Thursday, August 4, 2011

How much does screen size matter?

Flickchart Tuesdays is on Wednesday this week. Send a letter to the complaints department.

This week I thought I would see how much the size of the screen I watched a movie on affects its ranking. Put in a different way: What are my top ten movies I saw on video for the first time?

In the past I've argued that seeing a movie in the theater is likely to make you appreciate it slightly more than you would otherwise. That's certainly not true in all cases, and the reverse is difficult to prove as well. By that I mean, the reason we see more bad movies at home than in the theater is because we're usually not willing to spend theater prices on movies we suspect will be bad. So all the marginal crap eventually gets watched on DVD. However, I argue that if we did see those movies in the theater, we might have liked them slightly better. As long as we didn't like them worse because we spent the whole time grumbling over the waste of money.

But today I want to focus on good movies seen at home, not bad movies seen at home or bad movies seen in the theater. The theory I'd like to examine, because I probably couldn't go so far as to prove it, is whether slightly inferior movies I saw in the theater would be ranked higher in my Flickchart than movies I saw at home for the first time, which may be "better." Like I say, there's a lot of speculation here because the quality of a film is not absolute -- one person's "good" might be another person's "terrible."

One thing I can do, however, is measure how quickly I get to my top ten video movies (20 with the "honorable mentions" section) in terms of my overall rankings, and compare that to how quickly I "should" get to that number based on the total number of movies I've seen in the theater vs. at home. In other words, I've seen more than two movies on video for every one I've seen in the theater in my lifetime. In fact, although I don't have the exact numbers in front of me right now, it's something like 2331 movies seen on video for the first time to 978 movies seen in the theater for the first time. (Um, yeah, I guess that's pretty close to "exact.") Rounding the lower number up, let's say that's 30% theater movies and 70% video movies.

Which means that if all else were equal, 30% of my top 100 movies should be movies I saw in the theater. Of course, all else is not equal, since as discussed above, you're more likely to see good movies in the theater and bad movies at home. But it will be interesting to see how much the final total deviates from that 30%/70% breakdown.

One final note before we finally get into this: You may notice films like Citizen Kane and The Bicycle Thief not appearing on this list, and wonder how I could have been around in the 1940s to see those films in the theater for the first time. For the purposes of this argument I am considering those to be "theatrical" screenings, because I saw them in film classes where they were projected. (Though I suppose it's also possible I could have seen them in special theatrical re-releases.) That will focus the emphasis of this post on the actual method of screening, not the era of the release of the films.

Okay! Again, a reminder that I don't know what the results will be before they come up ... I just load up Flickchart and start typing.

1. A Fish Called Wanda (1988, Charles Crichton). Flickchart: #10. Well, it's interesting to note that it takes until my 10th favorite movie to get one I saw for the first time on video. Makes perfect sense with this one -- I was about 15 when it came out, and I hadn't yet discovered the pleasures of British farce. So my friends and I wouldn't have been lining up for this one -- we had to hear about it word-of-mouth. I did see it within a year of its release, though. And for awhile owned a 3D cardboard fish tank diorama type thing that they used to advertise it in a video store that went out of business.

2. Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly). Flickchart: #14. No surprise here either. Donnie Darko is the consummate cult movie, which means most people missed it in its initial theatrical run. We just relied on the wise few who did see it to spread the gospel to the rest of us. But boy would I have loved to see this on a big screen. I actually did see the vastly inferior director's cut on the big screen in 2004. Unfortunately, it was vastly inferior.

3. Run Lola Run (1999, Tom Tykwer). Flickchart: #16. I vividly remember the night I rented Run Lola Run, though I don't vividly remember the name of the service from which I rented it. It was one of those short-lived delivery concepts where you would order a variety of things online, including food and videos, and they would deliver to your house. (Or, apartment, since it was New York.) I used to love ordering Ben & Jerry's and Krispy Kreme with my movies. Then you would return the movie in drop boxes located around the city. Anyway, I probably would have seen Lola in the theater if I hadn't been a poor grad student living in New York City at the time.

