The Criterion DVD of LA RONDE: Lovely; but in movies, size matters

DVD cover for LA RONDE I have just watched the Criterion Collection DVD edition of LA RONDEMax Ophüls’ adaptation for the screen of Arthur Schnitzler’s play, “Reigen.”

It is wonderful to see this movie in a good, complete instance.

I say, “movie,” and “instance,” because a DVD is not a “print” of a “film.” The distinction is not precious: The differences — between seeing a movie exhibited from a DVD, and watching a properly projected, good, thirty-five–millimeter film print — are considerable.

It is a shame to see a feature on a TV set, rather than on a big screen in a theater.

For one thing — the contrast ratio — the range of gray tones between black and white is far more limited on a small display, than on a great movie screen. Any small-screen picture will be less subtle, and more contrasty than any big screen picture.

For the full experience of a motion-picture entertainment, size matters.

Imagine the difference between standing right in front of the Eiffel Tower, and holding a souvenir reproduction of the tower in one’s hand. The monument and the souvenir look alike, but the experience — the emotions — that one feels when beholding one or the other are entirely different.

The problem is that on a small screen, one looks down on the picture: everything is smaller than life-size. Until very recently feature films were designed to be seen considerably larger than life-size: To be looked up at. A feature film is intended to be a monumental experience.

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