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13 January 2005



Sound didn't change the way movies were made? Has Elvis Mitchell ever watched a silent from 1929 and then a sound film from the same year? I think it's quite obvious they were made quite differently. The silent film could go anywhere, see anything, frame a face or a city. The sound film always framed a small stage of a few people gathered around a flower pot that hid the microphone. It took nearly a decade for movies to recover from the way sound changed how they had to be made.


The problem, however, with VOD is that you have to pay each time you want to watch a movie. I would much rather own my own copy of the latest Criterion disc than have to pay once to watch it, once to listen to the commentary, once to watch the trailers, etc. I think the movie from theater to TV, impossible to fight as it is, is profoundly negative. The differences between are not just one of screen-size, but are fundamentally opposing. The bottom line is that the theater traps you into a space that basically forces your attention - the only real escape is sleep or an obnoxious exit. Watching a movie on TV allows for the bathroom, checking email, pausing to talk on the phone, do the cross-word puzzle, etc. These differences in presentation affect the way we watch, which is why TV has always lacked the visual charisma and subtlety.

I do agree that DVD is, straight up, awesome, and it has been impressing me more and more, but transition to predominantly VOD market is awful the "art," if you will, making everything just television.

Its like GOOGLE putting libraries into its search engine. Are we going to loose the hard copies?


i was just rushing here to say this, but luke beat me to it: the advent of sound didn't change the way films were _made_? what is elvis mitchell smoking?? many have argued, eloquently, that the changes wrought by sound cut off a whole possibility, a direction in which cinema could have gone and didn't -- as godard wrote, sound and image were like two people who meet up along a road and are never able to part again.

i can't imagine that DVDs would completely supplant the tradition of seeing films in theaters -- video didn't, and i'd argue that the change from no home method of seeing movies at all to video, was more radical than the shift from VHS to DVD. just as paper books are not going anywhere, anytime soon -- they're just too good a technology, and provide all kinds of things electronic versions can't, like portability, cheapness, independence from other media (if the lights go out, you can read a book by candlelight.) in the same way, people don't want to lose the experience of going to the movies: on dates, in groups, to get out of the house, to forget about the world.

David Hudson

Luke and Dana, all in all, I think Elvis Mitchell did overstate his case in order to make a point. Or to put it less politely, yes, he was wrong about the impact of sound. But he went too far out on a limb because it just looked so damned dramatic out there, and that was the gist he was trying to get across - the DVD is big, big, BIG!

Also, Dana, I agree, people are always going to want out together to the movies. But how many? And how often? Your book example applies somewhat, but I think the old photography/painting horse could be reasonably beat one more time in this case. Yes, people still want to go out and look at paintings. But how many? And how often? The fact of the matter is, ticket sales continue to decline while DVD sales continue booming.

To carry on playing devil's advocate, Dave, I would guess that there are as many different home viewing experiences as there are homes. Not everyone is that inattentive to a film they want to see enough to fork over 10 or 20 bucks for in the first place; and need it be said that not every movie-going experience in an actual theater is pleasant? There've been times when I wish I were watching a film at home because it'd be a lot easier to concentrate on it there than in a room with bad air, munchers and chatterers.

As for paying each and every time you watch something, this was of course the model several online music companies floated and consumers shot right back down again. They've embrace the iTunes model because they pay for a song once and it's theirs. The studios seem determined to ignore each and every lesson the music industry learned the hard (and expensive) way, but eventually, they're going to figure out that we all want exactly what you want.


One thing's for sure, however, and that's that DVDs have changed the way we watch movies -- the way the vast majority of people watch movies, I mean -- and the way people think of movies.

The DVD is transforming our expectations of a movie -- screen size, random access capabilities, powerplays between film and viewer. As TVs get bigger and better, people become more willing to subject themselves to the home video experience; I remember how, the second time I saw Mulholland Dr., it was on a huge, crystal clear television set, and it was just like being at the movies -- almost exactly. So, our expectations in regards to the screen are changing.

The other two points play into one another. Yes, the VHS always offered fast forward, rewind and pause capabilities, but DVD offers chapter marks and bookmarks -- random access capabilities, which one can use, if so inclined, to re-edit the film in the viewing of it. Now, I don't know anyone who's actually done that, of course, but even so. Realistically, that's just a few steps up from pausing a DVD to get a drink or rewinding slightly to re-watch a scene. Bookmarks allow people to watch regular, feature length movies over the course of a couple of days if the want to. They choose how they watch them film, in other words -- the film itself doesn't dictate to them.

