Last night I went to a live production of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, best known for its male swans (bear with me, the tech connection is coming). Today I've been watching the DVD, and I'm struck by the differences between the two experiences.
My theatre seat cost £48, whereas you can find the DVD for £16 at Filmnight.com. At the theatre you get caught up in the emotions of the people around you, whether they're giggling at the antics of the unsuitable girlfriend or holding their breath as the prince loses his mind. At home you can stretch out on the sofa and get drinks in your own time. The biggest difference, though, is that in the theatre, there's no one telling you where to look.
In Act I, the queen and her escort and the prince and his girlfriend go to the theatre. On one side of the stage, butterflies and goblins cavort in a ballet within a ballet; on the other side, the chav girlfriend is offending everyone in the royal box. You can watch the ballet (v. funny), or the royal box (v. funny), or you can flip between the two and hope you're catching all the best stuff. When you're watching the DVD, the cuts are made for you. The story is easier to follow, because you never miss a key moment, but it's also the same every time, for everyone who watches it.
As screens get bigger and speakers multiply, television seems more real -- but someone else is still deciding where you should look. The only exception I can think of is the big football matches that are broadcast on multiple channels, with each channel providing a different angle. I'm not into football, so I can't say whether it works, but my guess is that you end up flipping frantically to stay with the best view.
Do you want to choose your own camera angles, or would you rather watch the story unfold? My heart says choice must be better, but my head can't help wondering whether the effort involved makes you feel even further from the action. What do you think?