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Monday, December 3, 2007

The Last Picture Show

I don't know about Rouge Wavers, but for all the complaining about crowds, expense and sticky floors, in the Wave-inatrix's opinion, there is nothing like seeing a movie on the big screen, in a theater, with other movie enthusiasts. Seeing a movie is an event. There is a collective excitement and energy when you take in a movie in a crowd. You've all experienced something together; you've taken a journey.

Now, pipe down in the back - yes, theaters are full of Noisy Eaters, Big Heads, Loud Talkers, Late Comers and Fidgeters. I have a friend in Brooklyn who recently told me he is through seeing movies in theaters - it's just too annoying.

More and more, high-def, flat screen and surround sound have made movie viewing at home almost a luxury experience. But is it the same? Or are there some movies that are better watched in the relative quiet and comfort of your living room?

The problem the Wave-inatrix has, is that when I watch a movie on DVD I tend to pause it when the phone rings, when the popcorn's gone cold and the soda's gone flat. I pause, I rewind, I might even go IMDB something mid-movie. I'm not immersed in the experience to nearly the degree that I am in a theater.

Plus, I have many childhood memories of the MGM lion roaring or of course the 20th Century Fox searchlights and music - later in life, of course we now have the Dreamworks bit with the kid sitting on the cloud, fishing. Paramount is elegant but rather silent if I recall. Landmark Theaters had the best ever intro, with "the language of film is universal" in several languages. I love that one. In my favorite theaters here in LA, one has to wait while the red curtains are drawn back, harkening to the golden age of movies when it truly was a luxurious experience to go the movie picture show and newsreels and cartoons were shown.

Yes, times have changed, now we have those stupid cell phone ads, booming ads informing us, to the marrow of our shaken bones that TSX sound is in operation, and theaters that serve large, orange, stinky servings of nachos to - naturally - the guy sitting just to our left.

Does it matter how or where we see movies? Does a movie get a fair shake when you want to smash the hot nacho plate into the crotch of your neighbor? How about when something starts smoking in the microwave there at home and the cat pees on the carpet?

The Landmark Theater at the Westside Pavillion just put in a brand new theater with screening rooms which have low-backed couches and armchairs. Sounds luxurious, no? But actually, it's weird. The audience is seated at strange angles and distances from one another - it's like a bunch of total strangers sat down in your chilly, dark livingroom - and the chairs have such low backs that there are two positions available: stick straight, upright - or entirely horizontal. The Wave-inatrix was not impressed.

There is one time of year when the Wave-inatrix does avoid the theater in the evening and this is right now - the holidays. There is no movie in the world worth dealing with a Saturday evening crowd in December. It simply cannot exist. My favorite time to see movies is matinees; oh, say, 4pm or so, when the thin crowd is mostly movie enthusiasts with a sprinkling of senior citizens. Now mind you, the senior citizens, bless their hearts, do come with some issues: loud coughing, frequent nose-blowing, deaf-compensation talking - what did he say, Myrtle? - and arthritic hands which make the unwrapping of candy painfully slow and loud. But that aside, you have to love the old people. Mostly.

The ArcLight, a famously luxurious theater here in Hollywood has just opened another site in Sherman Oaks and of course, the Westside Landmark is also trying to compete by providing a luxurious experience complete with gift shops, reserved seats, in-house bars and cafes, etc. But the tickets are at a premium. Is movie theater attendance going the way of the dinosaurs? What else will exhibitors have to do to get us to go out in public to watch movies when so much great technology is available in the comfort of your home?

My absolute favorite theater experience is to go to a slightly run-down arthouse theater. Off the beaten track, slightly musty inside, usually only half to a quarter full, with red velvet drapes and broken-down seats with wooden arms. No cupholders, nothing fancy, just decades of showing moving pictures til the laughter and tears have soaked into the very walls and the seats are a bit tired. It is in that atmosphere, of reverent silence, along with the other dedicated film lovers that I most enjoy taking in a movie. I'll take that over the ArcLight or my livingroom any day of the week. Color me old school.

What I do fear, and it's borne out often in local papers, is the demise of the independent movie theater. Family owned movie theaters generally operate at a loss; neighborhoods rally round historic ones but many are unsung and slip under the water with only a blip.

If you live in an area that has them, give locally owned theaters your business - you're not only supporting a non-chain theater, you're also very often supporting independent and foreign films. It won't be long, I suspect, until TSX sound rattling a hot plate of nachos into your lap will become the norm - and we'll all be the poorer for it.

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1 comment:

The Other Pete said...

The thing I miss most about Boston are the second-run movie theaters. There are several that are former concert halls that now show movies as a way to pay the bills between concert seasons. They were inexpensive, just a touch run down, and just about the perfect place to go see movies. LOTS of movies.

Frankly, I agree – movies should be about communal catharsis, a shared experience. It's a heck of a lot harder to be sitting on the edge of your seat when your seat is a massive leather La-Z-Boy.