Eva Green’s cinephile character in ‘The Dreamers’ proudly claims that she does not watch TV. ‘We are purists, the purest of the pure.’ That moment in this amazing film is what I could relate most to. I don’t have a TV set, I don’t want one. And I consciously stay away from the best of American TV – soaps that have a huge fan-following all around the world. I’m sure they must be well-made, and I would love them, but I’m afraid of being addicted. Reason – they will encroach into my movie-time!
Cinema, or at least the movie-watching trend in theatres, has never felt as threatened by anything as by the ‘Idiot Box’. In fact, various evolutionary milestones in the history of cinema were reactions to the advent of TV. For example, despite having produced successful colour blockbusters in the 30s, B&W movies continued to be made in Hollywood, so much so that 88% of those released in the year as late as 1947 were in B&W. Then came the TV, moving images brought home in a small box, gaining popularity in the 50s. In order to keep the audience interested, as many as 50% of the movies adopted colour. And when colour TV came in the 60s, it was the end of B&W era for cinema.
Another innovation made to counter the threat was the adoption of the Widescreen. The Aspect Ratio of 1.66:1 or more provided a visual experience that TV could not emulate. This not only led to dramatic changes in the cinema aesthetics: exploring the horizontal space, and using longer, uninterrupted shots as each frame was now wide enough to display a close up, a medium shot and a wide angle simultaneously, it also led to a natural proliferation of genres more suited to this format, like the Historical Epics and Westerns.
Hollywood also started experimenting with 3D as a ploy against the TV. The early attempts were flawed. However, the evolution continued and today 3D movies provide a strong attraction for the audience to come to the theatres. The idea is to provide them with something they do not usually experience, as is the idea behind the IMAX (Image Maximization) technology: to fill the field of human vision by producing an image as large as 20 metres high and 26 metres wide. OMNIMAX (or IMAX DOME) uses a fisheye lens for projecting a 165-degree image on a giant dome screen surrounding the viewer with high-fidelity sound, thus increasing the spectator's feeling of immersion.
These technological advances, however, continue to affect cinema in more ways than one. With improved CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) technology, the option of 3D, and a giant screen for projection, movie theatres are turning to amusement parks, with the preferred genres being Sci-Fi, Action-Adventure, and Fantasy. Drama, the most prominent film genre, is dying a slow death. Filmmaking was once a costly business. Today, with inexpensive but good-quality digital cameras around, anyone can shoot a Drama or a Comedy and upload it on the internet. In fact, the current American media is already showing such trends, where the genre of Drama is being limited to its widely popular soaps and serials. It will be interesting to see how, in the years to come, cinema responds to this. More technological innovations and increased focus on specific genres will be the oxygen for movie theatres. And perhaps the only way for Dramas, Comedies and Art-house/Experimental cinema to find its audience would be the way through the idiot box.
(A lot in this post comes from ‘Studying Film’, a book by Abrams, Bell, and Udris.)
P.S. On the insistence of a dear friend, I just finished watching Episode 1 of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, something that seems to be tailor-made for me, because of its setting in a hospital and the characters being young doctors – things which have already become nostalgia-elements for me. Seems I have taken the first step towards exploring something I kept delaying till today. And the first thing that came to the mind of this “purest of the pure” on watching the first episode was to start the second!