Watching Citizen Kane Naked

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Home video is an incredible blessing for cinephiles. It allows us to see films as old as Edison’s first tests or any movie from last year.

We can sit there, naked, watching Citizen Kane. Or fully clothed watching the Dark Knight. We can put a movie on and promptly ignore it while we check our Facebook, our Twitter, make a sandwich, talk to people, text.

We can stream any movie instantly onto our computers even if it only played in select cities nowhere near your Podunk town. I can remember going to Best Buy and seeing about 30 copies of David Lynch’s Inland Empire, and I’m pretty sure there were more copies of the DVD than there were theaters that played the film just at that location.

I’ll admit that this is whole industry is a blessing not just for consumption but for output. Major studios can take bigger risks with their productions because they have the ability to recoup the cost on home video when those who were on the fence when it was in theaters rent it instead because, then, if it sucks, you can turn it off without feeling like you’ve wasted your hard earned money.

This, hypothetically, could be the reason that Universal went with an unorthodox summer schedule in 2009. No sequels, prequels, or comic book adaptations. Instead, they released movies like Funny People, Public Enemies, Land of the Lost (itself a gamble given that it was a seldom followed show from the 70’s). And none of them did very well domestically.

But Public Enemies has made over $35 million on DVD to date.[1] Funny People has made $13 million. Land of the Lost $19 million. Coupled with money made internationally, most of these movies (except Land of the Lost) came out in the black.

It seems like major studios are more willing to give bigger budgets to ballsier movies with less fear of recouping the cost.

Of course, with any great thing, there is a downside. With the advent of chapters on laserdiscs, films are becoming more like books where you pick it up and put it down and come back to it. Pause and restart from where you were.

The problem with this way of watching a film is that none has ever been made to be watched piecemeal over an entire day. Instead, they’re made to be seen in one sitting.

Admittedly, some movies it doesn’t really matter where you put it down and pick it up again. I doubt you’re gonna forget anything important when you walk away in the middle of something like Epic/Date/Scary Movie. For more cerebral movies, though, like Synecdoche, NY or Lost Highway or any movie that makes you think and builds upon what you’ve just seen, this becomes a problem. When your attention isn’t completely rapt, you lose the essence of the film.

So perhaps it means not that studios are making gutsier movies but that they’re making them easier to understand because they know that most people won’t be paying complete attention. You have to be incredibly disciplined to not dick around with your iPhone or whatever when you’re at home because there’s no strangers to piss off when you send a random tweet about what you ate for lunch, or what you threw up afterwards.

This seems like the biggest reason to see a movie in a theater when you can.

When you watch a film at home, you’re watching it with people you know. 10 people seems like the limit for people to actually be paying attention to the movie. You know all of them. You’re at home. You all could be naked.

In a theater, though, you have anywhere from 40 people in a tiny theater and 800 in the biggest ones. Immediately, for a crowd movie like any comedy, there is a dynamic difference for the viewing experience. Not to mention, if you’re not a sociopath/teenager/asshole, an immense guilt if you take out your phone or talk. Courtesy states that you give your attention to the film because that’s what everybody paid for.

Then you start to get into the home video medium itself–something that definitely changes based on how much expendable cash you have. If you’re poor, you’re stuck with your 27″ CRT televisions and one-inch speakers even though no movie is made with 2-speaker sound in mind. All movies are designed with 5.1 surround sound at the minimum. So, immediately, all the sound will be stuffed to the front instead of expanded and enveloping the viewer.

Televisions and Blu-Ray are essentially comparable to a tiny-ass theater screen when viewed at 1080p. The picture is crystal clear, even if it is sometimes running at a weird frame rate nearly double that of the original film.[2]

But, look, there is no way to absolutely discount the home video market. It has its pros and its cons. Anything does. I’m convinced that it’s more a blessing than anything else. I wouldn’t have seen 75% of the movies I’ve seen without it. I wouldn’t have something to purchase when I’m bored.

And one day I’ll get a giant TV with a Blu Ray player and a giant surround sound system, and then I won’t have to worry so much about seeing a movie in theaters.

One Last Thing:

Obviously, this is all conjecture when it comes to major motion picture patterns in relation to the home video market.

I can only imagine that, from a business sense, its growth as a secondary market has forced them to consider projects in a different light.

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[1] Cash Money numbers grabbed from the-numbers.com. Usually, I use Box Office Mojo but they oddly don’t have home video numbers.

[2] Film is made at 24 frames per second; 1080 TVs run anywhere between 60-120fps. I don’t know much about it because I’m poor and can’t afford an awesome TV. Either way, this is why movies look kind of weird when you watch it on the TV at Sears. There’s probably a way to change it.

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