There is debate afoot about writer-director Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma.” Not about the film itself, which is an Oscar favorite that our own Ty Burr gave four stars. The argument is about how to watch it.
Currently atop many year-end Top 10 lists, “Roma” is being distributed by Netflix, which just put it in theaters. But the streaming service — the one that regularly chains you to your couch and soothingly whispers “DON’T GO OUT TONIGHT MY DEAR” in your ears — is also quickly making the movie available in Netflix homes, this coming Friday. The company is giving its high-profile movies — such as “Roma” and the Coen brothers’ “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” — that brief exclusive theatrical release only to qualify for the Oscars and to attract prestige directors.
Many movie critics are begging you to go to a theater to see “Roma,” which is in black-and-white, to experience its full power, even while it’s available on your home screens.
But Netflix’s head of content, Ted Sarandos, has different ideas about the streaming option for new movies. He recently said that movie exhibitors’ demand for exclusive theatrical runs has done more harm than good. “They’ve disconnected people from movies in a way,” he said at a conference in New York. “I don’t think it’s very consumer-friendly that consumers who don’t happen to live near a theater are waiting six months, eight months to see a movie.”
At a Variety event in Beverly Hills, he added, “What I want to do is connect people with movies they’re going to love. And they’re going to love ‘Roma’ . . . on their phone, they’re going to love it on a huge big screen.”
They may indeed love “Roma,” but they will love it differently depending on where they see it. The fast accessibility that Netflix offers is great — it’s more democratization of content, in a way — but let’s not pretend watching at home, and especially on your phone, is as powerful as watching in the anonymity of a dark, quiet (please) movie theater. I’m a TV critic, but I certainly recognize the great impact of the big screen, especially when it’s a glorious one, like the screen at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, and not just a shoebox with a projector.
You can read books in hardcover and paperback, and you can read them on your device. You should also be able to choose to watch movies at home or at a theater. As long as both options continue to exist, the choice is the answer.