Goin’ to the Movies

Last December, I found myself stumped by a simple enough question: When was the last time you went to see a movie in a theater? Some ten hours later, I remembered: Terence Maillick’s _Tree of Life_ at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (I cannot remember the exact date). A few days later, I returned to BAM to see David Cronenberg’s _A Dangerous Method_. And yet again, I was reminded of what a strange bargain I have struck by my quasi-abstinence from the movie-in-the-cinema experience (over the past seven years, after years of obsessive movie-watching in theaters, I turned almost exclusively to DVDs, streaming, and Blu-Rays).

The immersion in the cinema can be complete in a way that the home theater experience cannot replicate, of course, but as the intruding head of the gentleman in front of me reminded me, it can be interrupted rather easily. And as the murmurs and whispers of my fellow movie-goers also reminded me, I have company. At home too, of course, I have both company and interruptions: sometimes my wife, sometimes the schoolchildren on the street outside, sometimes my neighbors stopping by to pick up spare chairs for children’s parties, sometimes the building superintendent with a notice about an upcoming repair job. But my resentment of the company of those who watch the movies with me and occasionally interrupt me is particularly pronounced in the theater: We are here to watch a movie, are we not? Why then, the need to indulge in real-time analysis and appreciation of the movie’s plot planning or cinematographic pyrotechnics? At home, I’m almost grateful for the solitude I enjoy between interruptions (including those induced by myself as when I decide bladder control is an overrated art and and head for relief).

But these environmental issues are, quite honestly, peripheral. For when it comes to the actual business of the visual and aural experience afforded by the theater, my homebound movie experiences run a distant second. I might own a large-screen HD television and run the audio output through an amplifier and pair of powerful speakers, but it will be a very long time before this arrangement can compete with the theater screen and its powerful audio accompaniment. And no set of trailers included on a DVD will ever quite be able to summon up the encoded-by-childhood-memory frisson of the movie-preceding trailer viewed in a theater either. (And no thrill of making it on time, finding a good seat, or most intangibly, snuggling and settling into the one procured.)

When, some seven or so years ago, I gradually began to gravitate toward home-bound movie watching, I was making both an economic decision and an aesthetic one. I needed to save money; ten-or-eleven dollar tickets presented themselves as an easy target; and I was also tired as too many people around me seemed to be, of the aggravations caused by those who watched the movies with us, the cellphone user being the most prominent one. The allure of the high-end home-theater seemed irresistible; all that technical power placed in our hands, promising to render the the public spectacle irrelevant. Well, it certainly exerted a strong enough pull to make me abandon the movie-house, for long enough for me to lose contact with it as an integral part of the movie-watching experience. And the tickets aren’t cheaper, and the audience isn’t any quieter. But yet, even when aware of that, I’m still struck by the melancholy of what I seem to have traded away, and by the loss of an experience that seems destined to not be ever replicated again.

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