theatrical screenings where the spectators would stop and start the film in the projector, but one might also add semi-public screenings (the Move On house parties, repertory cinemas, and other cmpus film clubs, to name a few). I generally enjoy those events the most and I think they can draw some of the best elements of theatrical screenings (publicness) with the best elements of home "theaters" (portability, etc).

Oh, and I love Leonard Cohen's synthesizer phase, precisely because of Egoyan's haunting use of "Everybody Knows." Maybe I'll blog about that, too.

June 26, 2006 9:15 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Round-Headed Boy, Jen, Maya, Doug, & Chuck ~ Thanks for the comments. So many great ideas!

I'd never heard that Ray Carney bit before but it makes a lot of sense.

Just throwing out a few ideas for possible rumination:

Couldn't we then say that immersiveness can also be problematic in that it does not give us sufficient distance, the distance we need to step back and reflect upon the work as a construction, which is what we should do as responsible viewers, rather than be completely immersed in it?

I mean, isn't that what Brecht, and (possibly) his greatest cinematic disciple, Godard, might say?

On the other hand, one key aspect of cinema is duration, and can that aspect work with a discontinuous viewing method? Would it make sense to watch e.g. Tarkovsky discontinuously? Just wondering...

June 26, 2006 10:14 PM  
Blogger phyrephox said...

"I like the “impurity” of the home video experience—the way you can enter the work in new, unfamiliar and changeable ways, interactively, both as a whole and in fragments, disrupting unity and linearity, developing an intimacy with it, committing aspects of it to memory, and thus making use of the work and making it part of yourself in fresh ways. "

What I find interesting about this comment about the home viewing experience is that this is a common experience of many many millions of moviegoers from (and here my cinema history fails me), perhaps, the mid 1920s to the mid 1950s? With continuously running films (mixed, of course, with shorts, newsreels, one-reelers, etc.) the idea of movies starting and ending at specific showtimes was nearly as in use or widely pervasive as it is today. People walked in and walked out when they wanted to.

June 26, 2006 10:52 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Just a couple of additional thoughts (and, as always, Girish, you've got an enriching conversation going on here):

Yes, I don't think you privilege one experience (theatrical or home) over the other, and your idea about "using" art and film in everyday life is very interesting -- in part because, speaking personally, I haven't reached the point yet where I can engage with film in "fragmented" ways. In other words, I have to watch films in their entirety, even if DVD gives me the opportunity not to. For me, there's always been something about the cumulative experience of a film that I find liberating, and I suppose in that particular sense I wouldn't find the theatrical experience to be stifling, at least artistically. (It's still stifling for me in many other respects, not the least of which is common audience behavior.) I think I could approach film differently (in more disconintuous ways), but it's something I'm not accustomed to. I'm curious to know, though, how it would change my own personal experience of cinema.

On a similar note, I really like that Tomkin quote about Duchamp -- for me, it relates to the earlier discussion about cinephiliac moments; such moments, I believe, come about from the spectator participating in the creative act, and don't necessarily result from a director's explicit intentions.

(Oh, and p.s., really like the eye drawing!)

June 27, 2006 12:52 AM  
Blogger David said...

I think DVDs are essential as a reference library, but for me, the difference between seeing a film on dvd and seeing it in a movie theater is the difference between listening to a cd and hearing a band in concert, or at the very least, between hearing an album on cd and hearing it on vinyl (and to be honest, I found that strangers-together-in-the-dark religious crowd aspect distracting, not empowering even when it's a quiet audience--I don't really give a damn what other people are thinking about movies when I'm watching and immersed in them). The main problem I have with DVDs is that with the exception of Criterion (and even there there are exceptions--Black Narcissus, for example), a lot of quality is lost in the transfer. I saw Vertigo, Mon Oncle (a criterion title), and Pierrot Le Fou on DVD and thinking they were quite good all before seeing them in 35mm and realizing they were masterpieces. There's an elusive give-and-take quality to celluloid (perhaps that we are in the dark half of the time) that is essential, I think, when dealing with the meticulousness and stringency of guys like Hitchcock, Tati, and Godard. Particularly watching Mon Oncle in MoMA was the only time I've ever felt like I was looking at a painting on the wall that was moving in front of me. When I watch movies on DVD, I tend to feel like the images are being downloaded into my brain; almost as a run-through before I get the actual experience of them in 35.

And I think Tarkovsky is the perfect person to bring up for duration--I can't imagine a more devastating film than The Sacrifice, but most of its effect (a bit like Tokyo Story, come to think of it) is from so dramatically exploiting the tediousness of its first two hours right at the end. I saw that one in a theater too--halfway through, I thought it was his worst movie, but by the time it finished, I thought it might be his best. There's no way I would have let that go un-paused on dvd, either.

June 27, 2006 2:09 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

I use the DVD to keep up, the VHS machine to make copies (yes, I still don't have a DVR). But I go to the theater--once a week, at least--to worship. It's something I simply have to do, to keep my sanity.

June 27, 2006 4:29 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

I don't know if anyone mentioned it in the Leonard Cohen blog-a-thon, but there was a fairly interesting documentary about him made in the '60s titled Ladies & Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen. Watching him in this made me realize just how much he looks like Dustin Hoffman.

June 27, 2006 6:57 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

This is the consumer's side of the issue. But what worries me more is the repercutions of these consumers habits at the production level. The industry will support whatever makes more money, and if everyone prefer homevideo we'll see more arthouses closing, more direct-to-video DV-made movies. The only demographic supporting massively films in theatres is the blockbuster crowd. The Film/TV choice for art films will soon be only available to a smaller audience and less frequently.
If cinephiles don't support financially the art circuit on film, who will?

June 27, 2006 7:42 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

I completely agree with Harry on this one. Unfortunately, this is one of those topics where similar arguments for theater vs. DVD watching keep getting resurrected - cell phone yapping and sticky floors, convenience and availability... - so I'm already a bit jaded by the whole thing coming in, but I did want to say that people tend to confuse the multiplex with movie theater, and it just isn't - it's an '80s suburban creation for mass marketing. A theater in this context is, like Harry notes, an arthouse, something more hallowed, more precious, a place for contemplation. This is one of the reasons why even though I don't live in New York anymore, I will still shell out the dough every month and re-arrange my work schedule to travel there and catch films at the Walter Reade...because it deserves to be supported. Going to the multiplex is supporting the bastardization of film as art and I don't subscribe to that. It's not always convenient to seek out and go to these arthouses, but the effort is part of what makes the experience so special. They can demolish every multiplex for all I care, but not the cinémathèques.

June 27, 2006 8:36 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you--Phyrephox, Michael, David, Noel and Harry. And thanks, Flickhead, for the Cohen doc link; I knew about the film but had no idea it had made it to DVD.

