There’s a lot of bitching about the supposed death of movie theaters. The argument goes that the only way to appreciate filmmaking is on the silver screen with a fellow audience. Because of the proliferation of internet streaming, the communal experience cinema has fallen by the wayside.
Do I agree with this assessment?
Do I give a shit?
Perhaps I became a cinephile at the wrong time. I mean, I get it. I really do. But the dynamics of the filmgoing experience has changed. And that’s alright. EVERYTHING changes at some time or another.
But I quit caring about movie theaters a long time ago. Long before COVID even. The last time I’ve been to a theater was in 2017 to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This is largely because I have truthfully never bought into the “communal experience” of watching a movie.
I remember watching Joe Dirt in theaters long ago. I realized it was funny before everyone else did; before it became a cult classic. When Joe Dirt threatened to blow up the Grand Canyon and got poop spilled all over him, I laughed hysterically. Everyone else sat in their seats stone-faced. Audiences (except for me, of course) wouldn’t know what was funny if it bit them in the nuts. So fuck what other people think.
My argument is this: if you want to enjoy a movie, it has to be just YOU and the film. My love of cinema didn’t start in the theater. It started at 11 years old, after midnight, while watching Taxi Driver on Cinemax. Of course I was watching Cinemax at that hour to see some gratuitous T&A. At least initially. In fact, if anyone caught me, I would have probably quickly switched to porn and denied I was watching the classics of cinema. The first time I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was with some friends and, to be cool, I had to say it was the most boring thing I’ve ever seen. But in my heart, I knew it was genius. At 12 years old, I stayed up late to watch The Deer Hunter and cried myself to sleep. I never told anyone that until years later. Enjoying a movie, to me, should be an intimate experience; it should reveal things about yourself both good and bad…things that you may never tell another living soul. THAT’S the power of filmmaking.
This isn’t to say that theaters don’t have their purpose. But I’d argue that theaters simply offer the spectacle of film. They serve a similar purpose to churches. Sure, everyone can come together and listen to a sermon, but to have a truly transcendental religious experience, one must transcend the spectacle and enter a state of gnosis; of opening one’s mind to things unseen. Movies can be more than a spectacle. They can be a revelation.
Honestly, the slow death of movie theaters probably started with VHS.