David Denby rounds up the usual suspects in an article on the American film business in The New Yorker. The studios make expensive, mass market films for young men and families. They make most of their money from home video and ancillaries, but they're still focused on the big opening weekend. The mini-majors make more sophisticated movies on smaller budgets for an urban élite. Teenagers and young adults often prefer the internet to the multiplex. The experience of movies in the theater can't really be reproduced at home or on an iPod--it is in some ways diminished.

The article contains various false notes. Denby makes it seem like it's a new thing that people watch movies on small screens, but this has been going on for half a century. He describes most movie theaters as rotting relics of the 1970s, neglecting the boom in theater construction in the 1990s and early 2000s that has perpetuated and exacerbated opening-weekend mania. And he suggests at the end of the article that one savior for movie theaters may be having trendy cafés in the lobby, which have been fixtures of upscale exhibition for many years.

Denby is best when comparing film and digital projection/viewing experiences in terms of qualities of images and sounds in the various formats and spaces used to experience them. His description of the sound experience using headphones as opposed to sitting in a room with speakers is a good point I hadn't read elsewhere. These observations make the case for defending film better than his more lyrical and nostalgic passages. For example:
At home, watching an old movie that once engulfed us, we yearn for more emotion, more color, more meaning. If we can’t get it, we have to fill it in from memory, the way someone listening to a beloved piece of music on the beach will fill in instrumental color and rhythms wiped out by a roaring surf.
Who is this "we"? I know what Denby is talking about, but this isn't always my experience. Repeated viewings on video often increase my affection for old films, and the many films I have seen only on video have often moved me emotionally in a way that didn't leave me wishing for more.

(See more discussion + links at the chutry experiment.)

EXTRA: Denby more or less demolished by the Bagger, who links to the NY Observer's Deep Impact to the NYer's Armageddon.

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