Michael, I have this weird daily breakfast ritual. I'll feed the doggie, make myself a bowl of cereal and fruit, and over breakfast, I'll pop in, randomly, a DVD into the laptop and watch a random ("shuffled") couple of chapters. I appreciate how this takes away the need to experience the work as a unified whole, and the need to follow a traditional "path" through the movie (anchored by plot and narrative, for example). Wrenching the segments from the movie's normal context allows small and (ostensibly) peripheral details to often rise to the surface.
It's a tiny ritual, a small thing, but I look forward to it each morning.
(And of course, I always pick a movie I've already seen before.)

June 27, 2006 8:38 AM  
Blogger girish said...

"They can demolish every multiplex for all I care, but not the cinémathèques." Rousingly put, Acquarello!

June 27, 2006 8:40 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

For me the issue of 'theater vs. home' is not very troubling except insofar as it has to do with 'film vs. video,' which has its own problems and which I won't get into here. In my own ideal world, there would be no mythologizing of the 'communal experience' of the movie theater, just as there should be no valorizing of the hermit-hedonism of the video freak. Neither of these are bad things--but also, I would opine, neither are really optimal things to worry about when experiencing, thinking about, and discussing the cinema.

The 'communal experience' of the theatrical screening is special in that it allows people to come together over a film and over 'the cinema' in general--but this can be done in small private screenings, on any format, and in certain ways it's being done post- solo screenings over the Internet now, as it is here at Girish's. Given how awful an experience it can sometimes be to go to first-run theaters these days (prices, cell phones, poor projection, noisy patrons, etc. ad nauseum), I await the time when going over to a friend's spacious apartment or basement home theater will be a viable way for cinephiles to have real group/community experiences with each other.

So, issues of *medium* aside, my two cents are that the cinema is good for getting us communicating, and this can be done in any number of ways, and these ways could very well multiply as we leap into the digital future.

June 27, 2006 8:49 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

"I await the time when going over to a friend's spacious apartment or basement home theater will be a viable way for cinephiles to have real group/community experiences with each other."

Heheh, that comment reminded me of Henri Langlois' clandestine film projections on stairwells during German occupation. :)

June 27, 2006 9:17 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

The bottom line is that distributors pay to put out a number of film prints on the market, and producers pay for filmstock instead of cheaper DV recording. When this will become not profitable enough because too few people will bother reaching out to theatres, there wont be any film print available. And private projections will have to order a print that doesn't exist. And cinemathèques don't lend their films easily to individuals.
So this idea of a bohemian way to watch film prints at home is only viable as long as the industry keep paying for these prints to exist, and in large enough quantities. Imagine that you would have to book 3 years in advance the single existing print because it tours among private cine-clubs around the country...
Accessibility and affordability of a film print relies on the mass scale exploitation, and it's a situation we want to sustain.

June 27, 2006 9:39 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Zach et al.--I'd love to hear your thoughts on the difference in medium between film and video: technologically, perceptually, phenomenologically, etc. I don't have either a great or a well-rounded understanding of these.

Doug and Michael made illuminating points on these issues that have got me really curious to learn more.

June 27, 2006 10:11 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

"Heheh, that comment reminded me of Henri Langlois' clandestine film projections on stairwells during German occupation."

Zach and Acquarello, I hate to merely flag my own writing, but I just blogged about this very topic yesterday. :)

My point was that basement meetings and offline cinephile communities are precisely what fuel art house attendance and as much as I love love love internet discussions such as this, I think cinephilia has really taken a hit in this day and age. It's perhaps my biggest concern with watching films on video rather than film--community is often non-existant.

June 27, 2006 10:19 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Doug!
Here's a clickable link to Doug's blog & post.

June 27, 2006 10:34 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Harry, when I mentioned groups of cinephiles getting together to watch movies, I wasn't necessarily referring to prints. It'd be great to have (for example) 16mm screenings, yes, and I hope that such things will continue to exist indefinitely ... but realistically such 'communal events' would mostly happen on digital formats ...

Girish, the difference between film and video is one of medium and not quality--as digital formats and home theater get better, I think a lot of consumers (sometimes willingly) overlook the simple fact that film is a material, chemical thing, a 19th century technology with a great many idiosyncratic properties, with a depth and texture of light & color that DVD will never be able to fully duplicate and reproduce, even though digital formats may be stunning in their own ways. Some films (especially, say, avant-garde films or films from before the time when the industry started to make films that would also work "on video") are always going to be a shadow of themselves when seen outside of the medium on which they were made to be seen. (Which is not to say that one should avoid these shadows--where I basically part ways with my acquaintance Fred Camper is that one still generally "sees" a film even on video formats.) I see something like the Brakhage DVD as being the equivalent to an amazing monograph of reproductions of a great painter's work--and this is how a (good) DVD operates for someone like Brakhage, or also Bresson and Vigo and Breer, and any number of film artists.

Doug, I'm going to read your recent comments now ...

June 27, 2006 10:41 AM  
Anonymous jmac said...

Flickhead, I'm so glad that you brought up the first doc "Ladies & Gentleman, Mr. Leonard Cohen." I saw this in a movie theater! My friends screened this documentary at the Collective Unconscious on the LES, & this particular building has been bulldozed for new development . . . Anyway, as youn know, this doc captures the early part of L.C.'s life, and I found its dusty archivalness disappointing . . . Although this is the kind of subject which is so difficult to document and explain.

June 27, 2006 10:43 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Ah, thanks, Zach. That's very helpful.

J. ~ Just curious: (1) What did you mean by the "dusty archivalness" of the Leonard Cohen doc, and (2) why was it disappointing? I haven't seen the film.

Doug ~ I also value the irreplaceable cinephile 'communal experience'. The one week that I get together and spend with you, Darren, Rob and J. Robert in Toronto is the most fun and rewarding week of the year.

The act of simply watching films communally is probably a little less important to me than the ability to discourse about cinema communally, which, for someone who doesn't live in a big city like you and many/most other cinephiles do, is almost only to be found on the Internet.

There's no substitute for grabbing a cold beer and a meal with cinephile pals to discuss the movie we just came out of, but for me personally (because of where I live) the other 95% of movies are watched alone. And the Internet is a godsend for the post-film discourse.

My own personal cinephilia is alive and well, but take away the Internet and I just know that it will take a hit.

June 27, 2006 11:14 AM  
Anonymous jmac said...

G, I am addicted to the internet . . .

I saw the first Leonard Cohen doc a few years ago, and from what I can remember, it is a conventional documentary from the 60s and all that the term implies. (At the opening at Film Forum, the filmmaker said that she deliberately did not want to make a purely archival film, because essentially that is not as exciting.) So I was expecting a revelation, and I just did not get that from the first doc. But the new film definitely conveys Leonard Cohen's experiences and approach to poetry, & the editing is very associative. It's beautiful!