4. When Harry Met Sally ... (1989, Rob Reiner). Flickchart: #17. I don't at all remember the circumstances of the first time I saw When Harry Met Sally. My guess is that it was on a rental night with my high school friends. As is the case with many comedies, they don't suffer as much on the small screen as the large-scale epics tend to suffer.

5. Bound (1996, Andy & Larry Wachowski). Flickchart: #27. I remember the thrill of discovery when I watched Bound, but not the circumstances. I might have watched it with my friend Justin. Yeah, that sounds right.

6. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones). Flickchart: #28. The hardest I've ever laughed in my life was the first time I saw the scene where King Arthur systematically hacks off both arms and then both legs of the knight who challenges him, yet the man hasn't lost his pluck. "Tis but a flesh wound." I was rolling around in my basement for minutes on that one.

7. National Lampoon's Animal House (1978, John Landis). Flickchart: #29. The consummate movie people discover when they go to college -- for my generation, anyway. We must have watched this at least ten times my freshman year in college, making up for the fact that I didn't get out to the theater to see it when I was five.

8. Do the Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee). Flickchart: #31. When this was in the theater, I was probably a tad too young to have developed a sense that movies could serve a purpose beyond merely entertaining me through some particular accessible genre. My first film class came in the fall of 1990. You can bet I saw Lee's next movie, Jungle Fever, in the theater the following year.

9. Dumb and Dumber (1994, Peter & Bobby Farrelly). Flickchart: #36. I had a big bias against Jim Carrey from his In Living Colour days, and I didn't get past it until I finally saw Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in 1995. I'm pretty sure my first Dumb and Dumber screening came quickly on the heels of that. It hasn't been my last.

10. This is Spinal Tap (1984, Rob Reiner). Flickchart: #37. I don't remember my first screening of this film, but I do remember my first introduction to it. It was on an island we used to visit for a week every summer. On our last night there, all the kids would stay up all night, because we were cherishing every minute we could spend together until we saw each other the next summer. One year I remember seeing the night staff watching it on a TV in the lobby at something like 5 in the morning. Intrigued, I probably saw it soon after that.

11. Defending Your Life (1991, Albert Brooks). Flickchart: #39.
12. The Cable Guy (1996, Ben Stiller). Flickchart: #46.
13. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006, Tom Tywker). Flickchart: #47.
14. Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock). Flickchart: #48.
15. The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming). Flickchart: #49.
16. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973, Norman Jewison). Flickchart: #56.
17. Dangerous Liaisons (1988, Stephen Frears). Flickchart: #60.
18. Airplane! (1980, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker & Jerry Zucker): Flickchart: #62.
19. All About Eve (1950, Joseph L. Mankiewicz). Flickchart: #63.
20. The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin). Flickchart: #64.

So 20 of my top 64 films were seen on video for the first time. Twenty divided by 64 = 31%. So it works out kind of inversely: Movies I saw in the theater for the first time are only 30% of my total, but they account for 70% of my favorite films. Whereas movies I saw for the first time on video are 70-30 in the other direction.

What do we conclude from this? I don't know.

Though if I had to analyze it, I'd say that I'm pretty good at identifying movies I will love, and seeing them in the theater. Of course, the raving of critics has probably had something to do with helping me identify them.

It's also interesting to note that only eight of these movies were movies I probably would never have seen in the theater, either because I was not born yet or because I was under ten years old, and the subject matter would not have been appropriate for me. I guess that just means that my favorite movies, in general, are weighted toward movies that were made in my lifetime. Which is probably something most movie fans find to be true about themselves. This also helps explain why The Dark Knight is the top-ranked movie on Flickchart -- Flickchart's vast majority of younger users consider it more relevant to them than, say, Airplane! or This is Spinal Tap.

There. I hope you feel at least ten percent more enriched by this scientific exercise.

Back next week with another in-depth look into my favorite films of all time.

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