Tuesday, July 14, 2009

DVD's and Ethics

Half the time I find myself wondering if inventing DVD's was the right thing to do. The other half of the time I find myself watching them.

Every new technology creeps up on us. Rarely does an invention just happen. Computers as we know them today are the result technological revision on both sides of the Atlantic going back to at least the 1950's; Cell-Phones, of course, can ultimately be traced to Alexander Graham Bell, though even the portable phone dates back to 1966. Cinema also came along only after a long slog of invention after invention; camera obscura, the Heliograph, the Daguerrotype, the photograph, the kinetoscope, the film projector. (Or, in the greater context; the story by the firelight, the story in drawing, the story in writing, the story in motion.)

The DVD are the most current means of seeing imagery, an invention sprouting from the creation of film presentation (starting with the film projector). While it's existence has merely followed suit with the rest of history, there is nothing wrong with being skeptical of historical developments, as long as they are not merely physical things. One of the very recent historical developments that DVD's adhere to is not a technology, but an idea; the idea that one can own anything at all. Fifty years ago, nobody would have thought of owning a movie who was not a major studio executive, an independently wealthy curator, or a fortunate director. The idea of holding a disc in one's hand that contains an entire film would have seemed bizzar and innacurate. Movies were light projected on to a screen, not circular comodities. They were experiences. Should movies be commodities? Is it even right for an individual to own a movie? Can one own an experience?

Ideally, a movie is a product for both everybody and nobody; a mysterious entity that should be seen and felt but at the same time is far stranger than a carpet or a car, and is meant to outlive any toy. DVD's, although they have turned movies in to the equivalent of toys, are here to stay. But at this point there really is no reason it should not be right to own a movie; the big-name producer owns movies, you own movies and I own movies, and we all enjoy it. Still, though movies need to be as un-commodified as possible, if that is in fact possible while still having the DVD format. I believe there are still ways to retain the movie as a universal experience, but only if we:
- Get rid of the absurdity of the two DVD formats, PAL for Europe and NTSC for the U.S and some Asian countries. These two systems were developed a long time ago, for the purposes of television, but for the purposes of movies, anything should be seen anywhere. That NTSC and PAL project the films at different frame rates is also somewhat disturbing; essentially, we are seeing two different versions of the same movies, however slight. 24 frames-per-second has long been the norm and should stay that way. 
- Eliminate the Blu-Ray format. The idea of being able to pause a scene and see how it was filmed by pressing another button is the grossest possible manifestation of 'special features.' Blu-Ray is just a form of DVD that dresses the film up a little more, makes it more 'neat,' through irrelevant special features as such. Cutting back on the number of special documentaries, commentaries (something else that I would argue is a total distraction, not a compliment to the film), and still photographs all need to be done with regular DVD's as well.
-Focus as much as possible on big screen DVD projection. Watching a DVD projection in a theater actually looks quite nice, and there are so many films today that have terrible film prints, that they are only watchable on DVD as a result. This is something that makes DVD's, perhaps, necessary to cinema's survival. Yet even still; watching a movie on a T.V screen is not the natural way to see it, and this is the express intention of DVD's. As long as traditional forms of seeing can be re-vamped in to new forms, filmgoing should remain ethical.