June 27, 2006 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

I love the theater-going experience, but as many have pointed out, it's turned into something of a nightmare these days. What bothers me more than rude behavior is that many of New York's "art house" cinemas have tiny screens and cramped seats. I'm convinced that watching the same film at home on my plasma is just as good, if not better.

When I watch a film at home, I always do so in the dark, and try to avoid any interruptions. (I turn my phone off, etc.)

However, some films are better enjoyed in a group setting. For example, I recently saw Katsuhito Ishii's Naisu no Mori (Funky Forest) in a packed theater, and the laughter and spontaneous applause made it that much more special.

On the L. Cohen front, about six months ago I downloaded (off Usenet) a compilation of about 30 cover versions of Hallelujah, one of my favorite Cohen songs. There's a live version by John Cale that sends shivers down the spine.

June 27, 2006 11:51 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

What's striking me in this discussion is its simulated religiosity. We could just as well be talking about going to mass. Acquarello's distinction between the arthouse and the multiplex is crucial. It's like the difference between a ritual service in a cathedral and a makeshift service in a mom n' pop evangelical church fashioned from some abandoned storefront. The difference between spirituality and religion. Which returns us to the concept of scale and what can be sifted from what is larger than ourselves in contrast from what can be culled by what is smaller than ourselves.

I also suspect there are temperamental differences when it comes to viewing film and that those who can appreciate a film's fragmentation in order to study and learn harbor innate editorial proclivities. Perhaps, because I am just old enough to remember, it is the childhood memory of paying for your ticket and walking into the screening at any time. If you missed the beginning, you could stick around to watch it after the ending. The finite experience of being ushered in and out of movie theaters at respective times was something that came later in my cinematic experience.

June 27, 2006 12:14 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Girish -- thanks for sharing the details about your morning ritual. Very, very interesting. I think doing essentially that -- watching parts or chapters of a film randomly -- is something I just might experiment with, for the very reason you stated: "Wrenching the segments from the movie's normal context allows small and (ostensibly) peripheral details to often rise to the surface." And I think this process involves experiencing the film in an entirely different way, which can be a good thing.

Acquarello -- your comment about theaters that deserve to be supported is well-taken. I used to regularly attend a repertory movie house called The State Theater in Pasadena for the kind of experience you mention (and to support the place), but sadly they closed because they couldn't afford to keep it going. A real pity. Thankfully, there are a handful of art houses -- real theaters -- in Southern California, and I think they'll remain open for a long time to come (I hope).

June 27, 2006 1:23 PM  
Blogger andyhorbal said...

Whenever this discussion surfaces I think of my first and, to date, only trip to the National Film Theater in London. Has anyone else here ever been there? It's an active attempt to turn the screening room into a temple: only the "best" films, flawlessly projected; no food or drink permitted in the screening room at all (lest you make noise); no one is permitted to enter the theater once the film has started; the film starts with the rise of a curtain; etc.

I see about 2-4 films a week theatrically, maybe twice that on average in my living room (or someone else's) on DVD or video. Both experiences still play an important role in my moviegoing life and I don't privilege either as more "real" or "genuine."

For me, the difference between the two hinges on concentration. Girish, I agree that being in a theater focuses your concentration. If I film doesn't engage me in my living room, I'm liable to drift away or even turn it off. Though I've seen Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady, I haven't really seen it yet because I've never been fortunate enough to catch it in a proper state of mind. I find that just being in a screening room puts me in a more receptive state. I'm also more likely to make an effort to find something worthwhile in a film I don't otherwise like.

But on the other hand, the DVD player and the VCR allow me to concentrate intensely on a particular scene or a particular film in a way impossible in a theatrical setting. I can replay a scene over and over again, and contrast it with scenes from any other film that I have handy on DVD or VHS. I can watch a film more than once and focus on a different element each time. I've been watching Elf (of all things) in this way recently, focusing on just the forced perspective, for instance, or just the nostalgic elements.

Anyway, great discussion. And, for the record, I'm Your Man is one of my favorite albums from the 80s. "First We Take Manhattan" is so cinematic!

June 27, 2006 2:23 PM  
Anonymous The Pop View said...

My memorable movie experiences were all at rep theaters in L.A. Yes, the theater is better, but it's a lousy way to see new movies. The prices are too high, the screens are too small, and on and on. Plus, for most people in this country, NetFlix and cable TV are really the only ways you can see a lot of the better movies.

I wrote about this issue back in January: Does it matter how one consumes?

June 27, 2006 2:44 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Like Doug says in his "Unshown Cinema" article, this video/film dilemma is only worth considering for titles that ARE available on DVD and in theatres... otherwise there is no choice to ponder. And the movies that aren't available, are the ones need the support from the cinephile community.

It's the same for silent films, documentaries or short films... there is no audience for them so we never see them distributed in theatres. It's only because documentaries became popular lately that they get better exposition now.

Zach, I think the DVD-projector cine-clubs (like Darren's) are great for cinephilia and all.
But it's overlooking what consequences bears the persistance of such video-preference habits on the long term market.
If DVDs steal the only population willing to watch art films, they will go direct-to-video. Plus you only get to see at home whatever movies the DVD industry deems profitable. The choice is not yours. You can only support films already approved by distribution executives.

June 27, 2006 4:23 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Unfortunately, it's already happening, Harry. As Dave Kehr was recently quoted in the LA Weekly:

"Most foreign films close a week after they open, even with Manohla plugging away at the readers about Head-On and Tropical Malady. Both Manohla and Tony see it as their mandate to push the art films they love, and they’ve both found it a sobering experience that their love doesn’t make any difference. The power of New York Times film critics to influence filmgoers [offline, I would say -DC] is practically nonexistent at this point. . . The Story of Marie and Julien came across my desk the other day, so I looked up the review in the Times and found that there wasn’t one. But these things aren’t coming to me with ‘DVD Premiere’ stamped on them. In other words, ‘straight-to-video’ once meant ‘not good enough to be shown in theaters.’ Now it means ‘too good to be shown in theaters.’ That’s the reality.”

At the same time, I don't mean to disparage what DVD and online dialogue has given us, either. I just don't want to see it completely replace local communities and art house attendance. I'm as guilty as the next person--if I know something is coming out or is already out on DVD, I'm much more likely to skip the hassle of seeing it in a theater. (Especially given Los Angeles traffic--most Angelenos do everything they can to avoid driving anywhere between 3:00 and 8:00!)