Earlier last year, one of the film bloggers -- I think it was one of the Conversationalists actually -- was writing about why they don't like the idea of owning DVDs: they like the idea of the movie having power over them, not vice-versa. I just wonder if, with the advent of the DVD, our expectations for cinema are slightly shifting -- from a passive, masochistic position to a more aggressive and sadistic one.

Wiley Wiggins

All I know is that a movie can seduce me in a theater much more readily than on DVD. I need the theater experience to fully appreciate a film.


I can't tell you how pleased I am to see this 'Slate Movie Club clone' with comments enabled, and even that the original posters are watching the comments and responding to them!

BTW, David, GreenCine is the BEST film 'link-blog' out there. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Now, can you convince GreenCine to open a distribution center in Minneapolis? :-) I've been begging Netflix to grab a copy of Sunrise (1927) for ages, but they're too stubborn!

Re: DVD. Because my tastes are so self-righteously opposed to what appears to be mainstream taste (okay, Anchorman made me laugh), I don't care much for watching most films in the theater because my reaction differs so greatly from everyone else in the theater. Also, the dust, scratches, and jerky reel-changes can't compare to the experience of a crystal clear DVD playing on a nice, big TV. And, I can pause ROTK on DVD to take a piss and grab some popcorn, but in the theater that means missing the Mt. Doom sequence or wetting my pants (okay, like Mr. Mitchell, this is an exaggeration to make a point).

I know others have different preferences, but if the DVD was released the same day theaters started showing a film, I might never go to the theater again (as it is, I still only go a few times a year). Besides, it's cheaper to buy a DVD at WalMart than to see it once, in a crowded, messy theater, anyway.


re: Luke's comments on DVD -- you see what I mean? DVDs are actively transforming the audience itself.

"Anchorman made me laugh."

Nothing to be ashamed of there, Luke.



No, I'm not the least ashamed that Anchorman made me laugh. Indeed, that was my attempt to appear less chronically contrarian with mainstream tastes.

I agree with Mitchell (and you, Matt) that DVDs are changing the audience of film. Netflix + clones, via the easily-shippable DVD format, are also changing the audience. My only issue with Mitchell was his poke at the insignificance of sound.

P.S. The seemingly Invincible Blight of pan-and-scan must be defeated! (If only so I can safely borrow my friend's DVDs instead of renting everything)


I think that eventually when we reach a state of true VOD, where a vast library of films is available as opposed to simply 20-30 at a time, what you'll see is something akin to a subscription-based service. In fact, not too long ago I remember reading a rumor of Netflix and TiVo trying to formulate some deal that would allow TiVo subscribers (for an additional fee) to access some segment of the Netflix inventory through their TiVos rather than waiting for the DVD to come by mail.

Mini versions of this already exist via digital cable (and it's the one major advantage digital cable has over satellite systems that can't offer VOD). All the major premium channels have "On-Demand" options now where you do not pay-per-view. Rather, here in New York, if you have Time Warner cable and you subscribe to HBO, you also get HBO On Demand for free. If you don't subscribe, you can get it for a monthly fee. Same with Showtime On Demand. Those channels offer a selection of movies, series and specials that air on the channels, but you can access them whenever you like.

In fact, this month, Time Warner added a bunch of other On Demand channels for free, including ones for Comedy Central, BBC America and A&E. (Sadly, no The Office on BBCA right now. But I wouldn't be surprised if within 10 years, you see various On Demand channels organized by genre or decade or something, each with hundreds of selections, and all accessible by subscription rather than pay-per-view. I don't think that will necessarily be the death of DVD, but it will compete more directly.


Reel changes, dust, and scratches adds to the experience (although a hideous audience is just that - hideous). I know that I'm watching film passed through a projecter, the fundamental idea of which makes the movie resonate (even junk, believe it or not), which is why I find myself seeing a lot of trash (i.e. Stepford Wives remake). The two are just... different. Even the brain processes the two differently. If someone offered to show me a perfect DVD of a film vs a pretty good print, I would take the print over the DVD any day.

David Hudson

Thanks for the kind words, Luke.

By the way, the cover story of the Guardian's Friday Review today is all about what we've been talking about in this particular thread. Tim de Lisle's numbers are fairly UK-centric but his overall points seem to be practically universal.


Ah, how convenient! Thanks - for the... [counts]... 494th time - for the link!

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