Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pay Versus Play: Is There A Difference?


Yesterday Ryan over at The Matinee had an interesting post asking is what we think about a film based on how we watch it? In his example he pondered whether his enjoyment of the film Hitchcock was partly due to the fact that he did not have to pay to see it. This got me thinking about my own film viewing habits. Was there really a difference between what I pay to see in theatres versus films I view on Netflix?

If you have visited this site before, you will know that while I have a loving obsession for film, I do not cover every single new release that comes out. This is mainly due to two reasons. The first, and most important, reason is that I have responsibilities as a husband and father that take greater precedent than chasing down every potential blockbuster or possible award hopeful. The second reason is much simpler, in these uncertain economic times I have to be smart about where I spend my dollars. This is not to say that I do not see films in the cinema, in fact I believe that film is a collaborative art form that should be experienced in a communal setting. However, based on the two reasons I just mentioned, I am a little more picky about what non-film festival films I see in theatres.

Despite being more particular about what films I pay to see, I do not see a major difference in how I interpret those films versus how I judge the films I view on both Netflix Canada and Netflix US. Yes, I am aware that you need to pay a subscription fee in order to access Netflix, but the amount of films you get access to for the low price is practically like getting them for free. Granted the experience in the theatre will always be more magical, rude audience members aside, but I like to go into each film with an open mind. Just because I paid for something in the theatre does mean it is to be held in higher regard than a film I watched on Netflix. At the end of the day a good film will move you regardless of the format in which you watched it in.

Sure Blaxploitation films such as Bamboo Gods and Iron Men may not be of the same quality as more established films, say No Country for Old Men for example, but it still needs to be held up to the standard of the higher grade Blaxploitation films. This would be the same had I paid to see the film on the big screen. If anything, the only major difference for me regarding what I pay to see and what I stream on Netflix is the amount of films I see in a given week. Film festivals aside, where I can usually average three to four films a day, I usually average one to two films in the theatre every two to three weeks. There are exceptions to this, but you get the point. Whereas I average five to six films a week through Netflix and DVDs I get from the local library (again free of charge). Usually these films will consist of a mix of newer titles, classics, and just films that I decided to take a chance on at random.

Often it is the random streaming titles that end up being the most rewarding. Especially since there is little financial risk involved. I can yell at the top of my lungs for people to go see The Imposter in theatres, most probably will avoid taking the plunge in order to spend money on something like the critically panned Dark Shadows. However, I know more people who will take a gander at a film like The Imposter if it happens to be streaming. Will they judge it any differently than they would have if they saw it in the theatre? No. All it means is that they were willing to be more adventurous when money was not an issue.

In many ways it is similar to how I am when covering a film festival. There are some films that I have watched, and ended up loving, that I probably would not have thought to see had I not covered the festival as press. People often ask me if I feel obligated to be easier or tougher on a film since I get to experience the festival for free. To be honest, I have never felt the need to be anything but honest with my views. The fact that I had the chance to see something I really enjoyed for free is a mere bonus, nothing more nothing less. So maybe the question is not whether there is a difference between how one views a film paid for versus one viewed for free? Maybe the question really is what are the criteria we use to evaluate films in general?

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