Girish, Nathaniel Dorsky has published a very intriguing little essay-book on the phenomenology of film called Devotional Cinema. (Which I suppose brings up back to Maya's comments.) He mentions that the ancient Greeks used art for medical purposes because it was believed illness came from an inner imbalance that could be "righted" in part by periods of relaxation and sleep, followed by performances, chants, and poetry in a sublime architectural environment. He writes about film's "alchemy," its intermittent light , its "nowness" versus duration, etc. Don't know if I buy it all, but it's intriguing reading.

June 27, 2006 4:46 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey Doug, I was leaving a comment at your discussion at exactly the same moment that you were leaving one here. Weird, huh?

Thanks for mentioning the Dorsky book. Yes, I have it and I should look at it again. I've read parts of it, not the whole thing.

June 27, 2006 4:54 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Harry, it's at the same time better and worse than you say. The good news is that the rise of region-free DVD players and upstart micro-labels help diversify the offerings available on disc and decentralize the executive decisionmaking away from a few monolithic corporate heads. (and online piracy is doing even more to fight that battle.)

The bad news is that the home availability of an endless parade of relatively obscure, previously rare film titles means that any film playing at a cinema is not only competing with its own (present or future) availability on DVD, but also with all the other choices out there. Only the most adventurous and/or wealthy and/or idle cinephiles will pick a theatrical screening of an unseen film, available on DVD or not, over the much cheaper and convenient option of renting or downloading that film or, given its unavailability for home viewing, another unseen film.

June 27, 2006 5:30 PM  
Anonymous James Tata said...

What kind of TV do you watch your movies on? I started shopping around for a new one and am bewildered by both the choices and the prices, and I'm frankly underwhelmed by the weird look of LCD flat screens and wonder if I'm alone in that.

June 27, 2006 5:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey Jim, how are ya?

I'm a lo-tech guy: I have 2 TVs, one 32" and the other 20", and they're both over 10 years old. Since they both work fine, I've been reluctant to upgrade. I haven't kept up with reading about the new TV technologies either.

But you should drop Darren a line--I bet he'd be able to give you some good insight and pointers.

June 27, 2006 6:09 PM  
Blogger That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Girish, all i've got to say is...DVD'S FOR BREAKFAST? You win the cinephile award. The voting is over. Don't bother with a recount.

June 27, 2006 7:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Heh heh. You mean the cine-geek award, of course.

June 27, 2006 7:10 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I forgot to mention one other category in my mini-rant. The obsessed. I don't consider myself particularly wealthy, idle, or even adventurous (though of course everything is relative).

June 27, 2006 9:06 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Brian, bootleg-imports and online piracy is probably good to expand the exposition of underseen films and good from the consumer viewpoint...
What about the filmmaker's income? and the viability of his productions?

By the way, I forgot to agree with you Girish about the advantage of pausing DVDs for critical understanding. Although this for studies purpose only. I wouldn't advocate such behaviors as a general rule for the average viewer who doesn't mean to analyze the scenes individualy.
Farber continues to baffle me...
As I will continue to purport "pause" is a blasphemy unless you already saw the film. Any modification of the continuum does kill the virginal experience of the film for ever.
You wouldn't break the continuity of a song, would you?

I would like to know more about the physiological discrepency between TV and film experiences.
There is a difference but I couldn't tell what is its nature and at what level does it affect our viewing...
I don't think it is in the decomposition of the image because a TV screen refreshes faster than the projector, and the human eye only perceives the shutter under 15 fps.
The texture and colors of the image is obvious but there is something else.
I remember my videotape formative experience on TV and I was glued to the screen with a tunnel effect that made me oblivious of anything around, even in a lit room. There is a captivating effect that makes the brain closes up on the screen.
I experienced this effect in a theatre recently with a TV framed in a shot, making a smaller part of the screen active/significant. I quickly forgot about the TV set and the wall behind, and my mind redefined a smaller tunnel onto the TV screen diegesis. In the next shot, I was suprized by the sudden expension of the image beyond the borders of my field of attention/focus.

June 27, 2006 9:26 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"I will continue to purport "pause" is a blasphemy unless you already saw the film. Any modification of the continuum does kill the virginal experience of the film for ever."

Yikes. Now I really feel like I'm in church, Harry. :-)

But seriously--I wouldn't go as far as to say it kills it forever. I've had several irreverent/blasphemous virginal experiences with films only to rediscover and "recover" those films later, when seen with additional experience, knowledge, proper attention, etc.

But I agree with you: in general, first time through--Pausing Bad.

June 27, 2006 9:47 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh, just noticed you said: "kills the virginal experience forever."

June 27, 2006 9:52 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Andy ~ Great example with TROPICAL MALADY. I'm sure glad I saw that in the theater--the urge to pause it in the second half at home would've been overpowering for me, despite the fact that I really liked the film.

June 27, 2006 10:38 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Good conversation ... I don't have much to add to it, though; most of what I would have said has been said already.

A few small points, though:

Harry, I frequently do break the continuity of songs. Sometimes it's to replay some specific part; sometimes it's because I leave the room for one reason or another; and sometimes I simply tire of the song and move on to something else. It's much like my treatment of film, which is, I think, very casual at home (but very quiet & reverential in theaters).

Oddly enough, I used to be a zealot about music, when I first got a CD player--I'd always listen to an entire CD from start to finish, at one sitting. No pauses, no skips, no replays. I had far fewer CDs then; and the mp3 hadn't been invented yet; these days it's rare that I listen to an entire CD and I have no compunction about removing certain tracks (like "Revolution #9") from play permanently.

My thoughts about films have changed as well. I still want the optimal experience the first time through--to see it all at one sitting, in a dark room, with no one talking through it--but that's far from iron-clad. I watched Roots over the course of several weeks (I got bummed out once Kunta broke his vow in vol. 3) and I started watching Shoah years ago and have yet to finish. I'll probably start over if I ever decide to.

As a quibble, I question this--the human eye only perceives the shutter under 15 fps--just because I've worked on films before as editor, and I remember one conversation on the last:
Me: Did you see that?
T: Yes.
D: See what?
[I rewind the footage, play it again, rewind it again--D still doesn't see it--then advance it frame by frame until I find the distortion. It's there in only one frame, in DVCam footage, which is shot at 29.97 fps, and it's only in what looks like the top sixth of the frame.]

So I think that yes, maybe in general people don't see the shutter at frame rates higher than 14 fps. But people can still see things, even consciously, that take as little time as 1/30th of a second.

[takes off his "tiresome pedant" hat, goes to the kitchen, leaving the music on.]

June 27, 2006 11:40 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Also, I saw The Royal Tenenbaums for the first time drunk and stoned. The only thing I remembered was "How long have you been smoking?" ... "Well, I think you should quit."

I might have laughed more the first time, but it was very nearly a "virginal" experience the second.

