IT SHOULDN’T HAPPEN TO A FILM JOURNALIST
Jamie discusses the ups and downs of screening links for critics.
‘JILL FROM MARKETING DOESN’T EXPECT TO SEE LABEOUF GOING AT IT HAMMER AND TONGS’
THIS MONTH WATCHING FILMS ON DIGITAL LINKS
On page 84 of this very issue of Total Film, I sit down with Christopher Nolan to discuss the glory of presenting 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm on the biggest screen possible. Nolan, of course, is one of the loudest proponents for celluloid and the immersive cinema experience. His movies are screened to the press at IMAX theatres.
Imagine what he’d say, then, if he saw film journalists leaning into their laptops to scrutinise fuzzy images and decipher tinny dialogue. Not that a major studio is about to send out a digital link of their latest $250m blockbuster so that a reviewer can watch it at home while doing the ironing. But we do now live in an age when 10 to 20 movies hit UK cinemas every Friday, while a deluge of content goes straight to DVD and/ or streaming platforms. Whatever the breadth of the journalist’s good intentions or depth of obsession, it’s no longer possible to keep up with releases by dedicating your every evening to the screening rooms of Soho. And the smaller distributors know this, choosing to vie for eyes by emailing journos their latest title.
These days I’ve perfected a pretty sweet system, hooking my laptop up to my TV so I at least have a decent-sized screen and volume with oomph. I used to watch movies on the sofa with my laptop balanced on my chest – I needed to be that close to hear the dialogue. Each time I shifted my position, I’d recalibrate the angle of the screen or else lose details to the murk.
Worse, my old laptop always managed to lose the synchronicity of sound and image about 10 minutes into the movie. It left me with a choice: pause the film for a minute or so, which resynced sound and image, and then continue for another 10 minutes until the lag began again; or watch the entire movie in one go with the equivalent of terrible dubbing.
The ordeal was especially abhorrent when watching horror movies: characters lurched into the frame only for the blare on the soundtrack to arrive a second later; axes silently embedded into heads with zero impact, the sound effects guy never able to keep up with the killer.
The above brings to mind another problem with movie links – sometimes I have to watch one in the office in readiness for an interview, and do so with headphones firmly in place, oblivious to those walking by. All Jill from marketing wants is to collect a banana from the kitchen, but instead she sees someone mutilating a bird (My Friend Dahmer) or Shia LaBeouf going at it hammer and tongs (Nymphomaniac).
But the worst thing about digital links is the watermarking designed to ward off piracy. Usually the distributors go with the journalist’s name – trust me, few things distract from a film like having your own moniker emblazoned across it – and frequently they opt to slam it right in the middle of the screen. Not being able to see the protagonist’s eyes because they’re hidden behind a ruddy great ‘J’ and ‘E’ is infuriating.
Nope, Nolan would not be impressed. But then one of the other key advocates of celluloid and cinema, Paul Thomas Anderson, told me in 2014 that he watches movies on aeroplanes and his phone because there aren’t enough hours in the day and, well, needs must. Will film journalists one day be sent links of the new Nolan, PTA or Tarantino movies to watch on their iPad? Probably not, though those guys will be the first to embrace the next wave of tech when films are zapped straight into the cerebral cortex. Now that’ll be immersive.
it’s been another tough day at the office for Jamie…