December 12, 2007
There are a million reasons not to go. Today’s movie-going experience is painted in thick swathes of cliché: Sticky floors. Crying babies. Overpriced concessions. The one cell phone that always, always goes off. Not to mention that a single ticket can break a twenty and the theatrical-to-DVD window has sunk below ninety days. The clichés are clichés because they’re true. So why do I go?
Make no mistake: I’m not the guy who rushes out to see every new movie on opening day. You aren’t going to catch me at the theater week after week. Hell, I’m pretty discerning about what films I spend my hard-earned cash on. I’m a patient person with a Netflix queue hundreds of titles long who’s content to sit in bed and watch DVDs on my laptop. Nonetheless, I’ll still brave the pre-preview ads and stale popcorn for regular pilgrimages to the big screen.
Ask anyone what they find annoying about going out to the movies, and you’ll likely hear something about the audiences. Those constantly-yapping, soda-slurping, candy-crinkling hordes, the ones who bring tiny children to R-rated slasher films and quote lines immediately after they’re uttered, make the surround-sounded living room sound plenty inviting. But I live for the audiences. In a given day, I’ll read a magazine rather than talk to people in a waiting room, plug in my iPod to drown out a noisy study hall, shop on eBay rather than deal with salespeople. I’m hard-pressed to pay big money for concerts or capital-T Theatre, and I’ve never been much of a sports guy, so as far as I’m concerned the cinema is the last great communal activity.
I once coerced my (very conservative) father to be my adult guardian during the opening weekend of "Fahrenheit 9/11." The movie itself isn’t what I remember out of that muggy Saturday; whatever power the unbalanced polemic had evaporated quickly. Instead I have the indelible images of my dad trying to avoid the news cameras that skittered up and down that enormous queue, surely far too many people to fit into the little arthouse theater. I have his pretending-to-sleep act while an overstuffed room of his enemies hooted and hollered at Dubya and his cohorts. I have the way he rushed me out as the credits rolled—but not quick enough to avoid an old lady who chided him, “you better not be sending that boy off to war.” I have the disgusted look on his face. I still kid him about it. I have a summer of passionate youthful rebellion. The DVD sits on my shelf now—it’s not quite the same.
What else can’t you get on DVD? Certainly not the late-night-premiere crowd of "Snakes on a Plane," cheering Samuel L. Jackson and his reptilian enemies alike. Nor the well-polished back-and-forth at a midnight showing of "Rocky Horror Picture Show." I can hear all of the jokes in "Borat" at home, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss the college students who, like me, were laughing so hard they were crying the four times I saw it on the big screen. I thought "No Country for Old Men" was one of the best movies of this year, but how much of that judgment was based off the magic of being among two hundred people holding their breath watching the shadow of Anton Chigurh?
But a theater audience is more than a laugh track. A great movie brings people together, and if you stay to watch the credits you’ve got the perfect conversation-starter for any fellow stragglers. Last year I spent an hour in a café trying to piece together the meaning of mind-bending bomb "The Fountain" with the half-dozen people I had shared the theater with. In line for "Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead," I debated the most-and-least-deserving Best Picture winners with a complete stranger. Sticking around after a documentary about Christianity and homosexuality at the Virginia Film Festival, I gained some new allies I’d never have met otherwise. I’ve even met people through terrible movies, sticking around to track the slow decline of M. Night Shyamalan after "The Village" or count the historical inaccuracies in "Timeline." You don’t get this stuff on the IMDb forums, at least not without plenty of typos and spam.
I’ve never been the most outgoing guy. It can be hard for me to branch out or make friends. So I like to think that moviegoing helps keep me sane, forcing me to go out and enjoy the company of others once in a while. I’ve earned some of my most indelible memories this way, and I’ll keep doing it as long as I can, sticky floors be damned. Just don't count on me cancelling my Netflix account anytime soon.

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AshaMidnightOlympian said...
Aug. 14, 2009 at 4:07 am
Let's see, cliches, discussing ups and downs, meeting new people, the magic of the theater. . . The only thing you missed is a younger sibling whining that it's the wrong movie. All of these are theater exclusives. Good wording, almost-tangible emotion, great work.
unearthlyhaphazard said...
Aug. 13, 2009 at 11:40 pm
You're right; the difference between a DVD and the theater is the fact that a theater does more to bring people together. Great job!
arrowed_rain said...
Jul. 26, 2009 at 1:39 pm
Ah, yes, the streo-typical movie goers...You described it pretty well. For example, the new Harry Potter movie that was just relesed: I'm sure there was at least one kid on opening night that was dressed in a cloak and fake glasses, a painted scar on his forehead screaming "Crucio!" at everyone who dare cross his path. And then, minutes later, like you said, he's slurping soda or crunching popcorn. The atmosphere of the movie theatre was described to the brim of perfection in this piece... (more »)
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