Should Movies be Watched on iPhones? Spike Lee, Ryan Coogler, and More Debate

One director who is definitely against watching films on iPhones? Alfonso Cuarón: "I don't like it."
Spike LeeGovernors Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 18 Nov 2018
Spike Lee
Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

To watch movies on an iPhone or not watch movies on an iPhone? That is the question briefly debated by top directors Ryan Coogler, Spike Lee, and Alfonso Cuarón during this year’s Los Angeles Times director’s roundtable discussion. The subject was raised by “The Favourite” director Yorgos Lanthimos, who noted that streaming platforms like Netflix give audiences various exhibition options, the obvious “downside” being that works directed for a huge screen are often viewed on mobile devices or laptops.

Spike Lee, who may earn his first directing Oscar nomination this year for “BlacKkKlansman,” is adamantly against the practice. “I’m a professor of film [at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts], and the first day of every semester I have a list of films,” Lee said. “And I ask my students to raise your hand if you’ve seen this film. And especially David Lean films — ‘Bridge on the River Kwai,’ ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ ‘Doctor Zhivago’ — they say, ‘Yeah, I saw it, Professor Lee, but I saw it on my iPhone.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, my God!’ And then they watch it vertical.”

While “Roma” director Alfonso Cuarón had a hard time understanding the point of watching cinema on a small tablet screen (“Yeah, but why on the iPhone?” he asked), Ryan Coogler interjected with his own understanding of why watching films on iPhones isn’t the worst thing in the world.

“But you can’t — Spike, you can’t…” Coogler said.

Spike responded, “I’m sorry. Call me a dinosaur, an old fuddy-duddy.”

“I’m not going to call you that,” Coogler answered. “I’m saying, you gotta see it from their perspective. Nobody’s screening ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ in Oakland right now. [The iPhone] is how they watch stuff. That’s their world. I got a brother who’s six years younger than me and he does stuff, like just six years’ [difference] and he does stuff I just would never understand. It’s just an instrument, a new instrument.”

Coogler makes a reasonable point. Lee’s NYU students are lucky to have the chance to watch classic cinema on the big screen (Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” played in New York City theaters numerous times over the last year, for instance), but other cinephiles across the country don’t get that chance. As Coogler pointed out, an iPhone or a tablet is probably the only way for a film lover in Oakland to watch a David Lean movie.

“I don’t like it,” Cuarón said, “but remember that people also said sound is killing cinema. Let’s see what these new masters create with [the iPhones].”

Head over to the Los Angeles Times for more highlights from their director’s roundtable.

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