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Thinking pop culture

The Where of the Watch

A pair of lovely Swedes were in town this week to interview me for a local TV show. The topic was masturbation because it is of course, my area of greatest proficiency.

The duo - who had been in Melbourne for less than 24 hours - were still flight fresh. Among their long-haul tales was the cameraman’s viewing of Boyhood.

On one hand its sheer length positions Boyhood as a useful way to kill a chunk of airtime. On the other hand, I’ve long been conflicted about watching “proper” films mid-air.

Should we really have our first taste of a widely acclaimed film while strapped into an under-padded chair? Would it not be a less dangerous move to just let the hours tick by in 22 minute increments of 30 Rock and Modern Family?

Surely the teeny tiny screen, the dodgy earphones, the oxygen deprivation and the for-God’s-sake-won’t-you-shut-up interruptions from the flight desk isn’t what the director wanted.

Truth be told I’ve actually seen some great films on planes: Little Children, The Little Death, Stoker and Sound of My Voice spring to mind as examples. That said, for the four that I enjoyed I’ve blocked the memories of a deluge of others.

For a film to be enjoyed at 30,000 feet, it can’t merely be good but has to be stellar. To compensate for the gruelling environment. To break through that half-awake, half-asleep hell-state that air-travel creates.

Which brings me to the question of venue. About the degree to which the where of film consumption impacts on enjoyment.

Earlier this year I saw The Imitation Game in one of those cinemas where you pay too much to sit on Franco Cozzo recliners and eat microwaved nachos. I liked the film well enough - maybe 4.5/10 - but not only was my experience not aided by the plushness, but a whole point was deducted because of the exhorbitant ticket price.

A couple of years ago I saw The Internship at a bean bag cinema. So preoccupied was I wondering how often the cases were disinfected and whether the theatre was in cahoots with the Chiropractors Association of Australia, that naturally I loathed the film much more than was necessary.

Back in the late 2000s I watched 24 Hour Party People on video in Manchester lying in bed next to a man I thought I loved. Did I enjoy it exclusively because of the memorable tableau I was lolling in? Could the film have stood up to a viewing in a different city with different company? I doubt it.

More recently I despised every single minute of the first two seasons of Game of Thrones. Each episode however, was watched in ideal surrounds: side by side with one of my favourite people on a variety of delightfully comfortable pieces of furniture. And yet, even with the company and the cosiness and my companion’s willingness to answer my questions (i.e., “why do they have figs? What country are they supposed to be in?”) by the end of the second season Lionel Ritchie never returned to King’s Landing and neither would I.

Arya and “Lionel” in their last battle.

I’m working on two books at this moment and part of my research involves watching a swag of films I’d normally give a wide berth to. The duress element aside, most are being viewed in a window that occupies about a third of my monitor. I’m taking notes in a second window, research material is held in a third.

Miss Kicki, The Best Offer and Predestination were each watched in these sub-optimal circumstances. In fact, I adored each. Scores and scores of others however, were watched - and summarily dismissed - this way.

Had those others been treated to a full-size screen would they have fared better? Would good company, surround sound and the “ambience” of a cinema have helped?

Just as the geographic component of the where of consumption is interesting, equally so is the wherebouts as related to the lifecourse.

The second Swede for example, mentioned having loved A Confederacy of Dunces in his youth. He attempted a reread in adulthood and had to stop midway. Whatever had dazzled him as a teen was gone; the reread had to be abandoned for the sake of his memories.

My equivalent is watching Heavenly Creatures in adulthood. It was the perfect film for me in my mid-teens. And that’s where I should have left it.

(Time-travel of course, may have actually aided Fifty Shades of Grey: I’m quite convinced for example, that Lauren-aged-sixteen would have loved it. Unlike the 34-year-old me who knows that Christian couldn’t have dominated a three-legged kitten).

If a film is truly exceptional, sure, it’ll survive the grimmest of viewing conditions. (I watched the first two seasons of Breaking Bad on my iP*o*d and still blather on about my love for it). Given that so few films are actually exceptional however, I’ve probably dismissed a lot of decent, if not even good ones through lacklustre viewing experiences.

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