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June 1995, Week 4


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 27 Jun 1995 09:18:14 -0600
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Mike Frank inquires:
"No doubt there is truth in all these positions.  Still it seems to me that
watching a film on video might be liekened to reading a text in
translation--you don't get the original but you get something, and depending
on what you're loking for, what you get might prove reasonably adequate.  The
issue of translation in general, even the question of the possibility of
translation, is enormously complex, and it is my purpose to work through it
and see how it might apply to the film/video debate--so I don't want to
explore it fully just now (though I'd be happy to share some speculations
with anyone who expresses an interest.)
For the moment, though, I'm curious about others' ideas on these issues.
Are there objections other than the ones summarized above?  Do list
subscribers who use video have a rationale for doing so, or do they simpy
find it an unavoidable evil?  Are there some aspects of cinema that come
through on video more completely than others?"
I'm not sure my use of video is anything more than expedient--I'd certainly
hesitate to say there's any theory behind it, but here are a few thoughts,
for what they're worth:
A good video (tape sometimes, and certainly laserdisc) can be better than a
bad print.  When you an umpteenth generation print that has been hacked and
manhandled, the image on a good video is simply better.
For pure expedience, foreign films are sometimes better on video than on a
film print--the titles can be easier to read, for example.  The film version
of WILD STRAWBERRIES that I've sometimes used has at least one full reel
with the soundtrack out of synch!  The video, though, is ok.
A good, letterboxed video can give a better sense of the aspect ratio and
cinematography of a film than a 16 mm. print that's been cropped.
And of course, even an analytic projector plays hell with the print after a
while, while video is ideal for repeated and close viewings of individual
I use our library's 16mm. copy of THE GENERAL when I have a pianist to
accompany it, but when I lost the woman who had been getting quite good at
playing the score (courtesy of the Arthur Kleiner collection at the U of
Minnesota library), I have usually resorted to a video that has a fairly
good soundtrack.
If I were going to approach this issue from any kind of theoretical basis,
though, I might begin with the point that video is the way in which most
people in the U.S. are now most familiar with film.  Of course, there's
a marked difference between seeing JURASSIC PARK in a theater (with THX
sound) and on a TV at home, but JP is now being seen again and again by
home audiences on that basis.  Certainly filmmakers for sometimes have been
eying the home audience as an issue to be dealt with in composing aspect
ratios, so one can consider that many films are made to be seen on video
eventually--what does that do to the theatrical exhibition?
I'm as dedicated to the "purity" of film form as anyone, but that form itself
is becoming less and less pure.  I'm curious about other people's thoughts too.
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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