June 27, 2006 11:46 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Harry, I'd bet that the majority of filmmakers would not be thrilled at the prospect of their work being heavily pirated online, but I'm not so sure there's such a filmmaker movement against out-of-region importing (which I don't consider the same thing as bootlegging, quasi-legal though it may in fact be).

In fact, for a filmmaker whose work is unlikely to be sold to distributors in most territories, selling individual DVDs directly to consumers in other countries may be a far more efficient way to fund the next project than the traditional means of getting work out into the world, the film festival circuit. With so many festivals resistant to paying screening fees, it's uncertain what benefit there is to screening a print of your "undistributed" film in more than one or two festivals per country or even continent. Now there's the possibility (or at least the perception of the possibility) of unpaid festival screenings, which bring no direct revenue, cutting into the potential sales of import DVDs in the markets where they're screened. No wonder some sales agents have become more and more demanding that all but the top-tier festivals pay increasingly high screening fees in addition to the shipping charges. The result being that festivals grow skittish about programming anything that isn't either A) desperate to get into the fest (which, depending on the fest in question, may equal a lower quality film), and therefore willing to forego the fee, or B) a sure-fire audience hit (which may equal less challenging work), or C) both.

It's a depressing vicious circle for a guy like me, who far prefers cinema-viewing to home-viewing. But then I'm lucky enough not to need to rely on DVDs to get a rich cinematic diet: at least I live in a place where there's always interesting film screenings happening, even if they're not always the titles at the very top of my wish list (though sometimes they are! So excited to see Days of Heaven on the big screen this weekend, my first experience with that film.)

June 28, 2006 6:38 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Brian & Tuwa.
Great reading.

A few links:

--Lana Turner Blog-A-Thon: see post+collected links at Flickhead's.

--Check out all the entries pouring in at Jim Emerson's Opening Shots project at his blog Scanners. (I'll send mine in today.)

--Spurred by Zach, Eric starts a De Palma image of the day series..
Eric--Just a thought: you could perhaps take one of the images and write it up for the aforementioned Scanners project.

--Michael Guillen interviews Larry Clark.

--Culturespace Michael has a summer reading list.

--The Siren's back. And in Brooklyn.

June 28, 2006 8:01 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Ah, new issue of Cinema Scope.

June 28, 2006 8:06 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Tuwa brings up an interesting point and a popular, recent misconception:

"I used to be a zealot about music...I'd always listen to an entire CD from start to finish, at one sitting."

When albums were recorded for vinyl, there were two sides of the disc to consider. After Revolver, The Beatles worked to give a distinct flavor to the individual sides of an album, a practice that was picked up by many other recording artists.

I don't believe that The Beatles intended for the 'White Album' to be listened to in one sitting. On vinyl, each side had its own shadings and personality. The double album in its entirety is simply too much to absorb at once.

Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon has a very deliberate gap between "The Great Gig in the Sky" and "Money" -- a gap that doesn't exist to any substantial length on cd.

Each side of Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark and Hejira are carefully organized to build to an end -- and not intended for an immediate segue to the next side.

I could go on with examples, but I think the point is clear.

Another horrible side effect of the cd are bonus tracks. Talk about gluttony. The disruption is palpable. On the vinyl album, The Band, for example, after side 1 has worked up to "Whispering Pines" and side 2 culminates in "King Harvest", one is in awe of the beauty of the arrangement. But on cd, the value of "King Harvest" is shattered by the tinny outtake of "Get Up, Jake" immediately after it. Bonus tracks belong on a separate disc altogether.

June 28, 2006 9:38 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Great points, Flickhead.
Those are terrific examples.

I often listen to CDs with the old "vinyl" mentality--I will never play more than six or so tracks on a CD at one shot (the length of a single side of vinyl). It just becomes too much, too saturating, otherwise.

June 28, 2006 9:47 AM  
Blogger ratzkywatzky said...

I can barely watch movies on DVD--just got done skimming Murmur of the Heart, looking for the music-related scenes, very fun to do but hardly respectful of the movie. However, this lack of respect for the work which I think DVDs encourage, and which I always feel somewhat guilty for indulging, I fully embrace for music. I generally pack my CD player full and hit shuffle. This, of course, completely destroys any internal integrity an album may have, but it provides the old radio experience, the sudden delight of a good juxtaposition--I just wish a CD player or Ipod could actually segue the songs. Currently I have Eddie Cantor, Black Sabbath, The Zombies, Prince, and the soundtrack from Amarcord shuffling. Eddie's been in there for months. It would be great if there were a DVD player capable of shuffling scenes.

June 28, 2006 10:52 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

You're right, Flickhead, people used to plan for LPs differently from how they plan for vinyl. I should have thought of that, since I was very much into the Beatles at the time, and reading anything I could find at the time, which often talked about various sides of an album.

The point, though, is the same (oddly enough): I don't always listen to all of anything in music, whether an album or a side or a song. I'd like to say that's due to heightened critical faculties, yadda yadda, but I think that's just not true: sometimes I just tire of works and have no compunctions about moving on, even without pondering why. It's almost the opposite of critical faculties--a fetishization of entertainment at the sake of thoughtfulness or understanding.

And now I find myself, uncomfortably, feeling a bit like David Foster Wallace. Right.

June 28, 2006 11:22 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

ah hell. used to plan for LPs differently from how they plan for CDs, I mean.

Proofreading: it can be my friend.

June 28, 2006 11:23 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

ratzkywatzky, Au Revoir Les Enfants has another great music scene, where the kids skip class and one teaches the other a boogie woogie tune on piano.

I'm glad to see someone else with that same enthusiasm. I remember my surprise at finding that "The Second Movement of the Beer Barrel Polka" wasn't on any Marx Brothers CDs.

June 28, 2006 11:27 AM  
Blogger girish said...

What we've been waiting for: The Toronto film fest begins announcing its films.

June 28, 2006 3:45 PM  
Anonymous Jim Flannery said...

Late to the party, but a few notes about "shuffle play" ...

I've seen this coded into the disc; the DVD featuring work from the Sonic Acts festival that was included in The Wire last winter includes a "shuffle all" option on the menu.

More radically, The Hafler Trio's Scissors Cut Arrow DVD -- a document of a live performance -- includes randomized intertitles and clips, so that every time you put the disc into the player you see a different arrangement of parts (meaning you never really know if the experience is going to be 8 minutes or 35, or something in between).

One of the events I'm most looking forward to this year is the appearance by Peter Greenaway in San Jose this August, where he'll be doing a live "remix" of the Tulse Luper Suitcases films using some hot-shit VJ software. How sad we can't see the actual films in this country first (i've only seen a crappy VHS video of the first one).

