Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Evolution of the Moviegoing Experience
Dreams: celebrating the art of film and the moviegoing experience. Our official
tag line is more than just a catchy phrase. It establishes a strong relationship
between the film itself and how that film is seen by the audience. I saw Apocalypse Now Redux at the Grand Theatre Lumiere during the Cannes Film Festival.
I also watched it, like the vast majority of moviegoers, at home on DVD. Guess
which experience was the most memorable? For me, the moviegoing experience has
always meant the theater. All films are best seen in a large, dark room with
an audience of strangers. It was the only way, and I would never sacrifice the
theatrical setting for any film I really cared about seeing...until I moved to Southport, North Carolina.
to the cinema netherworld was based on several quality of life issues, which I won’t go into here. Let’s just say that I adore my new home despite the fact that seeing films when they first come out
is difficult to impossible. I used to go to film festivals and press screenings. Now I’m seeing movies like most normal people see them: at home (long after
the press and publicity on them has vanished) with the occasional outing to the local multiplex. As a former entertainment journalist, this is both a shock to the system and a refreshing change of perspective.
In order to
appreciate how good you have it in the Bay Area, consider that the closest theater to me is the Surf Cinema, a quad-plex where
the movie with the loudest soundtrack dominates all 4 auditoriums. Now playing
is Spiderman on 2 screens, Shrek on one and Pirates of the Caribbean on the other. The good news, for those who remember what I look like, is that they charge me the senior rate without
even asking for ID. (Saving money is always worth more than my vanity). The next closest theaters are over 30 miles away over mostly 2 lane roads. The only “art house” is the Cinematique in Wilmington, which shows selected indie and foreign
films on Mon-Wed evenings for 9 months out of the year--just before they come out on DVD.
The closest real art house theaters are in Raleigh, NC or Columbia, SC (over 2 hours each way).
of course, is Netflix. When a film comes out that I definitely want to see, I
immediately put it in my queue even though the DVD release date is unknown. I
suspect that most movie lovers across the country get their cinema fix via DVD because it’s just so damn easy. But cinema purists, like me, consider the DVD experience a compromise over theatrical
viewing. Would it be possible for me to have a fulfilling life in Southport and
still be a card carrying cineaste?
The first order
of business was to realign my reaction to buzz. Even as a child I was adamant
about seeing a hot or controversial film on opening weekend (preferably Friday afternoon).
Now I must weigh my enthusiasm against the long drive, time away from my lovely wife (who hates the drive), and the
fact that I don’t have any cinema buddies to chat with after screening. This
filtering process means that 98% of the time I decide to wait for DVD. Films
I tend to see in theaters include epics (Apocalypto, Children of Men), films of
favorite directors (The Departed), and horror films if they make it to the Surf
(Bug, Hostel 2).
Once you convince
yourself that you must see films NOW, the rest is easy. There are even benefits
to seeing a film long after the buzz is gone because one’s expectations are not affected by the publicity and critical
response. It requires judicious reading of reviews to avoid spoilers, but anything
that keeps expectations at bay is, to quote Martha Stewart, “a good thing.”
I had read that Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers was inferior to Letters From Iwo Jima. By the time I got around to seeing them on DVD, I found Letters
to be moving and sad, but Flags was much
more emotionally engaging and was unfairly left out of consideration at Oscar time.
The best film of 2006? I saw it April of 2007: Little Children. In fact, I watched it twice on successive evenings
to be sure that it’s brilliance was not a figment of my imagination. It
gets expensive to do repeat viewings on a regular basis in a movie theater.
Had I been influenced
by the poor reviews and/or dismal box office reports, I never would have seen Hollywoodland
(how was this overlooked?), The Ice Harvest (great nasty fun), The Good Shepherd (flawed but engrossing), V For Vendetta (fabulously
subversive), and Stranger Than Fiction (Will Ferrell’s best film). On the other hand, I was glad I didn’t pay 10 bucks for overrated duds like Talladega Nights (where’s the comedy?), Flightplan (ridiculously
implausible), Half Nelson (good acting, no story), The Devil Wears Prada (even Meryl was one-note), and Transamerica (mannered
As most of you
are well aware, achieving the ideal moviegoing experience in a theater is increasing difficult in these days of short attention
spans, cell phones and self absorbed behavior. Unless you can go when the likely
audience is small (often many days after the film has come out) disruption to your viewing experience is almost assured. Have you noticed that even when the audience is small, those few people seem to talk
louder? Every trip to the movies is a spin of the wheel, a roll of the dice.
I do manage to wander into the theater here in Southeastern North Carolina, the experience is much improved over public screenings
in San Jose and the rest of the Bay Area. Audiences are more quiet and considerate
here in the South. The theater owners are also serious about keeping it that
way. The entrance to the Surf Cinema warns all “teenagers” that disruptive
behavior will not be tolerated, and acting up can result in expulsion without a warning.
Almost all theaters in the region have embraced the digital revolution, so the familiar clickety-clack of the projector
is gone. The most annoying feature is the 15-20 minutes of commercials before
the show begins (do you have that in San Jose too??). Although, you haven’t
lived until you’ve seen a commercial for a Southern car dealership with the owner as on-air talent.
I have finally
embraced life with DVDs as my primary movie source. I have a live-in cinema buddy
(my wife--except for horror films) and going to the movies is not a half-day ordeal. I no longer feel guilty about giving
in to convenience, and I have come to appreciate the fresh perspective the theatrical-DVD time lag provides. I will always believe that the ideal place to experience any movie is in a state-of-the-art theater with
a quiet, attentive audience. That being said, watching movies like most of America
does is just fine by me.
©2007 Ken Karn/Celluloid Dreams
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of Ken Karn, and
do not necessarily reflect those of Celluloid Dreams staff or other contributors.
BACK TO TOP