Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second

On The Seventh Art In The Age Of The Digital.

The Wednesday Debate – The Screen Illusion

This weeks Wednesday Debate is inspired by a revelation made during the latest episode of Film Clash, by my esteemed co-host Ali Bianchi.

Ali admitted to watching Citizen Kane for the first time in over a decade on a laptop screen, in two parts, in a Starbucks. As can be heard from my reaction I was quite taken aback by this. Doesn’t a film like “Kane” deserve more respect than that? Can cinema be scaled down and enjoyed properly on a 15inch screen? Should it be?!

Pixar’s UP, a Best Picture nominee at the 82nd Academy Awards was used to promote Apple’s iPad when the device was first released. Whilst watching movies in a convenient manner while on the move is one of that devices key features, I do think it raises some interesting questions about how people consume cinema, a term which at its very essence is associated with the kind of spectacle ill afforded by the sort of conditions available on a consumer level.

As technology, and indeed tastes, have developed, consumer demand for multiple viewing platforms has no doubt grown; as one member of a family watches Saturday night television on the main living room set, one might argue that the capabilities for dual viewing might seem like a life saver to some. One could argue that in the case of a film like UP it’s a testament to great filmmaking that scenario and viewing conditions matter not one jot, and that within the boundaries afforded by portable film viewing different things take precedence (for example character is exemplified over visual capacity in such conditions.

But, and without meaning to sound too precious, is it right? I’ll finish off with thoughts that echo my own, albeit conveyed infinitely more succinctly, by filmmaker David Lynch, who when questioned about how he felt about audiences viewing his films on portable screens had the following to say -

More and more people are seeing the films on computers — lousy sound, lousy picture — and they think they’ve seen the film, but they really haven’t.

It’s a pathetic horror story.

So, where do you stand on the issue at hand? Fire away in the comments below.


  1. Film naturally deserves to be seen in the best available circumstances- usually that will mean a good cinema with decent sound and a respectful audience. Failing that, the best home cinema set up you can afford. Both of thse apply to what can be termed “epics”, film on a wide canvas of spectacle. But there is a lot to be said for intense or measured low key drama, or even animation being viewed on a computer or pad screen. The intimate can draw the viewer in even more on a smaller screen, cut off from distraction by headphones say. A good example that can apply to either scenario is the opening to Withnail And I, as Marwood listens in close-up sweaty intensity to King Curtis’ rendition of “A whiter Shade of Pale” amidst the detritus of his and Withnail’s squalid flat.

    • Its interesting that you mention Withnail & I, as my first encounter with that particular film was via a portable method from the days before iPads and mobile phones; a coach television! In comparison a laptop is pure bliss!

  2. I never watch films on the move, they aren’t portable in my opinion. Books, music yes but a tiny screen and stereo sound just relegates the whole experience.

  3. I only watch movies I have seen before outside the home or cinema. The only occasion I have not done this is on an airplane.

    If you are seeing a “good” film for the first time, IMO it should be in a situation where you can enjoy it without many distractions or interruptions. But that’s just me.

  4. I know I mentioned it last week and probably sound like a broken record but ‘The Artist’ is a fine example of why films deserve to be seen in a cinema – in the right environment amongst 500 strangers.

    ‘The Artist’ captures everything about cinema that we love, and consequently keep coming back for; the scale, the sound, the beauty and the wonder. Big budget 3D blockbusters are not just the only movies worthy of the big-screen experience.

    Films on the go are fine if you have either: A) Seen them numerous times, or B) If you are on a plane.

    Watch an Indie or Comedy whilst on the move, or watch a TV series. Don’t watch something that deserves and demands to be fully experienced and judged accordingly.

  5. To follow Adam’s example and to quote David Lynch, well – to let him speak for himself…


    I watch TV shows on a phone, never for the first time, just to pass the time on a tube journey or such and never get excited about a ‘free’ digital copy on a Triple play Blu-ray. It’s a personal choice of course and so often now the first experience we have with a film is at home with a million distractions but it’s far better than watching something that (unless you hold the phone a few centimetres from your face) takes up about 5% of your total field of vision.

    I do watch films on a laptop now and again but find that the distractions are there too. I did however watch True Grit for the first time on a plane and am still kicking myself. In my defence it was that or Big Momma’s House 3. Even David Lynch would understand.

  6. I have a love of going to the theater to see movies. I like the size of the auditorium. I like that there are other people there (hopefully good ones that are there to enjoy the movie). I like the size of the screen and that it sufficiently overwhelms you. I like the sound of the theater. I actually rarely watch movies outside of going to the theater, which is painful for me right now since going to the theater has been very, very infrequent (I have a three year old and we don’t have resources to hire a babysitter in the city we live in). I go out of my way a couple of times a year to try to make it to a film festival or two in particular since audiences at them tend to be slightly more tolerable. But some of my best memories as a kid and as an adult have to do with being IN the theater proper and sitting in the seat and watching movies. In my young adulthood (19 to 24) I worked in movie theaters in various ways (doorman, projectionist, manager) and I have a lot of great memories of using the theaters I worked in as personal pre-screening opportunities with me and employees and friends. Some of the best late Thursday nights I remember were pre-release theater employee parties (this was before the days of regular midnight showings) and if we couldn’t get Thursday in, we’d schedule around the weekend and have huge theater parties (again, back in the 80s before there were a lot of midnight screenings as a matter of course). I’ve seen movies in tiny holes of theaters, multi-plexes, grand old movie houses, etc. and it’s the whole being in the theater movie-going experience that’s so critical to enjoying movies more than just the movie itself.

  7. I don’t care. I honestly don’t. You can argue about the integrity of the art all you want, but art is not something people are required to recognize and they are free to experience entertainment as they so choose. If they’re catching it in bits and pieces on the fly through their phone, getting distracted by making out with their loved ones while it plays on the ignored tv, throwing it on in the background during chores, if they pay for the right to see a film, the have the right to see it however they fit, whether it meets your personal standards or not.

    That said, if someone is viewing a film for published criticism/discussion, they are professionally obligated to both their readers/listeners/viewers and the people who made the works to give it their fullest attention in a single sitting away from distractions. As to whether or not a laptop is “allowable”, consider that people sit closer to their laptops than they do their television screens, so the image isn’t taking up any less of their field of view, and monitor resolutions aren’t all that different. If they give it their fullest attention, I don’t care if they do it on a laptop. It doesn’t make the viewing experience invalid.

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