June 28, 2006 4:03 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

I didn't say anything earlier but thanks for elaborating my point.

your quote adds yet another problem to the equation : critics efficience. So who's to blame? (homevideo, DVDs, critics, distributors, cinephiles, pirates)
Anyway, I think we should approach this question from an online cinephile perspective (what we can do about it individually), otherwise this takes dramatic structural changes (distribution system, studios, press, cultural mentality) before the trend reverses...

I don't mind being a "devout" ;)
But all this is only theoretical debate about film consumption, everyone do as they wish, (and don't know anything about DVD-philia) that's why I'll just drop it there.

Give me back my pedant hat, and let me correct what I said. I meant the slideshow of still images isn't perceptible from 15 fps, speed at which the illusion of motion become possible. The penomenon you're talking about is "subliminal images" I guess.
Maybe my comparison to songs wasn't pertinent... lol

I guess artfilm directors lose a greater percentage of gross profits than blockbusters over piracy.
And festivals are there for publicity, not to refund production costs (which needs a larger base of consumers).

June 28, 2006 7:51 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I've probably mentioned this before, but my single favorite writer on popular music is probably Sasha Frere-Jones. I actually rip out his New Yorker columns each week and put them in a gigantic Sasha file I keep (which also has his old Voice and Slate stuff).

Here he is in a recent issue:
"Radiohead has much in common with the Grateful Dead, including passionate fans who follow the band from city to city, trade bootleg recordings of shows, puzzle out the meanings of the band’s cryptic lyrics, and (in Boston, at least) dance badly while smoking expensive-smelling weed. But Radiohead’s main interest is not improvisation, nor do the band’s affinities to modern classical music and electronica mask the fact that its dominant syntax is pop. The songs mutate briskly, and are larded with hummable motifs. Even when Jonny Greenwood is fiddling with a radio and Yorke is ululating toward the great unknown, the band obeys an internal clock that arrests its elaborations before tedium defeats wonder. Most of the songs aren’t long—only a few last more than six minutes, even live. The band plays nimble, bright-eyed arrangements of dense, heavy-lidded music."

June 28, 2006 10:24 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

"my single favorite writer on popular music is probably Sasha Frere-Jones"

Girish, I wasn't aware of that; very cool. I really think the idea of a Sasha file; I used to do that with album reviews in general, from magazines like Stereo Review and Spin and Rolling Stone (none of which I read anymore because the internet has produced too many alternatives).

Personally, I'm not as big of a Frere-Jones fan, but I loved the Radiohead piece, especially since he starts out by admitting he didn't like them and ends up appreciating them.

June 29, 2006 1:26 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Michael. You've given me an idea--a blog post entry on Sasha and my appreciation of his writing and criticism! I think he has great (oceanic) depth of understanding of rock and pop's sub-genres. He and art critic Peter Schjeldahl are my two favorite writers at the New Yorker. (I'm not as big a reader of their "film" pages as I once used to be.)

Some links:

--Last night, I discovered this excellent article by filmmaker/academic/critic Thom Andersen on the films of Andy Warhol at Rouge.

--I've been hooked on Andy Horbal's film criticism blog. Wish there were more blogs devoted to film criticism!

--Reminder: Lana Turner blog-a-thon at Flickhead's. I also noticed this post at Richard Gibson's.

--Round-Headed Boy on Kubrick.

June 29, 2006 7:38 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Just realized that Richard's Lana Turner post is multi-part.

June 29, 2006 8:51 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

I think that's a great idea for a blog post, Girish. You might find this interesting: a piece in LA Weekly on Frere-Jones as critic and music-maker.

(And I had no idea Chrissie Hynde wrote music criticism before starting The Pretenders.)

June 29, 2006 2:10 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

As I will continue to purport "pause" is a blasphemy unless you already saw the film. Any modification of the continuum does kill the virginal experience of the film for ever.

Harry Tuttle has just climbed (yet) another notch in my book.

As for watching films in fragments, I rarely did things like that, however that all changed when I joined a gym. Each treadmill and elliptical has its own TV attached to it, and I religiously tune it to Turner Classic Movies. I cannot tell you how many films I've seen 35 minutes of in the last nine months.

June 29, 2006 4:18 PM  
Anonymous The Pop View said...

As I wrote here, this whole notion of album sides is gone.

Artists used to be able to control how you saw the work. Now, that's shattered. Yes, you should see a movie in a theater and watch it from beginning to end. But you can skip through chapters on the DVD if you want. Not recommended, but people will do it.

As for albums, when you grab an MP3 off the Internet, you may never even hear the whole album. If more artists made great albums that held together, I'd feel bad about this...

June 29, 2006 5:16 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Michael, I hadn't seen that story before--thanks for the link.
Yeah, Chrissie cut her punk teeth in England (working at Malcolm McLaren's SEX shop, etc), and was the only non-Brit in the Pretenders, if I remember right. They forgot to mention Neil Tennant in that article; he was a critic too, at least for a little while.

Filmbrain ~ You are a model of the postmodern viewer! (I'm far worse--watching fragmented DVD chapters at my dining table while you're assiduously burning off those calories at the gym.)

Pop View ~ Even as late as the 80s, they were making great concept records that held together (I'm thinking of XTC's "Skylarking").
The new Ghostface record (which bulges with 24 tracks!) is an exception--truly cinematic and epic, but detail-rich at the same time; one of the best things I've heard this year.

June 29, 2006 6:18 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

But perhaps loss of control over how audiences access music has been a disincentive for artists to construct cohesive albums.

I definitely think that the kinds of films being made has been altered by the increasing home-videofication of the motion picture form.

Sometimes I'm afraid I've already turned into an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy at age 33.

June 29, 2006 6:23 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"I definitely think that the kinds of films being made has been altered by the increasing home-videofication of the motion picture form."

Brian et al.--I'm curious: in what ways do you think new films are different (as they acknowledge the home video imperative and use it as a factor in their aesthetic decisions)?

I think Scorsese remarked once that filmmakers are less inclined to use full widescreen these days--or at least exploit its complete potential--because they know that the majority of the audience will see the film on a TV set.

June 29, 2006 6:41 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Or perhaps the aesthetic of "cohesion" in and of itself necessarily evolves? The ability of the Internati to assemble edit whatever they want has leant a certain credence to engaging effective mash-ups that cohere precisely because they fragment and subvert the original order.

June 29, 2006 7:22 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

That's definitely the kind of thing I'm talking about, girish. Filmmakers have been composing images they knew would be screened at multiple aspect ratios since the 1950s, but the difference between TV's 1.33:1 and most widescreen formats has made the temptation to keep all the "important" information in a particular segment of the screen all the more irresistable since the rise in popularity of cable channels and home video. Now that televisions are not all the same shape there's been some reclamation of widescreen, but there's still some reluctance to be extremely bold in the design of wide-format images.

