Watching Film Noir on Your Cell Phone

Few of us dashing young things of the Twenty First Century have seen a film noir on the big screen.

For that to happen you need to live in a massive urban area, like Paris, San Francisco, or London, or be fortunate enough to have a local club or festival that celebrates the virtue of such public viewing as the large screen enjoys.

Most enthusiasts of film noir therefore settle for watching their favourite classics from the 1940s and 1950s on television screens at best, possibly on their laptops, or even on occasion on their tablets and phones.

Is there anything they may be missing?  What should these tablet-wielding film fiends, fans and freaks consider as they resample cinematic gems which were built for the auditoriums of the mid-century?

To answer this we need to take a quick look at the history of the cinema — by which I mean the cinema as building, as opposed to cinema as the craft of producing moving picture shows.


Cinema was definitely the mass art form of the Twentieth Century, but pictures weren't always shown to a passive audience in the dark.  

Early cinema was often shown in cafes and in fairgrounds, and there was usually a lot of other stuff going on, such as eating, talking and even dancing.  In the 1910s, this began to formalise and the first dedicated cinema buildings apperared as films grew longer in duration.

By the end of the 1920s and the arrival of sound, dedicated movie theaters were everywhere and the shows began in earnest. 


Is anything lost in watching a film in private on a small device.  Despite the radical difference in experience the answer is probably NO.  The main difference it appears is the lack of other people, because the reactive experience of sharing laughter and fear with many strangers heightens the experience; although it can weirdly cheapen it too.  We've all been in a theater and sat in silence, completely confused as to whey everyone around us seems to find something so funny.

Curiously enough, when televisions first became popular, people emulated the movie theater experience in the home; they would move the chairs into a circle and put the lights out to watch in silence.  Things have changed a helluva lot since then, and now televisions play their high-defintion garbage regardless of what else is going on, competing with other activities and in a lit environment; a little like the first cinemas.

What we find throughout is not a change in experience, but a huge change in production, probably prompted by the television, which must grab your attention immediately.  Since viewing has shifted from the theater, in which the audience was captive, to the home, where other distractions including many channels are competing for attention, we have see increasingly rapid editing, for example.

Have a look at the average shot length when you're wacthing film noir next.  Then compare it to a modern television show.  The difference is huge.

You watched it on your 'phone?!


This phrase bothers me.  I am all for movies and other artforms being presented 'as they were originally intended', and if that is a guiding principle then who am I to disagree? 

That means in the case of film noir we would be watching our favourite classics in a theater, and on 35mm prints.  But what about the other ambient factors that may be missing today?  The cigarette smoke? The coming and going of customers? Not every aspect of 1940s movie-going can be recalled or captured.

And who is that guy standing up at the front giving us a lecture before the film about the trappings of original film noir?  That was certainly not a part of the original and 'intended' experience ...

It is probable that the so-called 'intended experience' is a myth.  In fact there were but two intentions behind every film made in the 1940s and 1950s, as there is today.  The first intention is to make art, and as art it can be as readily accessed on an iPad; and the second intention is to make money, which film noir can still do today when you pay the distributor, whoever it is.

These I argue are the original intentions of the producers of film noir, and so we should not be down on those among us who like to take in a YouTube movie on their Chromebook.  

We certainly shouldn't say that they are somehow missing out on an vital part of the experience, because when psychologists have looked at this, the thought process is the same. When you see a thing (a man with a gun) and a picture of the same thing, the reaction in the mind is the same.  Only after it is seen does the brain make a split-second differentiation between the fact that one is real and the other an image, and that is where the enjoyment comes in.

You therefore now have carte blanche to watch film noir on any device you can find, and you you may be rest assured that you are not missing out on anything.  Movies were made to be distributed, and you will be sucked into the action regardless of how big the screen.

Did you like what I did there? Carte blanche to watch film noir ... with sharp talk like that I should be in the movies ...

The image for this article is titled Vinterpalatset 1958x and is found at the following WIKIMEDIA COMMONS file location:

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