On the Post-Modern Analysis of Non-Cinematic Film Viewing

New technology (e.g., iPads) allows people to watch movies made for the big screen on small screens and to do so in pieces rather than all at once as in a theater.

A gaggle of cultural critics are asking, amongst other abstruse questions, whether this is “creating a new form of discontinuous anti-narrative expectation in the way we consume cinema”.

Yet there’s nothing new under the sun, as Peter Bradshaw reminds those of us who grew up watching movies on “mum and dad’s crummy old telly”.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

4 thoughts on “On the Post-Modern Analysis of Non-Cinematic Film Viewing”

  1. Without resorting to literarycritiquese, there’s an obvious difference between watching movies on TV in the 40s and watching Netflix today and it’s mirrored in the difference between cinema then and now: we choose what we want to watch today from a much larger set of options. Popular styles (say, fashion) seem much less shared than when it was driven by media consumed almost universally; popular films are much more likely to reference established commercial trends than start new ones.

    As far as breaking movies into bits via Netflix/DVR goes, folks tend to stop at a break in the narrative. There’s more self-control involved, but it’s what film serials have done for about 100 years. I have noticed some awareness of this in television drama production. The most successful TV drama (with a few exceptions) on broadcast TV are self-contained mini-movies that rarely advance some bigger narrative, which is needed to stop people from changing channels and capture casual viewers who’d be turned off if shows required previous knowledge. The most successful TV dramas in the premium cable sector conclude with hooks into the upcoming episode, which goes well with the need to sell DVDs of full seasons, maintain cable subscriptions and compulsively click “next episode” on Netflix. None of this is particularly new, though.

    The biggest changes in popular media in my lifetime, by far, came from digital editing and filming and advances in music/sound editing. Even the cheapest films can now be reshot and recut many, many times. It would be very cool to see someone try to make a big-budget film today with single takes (including live sound/music) a la the 1920s.

    1. “As far as breaking movies into bits via Netflix/DVR goes, folks tend to stop at a break in the narrative. There’s more self-control involved, but it’s what film serials have done for about 100 years.”

      I guess this depends on what you call “a break in the narrative,” Serials and tv shows tend to stop just before some kind of resolution (whether mini or major) so that the poor saps will come back for the rest.

      (But I am thinking mostly of a sort of counterclaim: a friend with hardworking kidneys, who before the widespread use of the vcr had never seen any movie in its entirety. Even without such, given many theatrical audiences, the only way to see films as a whole is to watch them on a smaller screen.)

    2. “Russian Ark” (2002) was done in a single take as a single shot from a single camera.

  2. Many downmarket films (horror, pornography) are marketed straight to DVD and never see the inside of a theatre. Nigeria’s entire film industry, with tiny budgets but large numbers of productions, is based on a digital-to-disc model. The cultural theorists should get out, or perhaps stay in, more.

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