Other aesthetic impacts (some of which could theoretically be mitigated by the popularity of plasma screens, but then again maybe not in an age of iPod video):

Reluctance to use extreme long shots (details don't show up on a small screen)

Privilidging verbal over visual information

Quick, flashy editing that draws attention to itself, almost simulating the experience of changing the channel

If not that, at least a reluctance to include moments of calm or reflection that could be easily interrupted by a household distraction

I also think these kinds of changes have helped nurture a certain style of film festival/art theatre filmmaking made for cinema addicts who want to see films as far removed from television, filled with long silences, long shots, long takes, etc.

I also sense (though this is an even less-fleshed-out idea for me than the above) that with the ready availability of so many films from earlier eras available at the filmmaker's (and viewer's) fingertips, the relationship between current films and the history of cinema is very different from what it was decades ago.

June 29, 2006 7:58 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

interesting, maya. I'm trying not to simply mourn the loss of the old forms but embrace what's interesting to me about the new, and mash-ups may be a good example of that.

June 29, 2006 8:00 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Great points, Brian and Maya.

"the difference between TV's 1.33:1 and most widescreen formats has made the temptation to keep all the "important" information in a particular segment of the screen all the more irresistable".

Yes--thus guiding the eye and "telling" it what to privilege and notice in the frame at any time instead of allowing it to rove around and thus "empowering" it to take what it will and assign whatever value it chooses to each detail.

"Reluctance to use extreme long shots (details don't show up on a small screen)"

Yes, a terrible consequence. Corollary: keep the objects/shapes in the screen large and obvious enough to be comfortably "noticed" from afar on a small screen.

"Privilidging verbal over visual information."

Perhaps because the filmmaker can't trust the image to successfully do its work as s/he could on the big screen?
Or perhaps to give the consumer the sonic bang for the surround-sound Dolby bucks they've shelled out?

"a reluctance to include moments of calm or reflection that could be easily interrupted by a household distraction"

My sister is an expert meditator (she even gives classes). She can meditate anywhere, even with her eyes open, etc. But most of us can't--we close our eyes when we sit down to meditate. Seeing a movie in a theater is like closing your eyes to drown out everything but the object of our meditation, i.e. the movie. It stands to reason that the quality of the meditative experience will be weaker in the home video environment, since we can't drown out the world as effectively (screen size, household distractions, etc). It's like the difference between listening to a record on headphones wth your eyes closed versus having it play in the air while we listen to it with our (distractable) senses paying imperfect attention.

"the relationship between current films and the history of cinema is very different from what it was decades ago."

Fascinating idea, Brian.
Perhaps you could elaborate, if you feel inclined to?

June 29, 2006 9:14 PM  
Blogger girish said...

via 'Trix:
At Slate: The Movie I've Seen The Most.
For me: Jacques Demy's Les Demoiselles De Rochefort (1967).
About a dozen times.
Et vous?

June 29, 2006 9:40 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

moi? I don't think anything has surpassed the original Star Wars on the number-of-repeat-viewings list, though I haven't watched it once since before the prequels started appearing on the scene.

You're really keeping me on my toes with your probing questions girish! I'm afraid the line of thinking is too fuzzy for me to cogently elaborate yet, but I imagine if I were to try, I'd probably talk about the pressure each new film is under to justify itself, to prove its divergence from formula, to be ambitious. Is it why so many of our great genres (at least American genres) are essentially dead? The Western, the Film Noir, the Musical.

June 30, 2006 2:45 AM  
Blogger girish said...

"You're really keeping me on my toes with your probing questions girish!"

Only because your observations are so sharp and interesting, Brian!
Thank you.

Some links:

--Brian's new post: Anxious Animation.

--Eric's been doing his De Palma images of the day.

--Filmbrain holds Armond's feet to the fire.

--Hey, ain't this cool? The director of the Leonard Cohen film left a comment at Jen's blog-a-thon..

--Three different takes on Superman at MZS's place.

Archiveology (some new old reading):

--Undercurrent, a magazine of and on film criticism, a bimonthly publication of FIPRESCI..

--Adrian Martin on "Bressonian."

June 30, 2006 7:09 AM  
Blogger CK Dexter said...

I find the idea that "art is meant for use", though technically true, rather worrisome and misleading. Obviously art that serves no use at all would be worthless, but there's a distinction to be made between better or worse uses (I'd say higher and lower purposes, but that's a language people have knee-jerk allergies to.) There's an admirable tradition of considering art as autonomous--thus independent of criteria of utility. That doesn't mean that art should be useless, but that it should be above trivial standards of utility: above all, that it should be judged on grounds other than simple proof by pleasure or convenience. This is why we rightly have contempt for the studio that decides what films to make by box office calculations, or that orders a change in a movie's ending because many audience members will find the unhappy ending too unpleasant. This is why we rightly have contempt for the filmgoer who thinks art always has to be pretty or happy or who doesn't watch foreign films because it's too much effort to read subtitles. These are recognition of ways in which good art is above mere use - at least in the crass sense of "utility" that dominates a crassly economic culture. It might be objected that this is a false sense of "utility"--but it's the dominant one, so to defiantly stick to the strict sense can be misleading.

You mention the attitude of religiosity some have toward the theatrical experience, and I think this is integral. Looking up at the screen (or at the hallowed artwork, out of reach and off limits to touch in the museum), the artwork is the voice of the divine, of something higher than and independent of the interests of the audience. This makes it tempting to identify the home experience as a kind of “liberation” and democratization of art – no more kings or priests. In practice, however, god isn’t dead—the individual audience member is the new god, or the consumer is, or, when it comes right down to it, capital is. I think the new idolization of the consumer and the audience is symptomatic of broader cultural trends. There is a knee-jerk abhorrence of recognizing anything as higher or having authority over his-majesty-the-self, whether it’s the demand that my individual interpretation of an artwork have equal status with the artist’s, or the modern university ideology of the student as customer, or the fashionable epistemological relativism that demands all personal beliefs have a claim to truth, or the cultural reduction of all values to the equalizing measure of the dollar. Personally, I think that as a “democratization” of values it’s every bit as phony as the political democracy we supposedly live in. A world in which every narcissistic, infantilized individual gets to play the tyrant has more tyranny, not less.

A good work of art is above us. We must be subordinate to it in some way, otherwise we get nothing from it that we did not already have. A good work of art can transform (for better or worse) – it is not a mirror we admire ourselves in, or a piece of furniture that will complement our carpeting or couch. A good work of art does not appease. It does not accommodate itself to our schedule, our opinions, our tastes, our convenience. A good work of art is one that is worth accommodating to: inconveniencing ourselves, disrupting our habits and prejudices, forcing us to make an effort to gain something from it. A great work of art, like all great and truly valuable things in life, is better than us, and deserves a bit of religiosity. If it’s not better than us, it has nothing to give us. The theatre is better, not because it’s more exciting or pleasant, which it can be, but because it’s more inconvenient.

