Posted at 8:45 AM on December 21, 2005
by Euan Kerr
Watching movies on a plane is seldom satisfying. You have to sit awkwardly in your cramped little seat to peer around the headrest of the person in front. Too much movement and you risk either pulling the headset off your ears, or out of the headset jack, which is always situated just where you can't see it. And don't even think of adjusting the volume, at least not without performing a contortionist feat worthy of Houdini's greatest escapes.
Then, of course, you have your fellow passengers who always seem to go to the bathroom at some critical point in the film, and then stand eight rows in front of you chatting away about the weather in Pittsburgh at this time of year, oblivious to the fact they are blocking the screen.
Finally there is the selection of the film. The movie that flips up is usually some recent middle of the road please-'em-all, which I avoided when it first came out anyway.
In recent years I have taken to trying to not watching the movie, just because I know that I am going to be disappointed. So it was with not a little excitement that I realised on a recent trip that I had a personal video system in my seat. The little screen installed in the back of the headrest in front of my eyes was very clear, once I had it angled right for the LCD display. There were no fewer than twenty feature films available, and I could start them whenever I wanted. Flicking through the offerings I even found "Gentleman's Agreement," the Gregory Peck drama about anti-semitism I had just read about in the Elia Kazan biography.
Amazing! Or was it?
I decided that I would stick with my Kazan book. Yet as time passed I discovered the siren charms of the screens were too much to resist. As the cabin lights went down, and the screens lit up, they trapped and held me against my will.
Plainly said, there was too much information. I was sitting behind the teenagers, M. and S. who for reasons best known to themselves decided to watch "The Dukes of Hazzard." (They both agreed later it was the worst movie they had ever watched.) Only they decided to watch the movie at different times, with S. about five minutes ahead. Perhaps they couldn't see each other's screens, but I could see them both, and it was like some sort of bizarre torture, constantly having my attention drawn to some car chase or fight in the row ahead of me. Often it was the same explosion which had caught my eye just minutes before. Then I began to start watching the screens of the people in the other rows ahead of me. Everywhere I looked there was something going on and I couldn't resist!
How ridiculous was this?
So I gave up and selected "Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit." Immediately all the old problems came back: the poor sound, the cramped posture. The video system came with a little detachable handset which spooled out of the arm at the push of a button. The problem was it would half spool back onto the arm, where is was susceptible to any squirming on my part. I paused the film four or five times just by shifting in my seat. The final and largest problem was I kept dozing off from exhaustion to enter that horrendous place where the film keeps running in my head, with me as a character. I rarely improve the plot-line in my dreams.
Eventually I woke up after the Were-rabbit mystery was solved. I turned to the Kazan movie. Sadly "Gentleman's Agreement" was one of the films Richard Schickel is not too keen on, nor in the end was Kazan, despite winning Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for the film, and the book highlighted its flaws. I was waiting for the film to get up to speed (Schickel talks about its slow start) when we went into our final descent. All in all it was quite frustrating. Now I just have to work out how I am going to blinker myself for the next time I am offered a personal video system for a plane trip.