Tuesday, November 11, 2008

This movie computes -- more or less

It finally happened. Perhaps it was inevitable. I watched a movie on a computer.

I'm old enough to remember when critics refused to review films they hadn't seen in theaters or in screening rooms. The idea of watching a video on a TV was akin to making love with one's clothes on, a poor approximation. But times change, home-theater equipment improves and necessity pushes principles aside. We'll save the debate about new modes of distribution for another time. For now, let's say that watching a movie on a computer is about the same as watching it on a decent but small-screened television.

The movie in question happened to be "Mar Nero" ("Black Sea"), an Italian feature from director Federico Bondi. I had a copy of the film because Bondi had won a $10,000 cash prize in the form of the first Maria and Tommaso Maglione Italian Filmmaker Award, an annual selection that will be funded through the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation and presented at the Starz Denver Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday. Bondi's film shows in the festival at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20.

I'm planning to do a festival Podcast with Bondi and with Anna Sie, who named the award after her parents. I needed to see the movie before its scheduled festival screening. As luck would have it, the DVD I was given came up blank on my player, which is hooked up to a fairly new, high-definition set. Someone suggested I try a computer. So my wife and I trundled into her office and popped the disc into her iMac. Sure enough, the movie played. We selected the full-screen mode and jacked up the sound as much possible. We do not have speakers hooked up to the computer, probably because neither of us listens to music on it.

As the DVD rolled, we watched Ilaria Occhini portray an irascible elderly woman who's being assisted by an illegal immigrant from Romania (Dorotheea Petre). In reviewing the movie at last August's Locarno Film Festival, Jay Weissberg wrote in Varliety: "'Black Sea'" reps a notable freshman feature and should see decent fest and Euro cable play."

Given a general lack of interest in subtitled fare, it's unlikely that "Mar Nero" will find U.S. distribution, even after being tagged as an award recipient in Denver. But as Weissberg notes, it makes for a respectable festival pick, and it doesn't totally follow the expected arc: Mean older woman ultimately finds friendship with the Romanian helper she initially abuses. The story doesn't quite work out that way.

So can one appreciate a movie that's watched on a computer? On some level, yes. Of course, it's not the same as the theatrical experience. I have no doubt, for example, that the work of director of photography, Gigi Martinucci, would have looked better had it been run through a projector. The movie was shot in high def and transferred to 35 mm, a process that seems to be improving all the time.

Computers aren't ideal for viewing movies. But if the alternative is not seeing the movie at all, a computer screen may have to do, providing of course one knows enough to understand what's being lost. If I really loved a movie I had only been able to watch on computer, I'd make it a point of seeing it again in a theater if that were possible.

I write this note mostly because I can't believe I actually used a computer for something other than browsing the Web or writing, and because I have a feeling that in the brave new world that awaits, this won't be the last time I watch a movie on the same device I use to check email.

p.s. I'm collecting anecdotes about computer viewing, so if you have one, please leave it as a comment. What do you watch? Shorts? Downloaded features? DVDs? Do you feel guilty about watching movies on a computer? How often do you use your computer for watching films?

And if you want to keep up with festival Podcasts, you'll find them on the Starz Denver Film Festival site.


Anonymous said...

I was watching DVDs on my laptop while in between homes. It isn't the same as watching a film in a theater, but generally I prefer watching films at home rather than dealing with annoying people in a theater. The only downside is that I've had a couple of DVDs stuck in my laptop.

What kind of DVD player do you have? It sounds like you might need one that plays DVD-Rs and VCDs so that you can watch other screeners.

Robert Denerstein said...

I've since borrowed a DVD player that will play just about anything. Been looking at a fair amount of stuff for the upcoming Starz Denver Film Festival. As soon as that's over, I'm going to buy a player that will play DVD-Rs, etc. Any recommendations?

Anonymous said...

I can't make a recommendation because there are several factors to consider - price and formats. I don't have any Blu-Ray DVDs at this time, so I have a Philips DVD player that Amazon conveniently supplied the all region code for reprogramming. I watch some R2 DVDs, but significantly more R3s. I also have a couple of VCDs of Thai films. Several of the SDFF films I've seen were on DVD-Rs such what you had for Black Sea.