May 23, 2011

Boxing with the Idiot

Eva Green’s cinephile character in ‘The Dreamers’ proudly claims that she does not watch TV. ‘We are purists, the purest of the pure.’ That moment in this amazing film is what I could relate most to. I don’t have a TV set, I don’t want one. And I consciously stay away from the best of American TV – soaps that have a huge fan-following all around the world. I’m sure they must be well-made, and I would love them, but I’m afraid of being addicted. Reason – they will encroach into my movie-time!

Cinema, or at least the movie-watching trend in theatres, has never felt as threatened by anything as by the ‘Idiot Box’. In fact, various evolutionary milestones in the history of cinema were reactions to the advent of TV. For example, despite having produced successful colour blockbusters in the 30s, B&W movies continued to be made in Hollywood, so much so that 88% of those released in the year as late as 1947 were in B&W. Then came the TV, moving images brought home in a small box, gaining popularity in the 50s. In order to keep the audience interested, as many as 50% of the movies adopted colour. And when colour TV came in the 60s, it was the end of B&W era for cinema.

Another innovation made to counter the threat was the adoption of the Widescreen. The Aspect Ratio of 1.66:1 or more provided a visual experience that TV could not emulate. This not only led to dramatic changes in the cinema aesthetics: exploring the horizontal space, and using longer, uninterrupted shots as each frame was now wide enough to display a close up, a medium shot and a wide angle simultaneously, it also led to a natural proliferation of genres more suited to this format, like the Historical Epics and Westerns.

Hollywood also started experimenting with 3D as a ploy against the TV. The early attempts were flawed. However, the evolution continued and today 3D movies provide a strong attraction for the audience to come to the theatres. The idea is to provide them with something they do not usually experience, as is the idea behind the IMAX (Image Maximization) technology: to fill the field of human vision by producing an image as large as 20 metres high and 26 metres wide. OMNIMAX (or IMAX DOME) uses a fisheye lens for projecting a 165-degree image on a giant dome screen surrounding the viewer with high-fidelity sound, thus increasing the spectator's feeling of immersion.

These technological advances, however, continue to affect cinema in more ways than one. With improved CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) technology, the option of 3D, and a giant screen for projection, movie theatres are turning to amusement parks, with the preferred genres being Sci-Fi, Action-Adventure, and Fantasy. Drama, the most prominent film genre, is dying a slow death. Filmmaking was once a costly business. Today, with inexpensive but good-quality digital cameras around, anyone can shoot a Drama or a Comedy and upload it on the internet. In fact, the current American media is already showing such trends, where the genre of Drama is being limited to its widely popular soaps and serials. It will be interesting to see how, in the years to come, cinema responds to this. More technological innovations and increased focus on specific genres will be the oxygen for movie theatres. And perhaps the only way for Dramas, Comedies and Art-house/Experimental cinema to find its audience would be the way through the idiot box.

(A lot in this post comes from ‘Studying Film’, a book by Abrams, Bell, and Udris.)

P.S. On the insistence of a dear friend, I just finished watching Episode 1 of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, something that seems to be tailor-made for me, because of its setting in a hospital and the characters being young doctors – things which have already become nostalgia-elements for me. Seems I have taken the first step towards exploring something I kept delaying till today. And the first thing that came to the mind of this “purest of the pure” on watching the first episode was to start the second!


  1. Finally u opened your doors to the best of television... Wish you happy infections! :)

  2. You know, I'm loving 'Grey's Anatomy' and I am sure to like other popular soaps as well. Everyday I look forward to watch one episode...
    But despite all this, I still have to see whether it can give me the fulfillment watching a good movie does...

  3. I will let u on a secret :)
    once u get to like a series, you wont be able to "look forward to watching only an episode a day"! it will usually be a series of 3-4 episodes (if of 44mts format) back-to-back, and if the addiction level is even higher, you will may be end up finishing an entire season in a day or two.. ha ha..

  4. I knew that... this was the reason why I satyed away from these series. If I spend all my time watching these then when will I work and watch movies! Not having a workspace and an office-timing means I have to manage myself with discipline...
    But I have been able to do that. Watched 1 episode a day and now am about to end Season 1. I really hope not to get the addiction you mention above.

  5. your style of watching has quite other upsides too. when watching a series in a continuous run of 4-6 hrs daily (on no work days), a saturation/monotony is likely to be set up against the series, forcing a need of break.. that apart, even when after just watching a great / thought provoking episode, when i immediately follow it up with the next episode, i lose out on the valuable after effect hangover or sometimes an important post watch thought process.. but such are the downsides of addiction and i wish i had more control!

  6. I will tell you the biggest upside of my 'style of watching'. I watched the 9 episodes of Grey's Season one over a period of 12 days. So I got a lot of time between the episodes. Hence, I was forced to think about the characters' graphs and make speculations. It was as if all these characters are real people I am slowly discovering. This I suppose is also the biggest merit of a TV series and something that keeps people hooked.

  7. Hi Satyanshu, I came across your blog via quaintkal's (and thank you for following my posts). Now, I admit to being one of those TV series addicts you have so far avoided turning into. I think most of the real time broadcast on TV is almost always utter shite, so my husband and I buy up DVD sets of the series we like and watch those instead. Our evenings are often spent in plot/character deconstruction while consuming much wine. Some people would call us sad, but we are happy! Anyway, what I wanted to ask you was this: have you come across the American series House? It's very well written and I like the misanthropic doctor saving people's lives while destroying their sanity-saving illusions about themselves and their lives. He challenges his team of diagnosticians morally as much as medically. I'll let you discover the rest yourself, if you'd like :)

  8. @smitha
    Yeah, I have heard a lot about House. My Doctor friends love it. May be I will watch that some day.
    But I'm seriously preventing myself from turning into a TV addict. After finishing Grey's Anatomy Season 1 urgently, I am not starting season 2. As once I do that, it will again require my time and attention. And the excuse I give is - I must give some gap between the two seasons!

  9. Very wise! And you have a stronger will than I!