42 Favorites: #11

Until my post on The Iron Giant, this fits-'n'-starts 40 41 42 Favorites series had
run in alphanumeric order — from 1980s superhero-team comics to Airplane! on through crossword puzzles. I'll probably keep with that order for the most part, but sometimes circumstances suggest breaking it. Now, for instance, is a great time to
talk about seeing movies in a theater.

If I put my shoulder into it and fortune favors me, a slew of posts on movies from
the past year will be up this month. Year's end is a time for reflection in general, but certain aspects of life (school) and pop culture in particular (the TV season, traditionally) don't fit neatly with the Gregorian calendar. Movies do — partly insofar as, film not being a largely serial medium like television is, the end of the year could fall anywhere; it's easy enough to make a list of the best movies or books or music releases in the 365 (or 366) days prior to Date X. But it also works out nicely that we get a volley of would-be blockbusters in the spring and summer months, when days are long and the air-conditioned multiplex beckons, followed by a smaller batch of commercial tentpoles amidst more serious, more intimate fare in the wintertime, when packed theaters offer a respite from the dreariness and cold. In truth many of the Oscar hopefuls don't even hit most markets until late December at the earliest, instead bridging one year to the next; this season will be no different, unless the folks misinterpreting the Mayan Long Count calendar turn out to be onto something.

There's nothing like settling into an auditorium with stadium seating as one swatch in a patchwork quilt made up of various bunches of a couple or a few or a dozen friends. If libraries and bookstores and parks are where we sometimes go to be alone together, movie theaters are where we go to be together together (although I won't knock anyone taking in a film stag; I've certainly been known to do so myself). As much fun as the multiplex can be, however, especially during a raucous comedy or an action-packed thriller or superhero bonanza, I love small art-house screening rooms at least equally well. I'm lucky enough to have an excellent local one, The Bryn Mawr Film Institute, gearing up to be even better after a serious remodeling that will result in more rooms with better dimensions — the current setup of a pair of side-by-side, way-deeper-than-they-are-wide theaters is a holdover of the days when grand old movie palaces were split in two or three lengthwise to accommodate more movies at once. I sit in BMFI's old, creaky chairs to watch a foreign film or an American indie gem and feel like a devoted film scholar, which is a bit funny since the film classes I took in college were in a small, fairly state-of-the art screening room in the main library.

DVDs and streaming services and On Demand have their place, to be sure. Godard knows that I can't get to everything I'd like to see on the big screen, never mind catching up on classics or taking in special features. Theaters, however, and movie theaters most of all, are one of the few places where we still go to engage in communal, secular devotion. Potential distractions abound more than ever in this modern age — in recent months I've endured cell phones, snoring, and kids who should not be at a movie like this — but so far I'm still more than willing to brave a bum experience in the name of attending movie mass. It's hard to beat the strange frisson of suddenly becoming aware that you're in an ocean of people equally enraptured by the magic unspooling on the canvas before you.

Agree or disagree?

40+ Favorites: #1-3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7-9 | #10 | #11

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely agree.

    As you say, going to the movies is one of the great communal experiences. There's something about "a night at the movies" that I cherish, not just seeing the film itself but standing in line for popcorn, the trailers, maybe grabbing a bite to eat or a drink before or after.

    I have a very nice TV, and very comfortable couches, a large personal film library and access to countless others via streaming services, and like you, I agree there is also enjoyment to be had in hunkering down with a movie or two in the comfort of your own home.

    But no matter how annoying some of those Luddite texters or irresponsible parents become, I will never want to fully abandon the experience of going out to a movie.

    (Though the wife and I are still in the midst of determining the best time to see a movie in order to avoid the annoying elements of the crowd; go too late, and you're inundated with teens and their cell phones. Go too early, and you're stuck with older people loudly talking about the movie around you. "Who's that?" "What's happening?" "Is that so-and-so?" etc.).