A bizarre thing happens to a film after it moves from cinema release to video to satellite to television. I'm not certain what it is, or if there's a name for it, but the effect is either to blur or negate the original movie-going experience, whether good or bad. Somehow subsequent viewings in different media alter the initial exposure; partially because certain physical dimensions are inevitably lost (big screen vs small), partially because of recent memory's tyranny over old and partially because. . . because of something else.

Whatever the process, it feels a bit like robbery, though the theft excites little comment nowadays, when most people choose which films they'll go and see and which can be relegated to tape rental: Guilty as Sin and The Dark Half are tape rentals. So the re-release of The Draughtsman's Contract provides a valuable lesson in the art of looking, and not merely because the picture ponders the different ways we observe events (the draughtsman thinks he sees everything when his blinkered vision precludes the very things that could save his life).

Yet watching Peter Greenaway's cerebral opus in the cinema once again (with one VCR view and two TV transmissions in between) is a lesson in 'magic', not intellect. Yes, you recover your original reactions, but what is striking is how the work belongs here, belongs in a way it's hard to put into words. You might say this is a matter of technology and technique, of camera framing, editing etc. But it's more than that: there's an alchemy too, a quality absent from the video and TV screenings. What do I mean by this? Lord knows. I just know that I mean it.

(Photograph omitted)

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