Coming soon to a theatre near you… a catastrophic bit of wrongheaded thinking.
Let’s see now. I remember reveling in the public premier of Shaun of the Dead at London’s Prince Charles Cinema, followed by a barnstorming Q & A with its makers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright – seemingly thrilled to realize they had one hell of a good movie to promote.
And I remember just as well the chill February walk me and Jackie took, holding hands, on our way to David Fincher’s new film Zodiac. A handful of weeks before our upcoming wedding – and even fewer days since a plane from Heathrow flew me out of England – my thoughts flickered back and forth between the film on its way and a whole new life still waiting for me the other side of it. Another time, another icy winter night, the same walk back again carried us home from There Will Be Blood. Going a different route, we said a weird goodbye to Jess, our friend who we saw it with – still frazzled by the film, and buffeted by squalls of freezing wind, the chitchat was jarring.
And West Side Story – I saw that for the first time a year or so later, at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, Mass. As much as I loved it, I was every bit as excited to spot local documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee two rows in front of us (he’s an acquired taste, for sure, but well worth going off the beaten track of movie-going for, if you fancy something different.)
And back in 2001, I enjoyed Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie so much I went to see it two nights running – first at the very back because the cinema was full, and second in the front row, to burrow out distractions. The previous year, I went to America for the first time. In New York City, we went to see The Lady Eve for something like six bucks. During the day-time… in the village! It seemed the perfect possible way to pass an afternoon, and I’m still grateful now that I first encountered the genius of Preston Sturges without the slightest slither of a care hanging over me.
And how about more recently? They’re a little further apart, maybe, but the peaks are just as high. The Tree of Life, for long stretches of its long running time, felt like something I’d been waiting all my life for. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was a joy. Bridesmaids a riot. And, as I wrote about on these pages recently, Attack the Block and Senna made a weekend trip to Boston a short while back immeasurably more lovely and more fun.
What the hell
…oh please say it ain’t so…
Churned out by all the forces of crapness that Corporate America can muster (and God only knows, that’s a lot), it’s a whole new brand of movie-going. An odd sort that starts by treating the movie as something we need to be distracted from. (I can only type it wearily, with enervated fingers:) It’s the ‘AMC Dine-In Theatre.’
“See the latest movies at AMC Dine-In Theatres,” I read on their horrible little website, “an experience that combines the cuisine and cocktail options of a restaurant with the fun and excitement of a movie theatre.” Wow, what a sorry streak of piss that is. See it trail dumbly down a grey, cracking urinal – in that dank, soulless men’s room where creeps and deadbeats go to wash away their shame (right outside the boardroom).
Don’t be fooled for one second by the predictable slickness of the (predictably obnoxious) promo shot above. I’m here to tell you folks – if you haven’t already had the grave misfortune to find out for yourselves – that the AMC Dine-In Theatre is simply and sadly yet another way in which the gutless grabbing after money has taken something great and made it pretty crap.
I went to see Moneyball at the weekend, and, without knowing ahead of time that I was about to, wound up doing so in a ‘Dine-In Theatre.’ The film itself was excellent; the experience of watching it the opposite. Every seat had a light next to it, which you couldn’t switch off. Next to me (to everyone) was a bottle of ketchup and a laminated menu (I’d tell you what was in it, but couldn’t stomach touching it). And a waitress kept on coming by to give other people their food and to ask me if I wanted any too. No longer surrounded by darkness, the bottom third of the screen was washed out by light. The quiet bits of the film resounded to the sound of people eating and talking. Even the seat wasn’t in the least bit comfortable – designed, as it was, to accommodate arses many time larger than mine.
I love the cinema – and wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if you do as well. It’s a truly special place, and I’ll be damned if the rituals that help make it so aren’t worth holding tight with both hands and dogged determination. The anticipation beforehand, unbroken by distractions. The silence. The stillness. The darkness. The paying attention to the flickering image that you came for and the sound that a sub-woofer and surrounding speakers make.
The more we treat cinema as anything less than special, the more we undervalue the boundless ability of film to transcend the economic imperative of selling popcorn. No matter how much of that any given movie ‘succeeds’ in shifting.
After all, not so long ago, there was once even a time when Corporate Hollywood made a whole lot of money with a little thing called ‘quality.’ Here – box office takings from three straight years in the mid-70s:
Turns out, we masses can also be lured into theatres by – wait for it! – great movies. Take that, AMC, and you know where you can stick your bloody ketchup, too.
(P.S. If you like your movies, let me take a fast moment and recommend Cinewise – a film blog always worth getting out of bed for…)