Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"You'll think you have experienced it..."

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
-- H.M. Warner (Warner Brothers), 1927

Let's agree on one thing: different is different. Fine. That's pretty straightforward. But to say something is better or worse -- without giving some context -- because it's different... is ignorant.

Recently, David Lynch had a little video moment about how watching a movie on your ("fucking") phone is, in his words, "a sadness." He says that you can't "experience" the film on your phone. "You'll think you have experienced it, buy you'll be cheated." The video's been around the 'net and parodied, etc. Here's my favorite version:


Now... if you watch this YouTube video of an iPhone playing the video, rather than the original, and you think you've seen it, you're wrong. You may think you've experienced the 30 second interview with Lynch, but you're being cheated. My appologies.

If Lynch's obvious point is that films are created with an original intention that they be watched on a large screen, and that watching them on a much smaller screen is different... well, ok. That's fine. The experiences are, clearly, different.

But couldn't we say the same thing about watching films on TV? Or on the 8-of-12 screens at my local multiplex that are, frankly, way too small to be considered movie screens? The ones only about as wide as 10 seats. That's not a movie; that's a really big TV. You wanna see "Lawrence of Arabia," you should have to turn your head a little, even from half-way back in the theater.

Couldn't we say the same thing about eating while watching a film? The creators didn't write, direct, produce and perform the film with the thought, "I wonder how this will look and sound while someone is slupring Diet Sprite and mawing down a 2 lb. bag of Goobers." We could say the same thing about seeing the movie while drunk, stoned or tired. I've seen hundreds, if not thousands, of films in theaters, and I've fallen asleep for a moment or two a few times. Have I been cheated?

What if I don't understand the references in a movie? Either actual ones (vocabulary, history, geography) or tangential ones (art, cinematography, culture)? Am I being cheated if I don't "get" all the funky allusions in a Tarantino picture?

Follow this out far enough, and I don't think I can experience a David Lynch film uncheated... unless I'm David Lynch. He seems like a nice enough guy, sure... but I think my wife would be surprised if he showed up in the kitchen at 7 am tomorrow.

Who decides? In the creation of art, the author does, obviously. A writer or director or actor makes innumerable decisions about what to edit from any moment of a piece. You (often/usually) can't go back and ask for the early drafts or takes. You get what is put forward as the final piece.

But from there, it's up to you to decide. Do you power-read a book of Yeats' poetry so that you have a vague familiarity with it? Or do you spend some good, quiet time with each piece? Or do you read some background history on the work so that you can put it into a biographical and cultural context? That's up to you.

"You'll think you have experienced it" may be the most egotistical remark I've heard thus far this year.

Update: Another iteration. Thanks m_m:


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