Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters

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Did you ever notice that spot right below the tiger's mouth? The way it mars her fearful symmetry?

It's funny how often we don't see the flaws in things until they're pointed out to us, yet how powerfully they can effect us once we know about them. It's not the same with virtues. Oh, they can slip beneath the radar, they often do, but they don't strike us with the same force once exposed. In this day and age it is very easy to become a videophile, especially if you are interested in movies. The technology exists, and is reasonably affordable, for the average person to do a decent job of recreating the theatrical experience in his own home. The thing is, the more you learn about video and its presentation the more critical you become. Many people watch movies on the television screen in full frame format and enjoy them quite a bit. They like having the bigger image and are distracted by the black bars that widescreen on a 4:3 screen necessitates. Videophiles can't stand this. Not only do they find the experience jarring and unpleasant, but they often feel disdain or at the very least irritation towards the people who still watch stuff this way. It's true that the widescreen version is truer to the original and the director's intent, and it often does change the tone of a scene to present it in pan and scan. Perhaps the best example of this is in Jaws, where in the original film there is a scene where three men are standing next to one another, talking, and in the Pan and Scan version the camera slides between pairs, with the middle character being a part of each pair. This gives the central character even more importance than he already has in the original, and alienates the two men at opposite ends from one another.

I could talk about other examples, but how much do they truly matter? Rarely does television presentation, even with its editing of content and insertion of new materials to make a film fit into the assigned time slot, truly change the core of a film. Oh there are examples you can give of critical scenes that were cut, or incredibly artistic compositions inescapably compromised by clipping the edges of them, but for the most part the changes are mostly aesthetic. Yet once you know about the compromises and the problems it becomes almost impossible to enjoy a film on your television set without thinking about them. The amount of irritation caused by the knowledge of the flaws far outweighs the actual damage done by them. What does it matter if a dialogue driven film is slightly visually modified, or has a few curse words dubbed over? The meaning and impact is still there, for the most part.

Of course in the example of editing for television there can be serious damage done to the integrity of certain films. If you look at Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a film shot in scope with truly beautiful cinematography, and with absolutely gorgeous Mandarin language, on television you are not getting the same experience as if you saw it in a theatre or on a good DVD system. On the other hand, there are other flaws that don't have nearly that impact and can still drive videophiles batty. Edge enhancement is one of them. I am slightly wary about describing it, lest it damage the viewing experience of someone who reads this, but it's the black lines that you'll sometimes notice surrounding objects on video prints of films. The idea of it is to make distinct things, especially people, stand out on the smaller screen. It often looks like crap. To give a particularly egregious example in Neil Labute's "The Shape of Things" (a decent film that I just saw today, on cable) there is a scene where Fred Weller is standing a ways off from the camera in front of a building. The edge enhancement there is horrible, it's a thick black line that obscures the actor's face and just looks really ugly. It doesn't seriously impact the film, though. You can see what he looks like in a lot of other scenes, and the scene is about the dialogue between the characters, not the visuals. It's ugly, but insignificant.

Some people can't stand edge enhancement. They hate it with a passion that most folks reserve for public urinators and people who've stood them up at the altar. I find it annoying, but I never really noticed it until it was pointed out to me. A lot of stuff is like that. Some people simply cannot view a movie without surround sound if it was originally mixed that way, even if it's not a big budget spectacular that relies on booming sounds behind you to distract you from the crap that's on the screen in front of you.

This essay is not about the quirks of videophiles, though. It's about the wider phenomenon of people strongly, even passionately, disliking things for attributes they wouldn't have even noticed had they not been pointed out. It happens with people's looks (Hey, did you ever notice how one side of her mouth is higher than the other when she's smiling, it's like she can't smile, just smirk) songs (Did he just ryhme pain with pain? Can you do that?) and restaurants (I saw a cockroach in the kitchen, running along the side of a pot!) The reverse is not true, we don't obsess over those positive attributes that we didn't notice on our own. Oh sure, we can appreciate them, and even care about them, but when was the last time someone told you that a movie had really great sound-mixing and that was at the forefront of your mind the next time you saw it? I'm not saying that with thought and attention positive notes can't grow into important parts of perception, but they don't bring about the same visceral reaction that flaws do.

I am a critic and a cynic. I firmly, and honestly, believe that there is much to be gained by asking difficult questions and exposing flaws that could slip under the radar. On the other hand, there's a difference between criticism and nit-picking. I freely admit that I do the latter quite often. Nit-picking is irritating, but it's also dangerous. It can give the nits far too much power, and coupled with the tendency to pay attention to flaws, can damage the enjoyment one can get from things that are of good, but not perfect, quality. I think I should change that, but I wonder why it is that the small things matter so much more when they are problems than when they are assets.

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