July 01, 2006 1:45 PM  
Blogger Ebenezer said...

Given that much has already been written on this topic, both here and elsewhere (in addition to any number of discussions with my peers on the matter), I will just add one small point which generally seems to be agreed upon: many horror movies are best watched at home. Specifically in late hours of the night, with all the lights out, in the basement of a large, mostly empty house. Although I think some of the truly great horror or scary movies are still better on the big screen (I think here of, say, The Shining), many otherwise corny movies somehow become much more effective in the atmosphere described above. I suppose I would also like to add that a good test of a great movie is that it is substantially better seen in a theatre. This is not universally the case, but often is.

July 01, 2006 7:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

A handful of links:

--Responses are already pouring in for Dennis Cozzalio's latest quiz.

--Two recent posts at David Pratt-Robson's Videoarcadia.

--Michael Guillen on Japanese animation.

--Round-Headed Boy: 25 tunes I discovered at the movies.

--Zach, among other things, on Walerian Borowczyk.

--Reads coming fast and furious at MZSs place.

Back with a post Wednesday morning.
Have a good 4th!

July 03, 2006 7:49 AM  
Blogger girish said...

You gotta see this:
Filmbrain and Aaron Hillis on Cash Cab.
(via David Hudson, who has a nice DVD round-up here.

July 03, 2006 12:45 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

What fun!! Thanks for pointing that out, Girish! $1,100!! Yowza.

July 03, 2006 4:42 PM  
Blogger Dennis Cozzalio said...

That Filmbrain/Aaron Hillis cab ride is a riot!

My "Movie Ive Seen the Most" would probably be National Lampoon's Animal House (around 45), but the reasons are purely personal.

Outside of that, probably Nashville (somewhere around 15-20).

Have a great holiday, Girish and everyone!

July 03, 2006 6:01 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

That never happens to me on my bicycle.

July 03, 2006 9:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Maya, Dennis, Tuwa--Thanks.

Dennis, I've seen Animal House a few times but far shy of your record!

July 04, 2006 9:40 AM  
Blogger girish said...


--A while back, I blogged about David Lowery's films. Now, check out his ultra-cool six-minute personal essay film, SOME ANALOG LINES, via his post here.

--Acquarello reporting from the Benoit Jacquot retropsective in New York.

July 04, 2006 9:46 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Fascinating post at Zach's:

"A reader wrote me a question and wondered if I'd respond with thoughts on my blog, so I'm giving it a shot. The general substance of the question was, first, What moves us to provide commentary, in-depth analysis, of some films (and not others)? Masterpieces that leave us overawed and wordless commingle with great films (or less-than-great films) that can draw out reams of analytical material, as well as disposable films which move nothing in our minds. The reader also asks if I'd describe three films that, as of now, I'd like to put on, say, Criterion DVD (clean slate) and do commentary tracks for ...

Very generally, I would say that what moves us toward commentary in films (or any art) is that ultimately we have a firmer understanding of our relationship to them than we do with films for which we have little, or only functional or conventional, understandings. What I mean by this is that there are films, for all of us, which (for great films: whether they touch us too profoundly or which we admire too coolly) we can write a little about, but find that we may either come up short, or that we write about with a certain anonymity. We point to this thing, that thing, quite visible in the film to anyone else, and we can perhaps "explain," a little, about why the film is great (or not great), or why it's formal/thematic integrity exists, how it's put together ... but because we're too overwhelmed or underwhelmed, or for some other reason perhaps, we leave nothing of ourselves on the page (or the screen). Criticism (very broadly defined) is perhaps like cooking, where great dishes require two things, two ingredients: the artwork and the spectator-writer. Competent analysis of a film which does not inspire, which does not necessitate, analysis in the writer is a bit like a restaurant offering a plate of a raw fruit or vegetable--potentially delicious, but not real cooking, merely evidence of good taste."

July 04, 2006 10:02 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Girish, that is a neat (and thought-provoking) comment. I'm still not entirely sure what I think about blogging, though; on the one hand I know that commentary is filtered through a point of view and a personality; on the other hand, every time I sit down to write something about music I find my ignorance of music theory (even basic theory) leads to falling back on impressions and personal anecdotes. I'm always worried that it's narcissistic and dull, and maybe it is. I think maybe that's why I wanted an anti-Shanty, which isn't even evidence of good taste.

Still, I think the better solution would be a ground-up reengineering of how I write, and why. It's an intimidating demand.

July 05, 2006 1:31 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

girish, Zach's post has me reeling more than usual. I'm completely intimidated to put my two cents in, at least not before thinking about it a lot more.

On another note, because I suspect you're too humble to mention it yourself, let me congratulate you on your excellent post on the Flowers of Shanghai opening shot at Scanners. Great choice of film, and excellent write-up of the shot.

July 05, 2006 4:40 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Girish, I hope you don't mind if I clarify a bit. I'll try to be brief. :-)

It's just now occurred to me that my previous comment could be taken as casting aspersions on somebody. It's not. It's in reference to another site I started as something of a joke, which was intended to be completely egoless. That's all. I don't mean to slight anyone; I just meant the comment as a questioning of some of my own motives in mp3blogging.

July 05, 2006 12:53 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

P.S. Brian's right; that is a good post at Scanners. Very nice.

July 05, 2006 12:53 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey thanks, Brian.
I re-linked to Zach's post in my new one, hoping it will spur some conversation.

Tuwa, you bring up interesting points.
I'm not sure knowledge of music theory is at all a prerequisite to writing about music.

Question: do you have some favorite writers (on music)? Do they make use of impressions, anecdotes? What exactly do you like about (each of) their styles? (Don't mean to have you answer these to me, merely stuff to think about).

e.g. for me, I think Whitney Balliett is the one of the best writers I've read on jazz, and it was fun to immerse in his books. For contemporary pop music: Sasha. And Tom Breihan's blog at the Voice is analytical and intelligent. etc.

I find that I can't write unless I'm also actively involved in reading at the same time. Not to say that I crib stuff from others (I sure hope I don't!), but that they keep your mental juices flowing, giving you ideas, images, metaphors, sparks, which you can then use to ignite your own writing....

July 05, 2006 1:07 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, Tuwa, just saw your comment.
Other site? Not sure which one...? Did you start a new site? Not sure I've seen it.

July 05, 2006 1:10 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Hm, I thought I posted this but it's not there....

Thanks for the suggestions, Girish; they sound perfectly sensible. Funny that I'd known about the general presumption in writing circles that writers who don't read much aren't usually worth reading. Yet I haven't been reading much lately. ^_^

July 05, 2006 5:04 PM  
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