How To Watch A Film


See this rectangle? Not like this.

There’s a great YouTube video from 2008 called David Lynch on iPhone in which he discusses the ridiculousness of watching a film on such a device. The footage of him talking originates from the bonus features on Inland Empire, and music from an Apple commercial has been added over it as an extra fuck you to the empire. Watch it now, if you haven’t seen it already. It’s one of the best pieces of found object art on the internet.

What Lynch has to say in the video, everyone in their right mind pretty much agrees with: an iPhone is certainly no fucking way to watch a film. But please, those of you who have an iPhone or some sort of iPhone-esque smart phone near you right now, do me favor. First, open up the David Lynch video again, if you closed it. Now, pick up your phone. Place the phone over the YouTube video. It’s pretty much the same fucking size.

What this means is that you probably shouldn’t watch a film on a fucking YouTube or Vimeo or Hulu or Netflix window either. Yet plenty of people do this. In the world we live in right now, I might add; not some future dystopian Idiocracy world or whatever.

“But Cody,” you butt in, “most of these people watching films on their computer are watching them full screen.” That doesn’t make it much better. It isn’t the size that’s the problem per se, it’s the fact that your face is twelve inches from the goings on (that’s what she said) and also that you are quite literally looking down on the film.

How can a viewer give a film its proper respect, watching it this way? It’s very difficult. Our laptops are our tools for judging. Most people do little else on them in a given day. We ‘like’ or ‘favorite’ things, we vote things up and down. Every new thing we see is something for us to be temporarily amused, bored, or angered by.

Film does not fit into this construct. YouTube shorts do, Tweets do, Vines do, etcetera. But not film. Not a feature-length fucking film.

A few months back, my documentary Rehearsals screened at Anthology Film Archives here in NYC, as part of their New Filmmakers series. A fair amount of the people in attendance had seen the film before on Vimeo, months back. I knew that some of these people hadn’t liked it when they’d seen it, and had simply come to the screening because they like me as a person and wanted to support me on my big day. After the film, several of them came up to me and, to my surprise, they had completely different thoughts on the film.

What had previously been a sluggish endurance test had now been a roller coaster, and they were as wide-eyed as if they had just gotten off of one. The emotional beats and arcs, which, during their first time with the film, they’d hardly picked up on, had now been blaring as all hell. A few wondered if I had made changes to the film since they last saw it. I had not. It was exactly the same film, but seeing it on a big screen, looking up at it with full attention and respect, had changed it completely.

One does not need to see a film at a theater to watch it ‘properly’, though. You can simply watch it at home, in somewhat dim lighting, on a properly calibrated flat screen TV (I recommend the Disney World of Wonder Calibration Blu-Ray). Ideally, this TV should be positioned a little higher than head level, so your neck is craned slightly.

The fact that I need to explain this is quite sad. Shit gets sadder, though. There’s an awful trend with people my age that a TV is ‘not necessary’. Everything they want to watch can be watched on their laptop, so like, why bother getting one? That’s money that could be better spent going drinking and eating out! Lifehack FTW!

Rule of life: just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should. Is it a beautiful thing that you can watch a film on your laptop? Absolutely. Should you? No. I’ll cut you a bit of slack if you’re on a plane or stuck in some similar situation (although you should probably just read a book in those instances) but if you’re in your own home, buy a fucking TV.

The inferior way people are watching films these days presents a hell of a problem for budding filmmakers like myself. Since most people watch your films on a laptop, your stuff isn’t being accurately rated. Back during the Spike, Mike, Slackers, and Dykes era, daring, out-of-the-ordinary, low-budget independent films made by 20-somethings were being seen on big theater screens. They were given proper respect. If Richard Linklater were a young filmmaker starting out today, Slacker would be half-watched on Vimeo or YouTube while the viewer (a friend of theirs or a disinterested festival curator) simultaneously browses Facebook. It also likely wouldn’t make it into any festivals, and it certainly wouldn’t be on Netflix.

Wondering why there’s no new crop of groundbreaking indie filmmakers these days? Well, there are, you just don’t know they exist. And part of the reason you don’t is because people don’t care about groundbreaking indie films as much anymore. And the reason they don’t is because when they do come across them, they watch them in a way that strips them of ever possibly caring.

Art must be treated like art. A film is not a fucking cat video. Close your laptop and have a goddamn experience. Facebook will be there when you get back—although you may find you suddenly aren’t interested in it. Being genuinely enriched by a thing will do that to ya.

6 thoughts on “How To Watch A Film”

  1. Awesome essay, my only caveat being that books should be treated with the same respect. A magazine is one thing, but a good book deserves a chance to transport you the way the author intended, without having to contend with crying babies and a bullshitting pilot. Maybe just savor those peanuts and look down on the clouds for a change.

  2. After reading this article, I still have yet to see an intelligent reason why films should not be watched on laptops. You’re not missing *anything.* The entire–yes, entire–image fits onto whatever screen you play it on, so, I don’t see how you are missing anything. Instead of trying to wax philosophical about something you can’t do anything about, or lamenting “these youngsters and their electronics” why not get with the times and make your film compatible with screens of any size? What if someone cannot afford a 60-inch TV in the first place, yet has a love of film and is willing to watch it any way they can? Exactly. Film can be appreciated no matter what it is being watched on; it really just depends on the person that is watching it…
    Netflix, the venue you just condemned, by the way, is a way that indie filmmakers *are* recognized every damn day, regardless of what their films are watched on. All they care about is that you watch. Their. Films. Duh… The real reason there is no “crop of groundbreaking indie filmmakers” is because Hollywood now, more than ever, is about MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY! So, get off your high horse, boy. You can get back on when you get some measure of sense…

    1. ………………….HEAR THAT CODY???????????????? THAT’S A FUCKING SMART PERSON TALKING RIGHT THERE YOU EXTREMELY PRETENTIOUS JACKASS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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