Dec 30, 2016

Let's go to the movies!

There's something special about going to the movies.

Sure, sometimes it's nice to lounge mascara-less on your couch in your pajamas under a blanket with the cat curled up next to you and enjoy reasonably-priced snacks while watching something on netflix. But there's just something special about going to the movies.

There is an unparalleled sense of togetherness in being in a theatre full of people. Laughing together, discreetly wiping away tears together, jumping out of your seats together and then laughing because you knew it was coming but jumped anyway together. (And, yes, it's always a drag when you have somebody who constantly speculates on what is going to happen or comments on what has just happened sitting behind you, but that's part of the gamble, part of the excitement.)

Even a sparse crowd has its charms: there's the knowledge that the few other people in there with you would also rather see this small budget foreign film, or that they also missed opening night and barely managed to see this blockbuster on the big screen before it left theatres.

When we go to the movies, we are all watching the same movie, but bringing our own experiences and knowledge and understanding to it, making it collectively ours but also our individual own. And that is pretty magical.

(Plus, nothing comes close to movie theatre popcorn.)

These things have not changed, and I would still rather go out to watch a movie than stay in, but I am increasingly disheartened at the way the experience has changed over the years. (Except at the Hyland. Don't ever change.)

Going to the movies used to be the great social equalizer. Everybody paid the same price (unless you were a senior or a student) and those who got there early got the best seats. If you wanted to see something on opening night, you stood in line and took your chance. Sometimes you got turned away or the only seats left were in the far corners of the front row. (I watched Beverly Hills Cop from this neck-breaking vantage point.) Sometimes you even had to wait a whole week. Now people can book their seats ahead of time and saunter in at the last minute like celebrities themselves and take those two perfect seats in the exact middle of the theatre.

You used to have to wait in line with everybody else to buy your popcorn or candy. Today you can pay an inflated fee for the privilege of reclining and having a waiter deliver your steak and lobster dinner. If you wanted to drink alcohol during a film, you had to smuggle rum in in flasks or bring airplane bottles of vodka in your purse. Now someone brings a craft beer or a glass of merlot directly to your seat.

You used to (and I'm really aging myself here) have cartoons before the previews. Now you have to sit through fifteen minutes of commercials and watch Scene members play the cell phone "games" which are actually just the production companies' way of gathering information in order to determine which summer superhero movie needs more promotion. You need a minimum of three reminders to turn your cell phones off, and even then someone inevitably needs to text a friend or check facebook during a pivotal scene. The movies themselves are valued more as vehicles for merchandise and tie-ins and franchises than as artistic expressions of someone's vision.

Going to the movies used to be about us, the collective theatre-going audience, but now it seems more focused on creating or reinforcing a social hierarchy wherein one must be a member of an elite club, needing constant reinforcement in the form of points and rewards and special treatment.  

It's nice to feel special, but isn't it also nice to be reminded that, at your most fundamental, you are just like every other human being out there? That it doesn't matter how much money you make or where you live or what you drive, that you can eat the same overpriced (but delicious) popcorn and drink the same watered-down soda and sit in the same room in the same padded chairs as a bunch of strangers and still all be emotionally affected by watching characters and worlds and stories come to life in front of you?

When it comes to going to the movies, I, for one, will always choose the latter.