Not a question of where, but why

Ready to leave the couch? ‘The Conformist’ is worth it

A still from 'The Conformist,' a 1970 political drama film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.

Watching movies in 2019 is no longer a question of where, but why.

It could be everywhere: Multiplexes, art house theater, film societies, living rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, public transportation, parks — name the space and you’ll be able to watch a movie there.

And you can watch any kind of movie: big, small, old, new, professional and private. Access to the world of cinema has never been more prolific than it is today, which might explain why that age-old debate — Where is one meant to watch a movie? — has reared its multifaceted head again.

Instigating this debate du jour: Steven Spielberg. Considering a new rule for the Academy Awards voting committee that would exclude movies that bypass theaters for streaming, Spielberg reheats the old sentiment: Movies are in theaters, TV is at home.

“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” Spielberg told ITV News in 2018.

Netflix took to Twitter to offer its rebuttal, highlighting that it provides “access for people who can’t always afford, or live in towns without, theaters” and “letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time.”

Fights like this are never fun. While there’s an air of traditional superiority to Spielberg’s claim, Netflix’s “everyone, everywhere” argument assumes everyone can afford a Netflix account and has access to high-speed internet. Both sides have a point, but both miss the mark: True moviegoing exists somewhere in-between. Where you see a movie doesn’t matter as much as why you choose to see it there, and, as Christopher Nolan told Indiewire, that “why” falls upon the filmmaker’s shoulders: “The pressure is on us as never before to give people a reason to get out of the house.”

And, lucky for those in the Boulder area, there is no greater reason to get out of the house and see a movie on the big screen than CU-Boulder’s International Film Series’ in memoriam screening of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 masterpiece The Conformist.

They haven’t built a screen big enough for The Conformist, but Muenzinger’s will do nicely. These images, magnificently crafted by Vittorio Storaro, are so large you are practically swallowed by them. And that’s exactly what they do to Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a fascist gopher on his way to kill his former professor. Along the way, he thinks of his youth, the family chauffeur who took playtime a step too far, his wife, the woman he has fallen for and all things in-between.

As a piece of storytelling, The Conformist is engaging and enigmatic; as a succession of images, it’s a masterpiece with jaw-dropping grandeur. It’s no wonder Spike Lee counts it among the greatest of all time, screening it each year for his students at New York University.

Yes, you could watch The Conformist at home. Most libraries have DVD copies, and Kanopy has a nice transfer on its service. But you’ll lose a lot in translation, and your experience will be all the poorer for it. The Conformist is a movie made for the big screen, so why settle for less?

ON THE BILL: ‘The Conformist.’ 7 p.m. Saturday, March 16, International Film Series, Muenzinger Auditorium, 1905 Colorado Ave., Boulder.

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