Features and Columns

Talking Heads: Do You Always Watch Movies in a Single Sitting?

By  · Published on June 24th, 2011

Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as LearningSpnshinIndy and GreedoSh0t1st in order to discuss some topical topic of interest.

This week, the two ponder whether Netflix is dramatically changing their own movie-watching habits, whether it’s something to fight against, and whether doing your laundry during a documentary is something that should be punishable by death.

Unsurprisingly, they learn way more about themselves than they ever wanted to know, and an intervention follows.

Is it okay to pause a movie and come back to it later? Are our attention spans really waning? Or is this a new test for a movie’s quality?

Landon: ? ?So from the advent of home video to the growing popularity of online streaming, movie fans have been able to watch movies when they want, however they want. But something that I’ve struggled with is, despite this freedom, whether or not it’s still important to watch movies ain a single sitting.?

What are your thoughts?

Cole: ? ?Watching movies in a single sitting is always the ideal. It’s, by virtue of the format, how the artists intend for their work to be seen. You don’t cart out half a painting to show to a gallery and then bring out the rest later, do you??

Landon: ? ?I agree, but to an extent. I think it’s absolutely true for movies made, say, before the advent of home video, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that filmmakers since know the the ideal theatrical format is not where there movie will be most seen?.

? ?People consume movies differently in a way that will never return to the theatrical experience as the sole or even primary outlet. While there are more things to distract us from a single screen or prompt us to press pause, I’m not sure if these movies are necessarily getting less of our attention when they are being watched, even if it’s incrementally?.

?Cole: ? ?Not to mention the era before Psycho where people ducked into theaters in the middle of movies and left whenever.?

You have a point, but there are also filmmakers like John Carpenter who shoot for the big screen and refuse to care about what TV and home video do to their work. We can’t interview every filmmaker I don’t think. But I’m working on it.

Landon: ? ?No, and you’re right. If a filmmaker has a specific intention, it’s best to watch a movie in a way that aligns most directly with that intention to have the experience a filmmaker desires. There’s no doubt that some movies – even new ones – lose something just by being on the small screen, not to mention giving people the ability to press pause?.

Cole: ? ?But we do have that freedom. So why not use it??

?Landon: ? ?Netflix has greatly changed my habits. I’ll have a light documentary on in the background while I cook, do laundry, or clean. But maybe that’s just me.? I won’t do that with most narrative cinema, but I will do it with things that require less visual attention.

Cole: ? ?It’s been a real help to me, too. Now I don’t have to wait until a movie ends to go the emergency room.?

?Landon: ? ?”Return of the King, how many endings do you have?”?

But I like your point about pre-1960, because in a sense that reveals the uninterrupted single sitting to be an ideal that’s actually been rare in practice

Cole: ? ?Or at least one that’s only had a chance to thrive for a few decades.?

Landon: ? ?Let’s compare film to television around the post-Psycho turn, as TV was a medium built with interruptions and the possibility of distraction. Now television shows, even on channels with commercials, from Lost to Mad Men demand our utmost attention. Yet, it seems more acceptable to pause a TV show than it is to do the same for a film.?

Cole: ? ?Something I hadn’t thought of, but that’s the irony here. The same technology is making it easier to pause a movie and for people to watch a television episode in a single, uninterrupted sitting.

?Landon: ? ?It’s like they’ve each gone on opposite trajectories, which has led a lot of people to say that TV is better than film. Maybe it’s because, rather than getting in the habit of paying attention through a single sitting, it’s better to experience something that demands that attention (for more friendly 45–60min runtimes)?.

Cole: ? ?So it all comes back to blaming ADD again. One day Netflix will dispense Ritalin with its streaming catalogue.?

But honestly, Netflix and other streaming options are training a new (and old) group of viewers to watch things a certain way. I personally find myself angered that a movie can only be in my hands in TWO DAYS instead of INSTANTLY RIGHT NOW THIS SECOND.

?Landon: ? ?Exactly. So more than ADD or difficult time management, the biggest reason people might watch movies incrementally is that there’s so much available simultaneously?

I started Grown Ups three months ago, and I still haven’t gotten around to finishing it.

Cole: ? ?I don’t think I understand that. How does a larger library make you unable to finish a movie??

?Landon: ? ?Having so many films that one wants to see, or even has a mild interest in seeing, at one’s fingertips.? I feel like this has become an intervention about my own movie-watching ADD.

Cole: ? ?So you’re actively thinking about Clockwork Orange becoming newly available while watching Grownups??

Landon: ? ?That’s the idea. The completist impulse for cinephiles. The idea that one day I’m actually going to get through my queue.? I guess there are different impulses: wanting to watch a movie, and wanting to see all the movies, and the latter can motivate incremental movie-watching habits?

Cole: ? ?Well, Grownups is a bad example. Thinking about any other movie during it makes sense.?

Landon: ? ?Yes, I was about to point that out, but I didn’t want to admit I was a liar?.

Cole: ? ?As elitist scum, it seems like there’s a great sin being committed here, but there’s also a positive aspect: you can stop a bad movie any time and have a new one available right away.?

?Landon: ? ?Yes, but returning to the scummy elite, if one is serious about movies, don’t they need to be more patient? At what point in a runtime can one write something off??

Cole: ? ?There’s no way to avoid sounding like a dick here, but it comes down to being able to claim you “saw” a movie.? If you listened to a documentary while cooking, or watched ten minutes of a movie every day for a week, have you really seen it?

I don’t think so.

?Landon: ? ?I agree. (And to clarify, I only do those things for titles I’m already only mildly invested in), but I guess in terms of starting and stopping, it comes down to the point where one feels they’ve sincerely given a movie a chance. But yet I’m not comfortable with that standard either. I’ve never walked out of a movie, but I’ve stopped plenty of streaming titles on Netflix, never to return.?

?Cole: ? ?Do you think this can be a test of a movie’s strength? It seems unlikely that someone would stop a movie they were really enjoying, and easier to assume someone could pause something fun but less engaging.?

Landon: ? ?I mean, unless they watch it with the knowledge that they have to be somewhere in an hour, but couldn’t wait to start it?. But, yes, there’s a stricter test for filmgoer patience on the small screen, and some movies just lose their experience there or deflate with the availability of the pause button.

?Cole: ? ?Take notice, middling filmmakers!? A new tool can judge you harsher than any theatergoer can!

Landon: ? ?I’m sure Terrence Malick is trembling in his existential boots?.

?Cole: ? ?He’s probably drunk and happy – his films and other challenging directors (or ones who simply make films that are four hours long) have an advantage. The watcher has to mentally prepare before settling in.? There’s some genuine preparation and time-carving that has to take place.

?Landon: ? ?Yeah, and that’s definitely still possible to experience on the small screen, but the serious filmgoer has to make way for that experience: intently watching it in one sitting, without distraction?.

Now stop interrupting my cooking and laundry-folding.

?Cole: ? ?I’ve actually been watching Grownups during this talk.?

So did we really have it?

?Landon: ? ?I was actually having this conversation with my laundry detergent. I’m glad you chimed in.?

Leave your two cents below and check out Talking Heads every Friday

Related Topics:

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.