Caveat Emptor: A Reader Reports (Thanks!) and We Respond

by on April 20, 2011Posted in: Alt Screen

Just got word from a friend of the site about yesterday’s Editor’s Pick, director Satyajit Ray’s Distant Thunder:

Watched Distant Thunder at Lincoln Center. Digital projection, digital print contained French subtitles so English subtitles were layered nearly halfway up the frame and were largely out of sync. French subs were better also so I was distracted by trying to half read those. The film was okay, but who knows considering the terrible viewing experience.

Moving forward, we’d love to include details on projection specs: digital versus celluloid, 16mm versus 35, restored versus archival. But it’s actually a lot more cumbersome than it may sound. We currently compile our listings from press releases and program calendars wherein that info is indicated only when it’s a selling point: New 35mm Restoration! The Most Complete Reconstruction Since Its Original Premiere! We could blanket-email publicists with our queries, but there are a lot of problems there:

  1. (1) It means tons of additional work for us and, uhh, we have day jobs.

  3. (2) Publicists aren’t necessarily appraised of the technical specs on any given series and likely won’t enjoy the headache of emailing their programmer about every projection. As there are limited amounts of goodwill in this world, we’d like to spend ours wisely.

  5. (3) Alt Screen has a week-plus lead time for compiling the showtimes for any given calendar day. But theaters often discover that prints can’t be projected (because of missing or non-English subtitles, deterioration of color stock or soundtrack, excessive scratches, frame jumps and jitters, etc) within a few days of the first projection–very often during the first projection. And since announcing a last-minute DVD substitution isn’t going to help any venue lure in an audience, theaters would have no vested interest in keeping us appraised. So it seems to me that no information is better than unreliable information.

The most likely possibility is that we’ll limit future inquiries to the daily Editor’s Picks. That wouldn’t be too hard. We could also indicate that information wherever it’s publicly available, but that would mean the listings weren’t formatted consistently. There may well be some radically efficient way to gather this information online, some wiki-wonder to be engineered…or maybe not.

In any case, you should totally contact us about any sublimely beautiful or unwatchably bad prints you’re exposed to: We love getting emails from you. Seriously.

[Frame enlargement from Bruce Conner’s A MOVIE, 1958]

  • Frankly, I am a little shocked at the Film Society of Lincoln Center for not including that info in the program. That is just plain appalling. MoMA has done it. Film Forum has done it. Anthology has done it. Sorry, but I really feel like there is no excuse for #2. It is flat out false advertising. I am going to a movie theater to see a FILM. I am paying upwards of $12 to see a movie projected with light. I may in fact shell out double that to see a certain DVD projection, but that info needs to be given to me before I decide to take the time out of my busy schedule to visit their theater.

    And yes, you are absolutely right. You fine folks can’t go around investigating every possible projection. But after going to this site, getting excited about a certain title being screened, I think I should be able to find important information like this on the venue’s site for each individual screening.

    A place like Spectacle ONLY projects DVDs. One knows what to expect there and I can’t wait to visit there. I know what the expect and I can enjoy it. (Their price is also less than half of other theaters) FSoLC almost never projects dvds. How they could think that information might not be relevant to their audience of film freaks is astounding.

    I am going to take it upon myself to contact the FSoLC about this. Gavin Smith has been incredible gracious to me before and I have a feeling he will be responsive to this issue.

    You guys do quite enough already here on this site. My rant here has absolutely nothing to do with your work here. If I am freaking out about this issue then I should be the one to follow up.

    • I wrote to FSoLC and Richard Peña responded quickly:

      Dear Mr. Rinaldi,

      We apologize for not informing you. We tried hard to come up with a print of the film, but in the end were forced into using the material we did. I’m delighted to report that the rest of the series is in 35mm.

      We do our best to get the best material for our shows, but sometimes the best available material is not really good enough, especially for such a great film.

      Richard Peña

      • Anonymous

        That’s great. And I agree with your general point that transparency can only help institutions in the long run, especially in the internet age.

  • Dear “Mr. Rather Compulsive Copyeditor:”  Here’s what I see in two minutes. There’s plenty here to teach a remedial English course.  It’s “Just received word,” not “Just got word.”  You’re mixing up your tenses in the “Moving forward” paragraph. Why do you feel compelled to use “a lot” so many times?  Publicists and theaters are “apprised,” not “appraised.”  It would be “their programmers,” not “their programmer.” “Good will” is two words, unless you’re referring to the store. 

    • Anonymous

      (1) Colloquialism. (2) In what way? (3) You mean twice? It’s because I like it a lot. (A lot, a lot.) (4) Good catch. (5) Ok, sure. I was thinking singular as in “email the programmer of that series,” but does read better your way, it’s true. (6) Thanks. And goodwill to you, sir.

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