Backstory: Cinema is art, not furniture
Home sweet home is no substitute for movie magic - no matter how big and expensive your screen.
I have a memory of my grandmother taking me as a very little girl to see a movie in a Philadelphia theater. It seems to me Jimmy Durante was involved and there were bubbles floating across the screen.Skip to next paragraph
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Whether Jimmy Durante and bubbles really ever joined forces in some cinematic moment is unclear to me. The important part is how enduringly magic it felt being in that theater.
I have other theater memories powerful enough to rival Proust's madeleines.Growing up in a tiny New Jersey town, moviegoing was rare. Occasionally the neighbors would invite me to the King Movie Theater in nearby Gloucester City. For a dollar I'd get to go see "The Hindenburg," or "Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood," or (the best ever) "Jaws." How I screamed when the head popped out of the boat. I wasn't alone. The chorus of shrieks around me was an early lesson in the power of community.
By the time I had a kid, VCRs were commonplace and most helpful when I needed to plant the baby in front of some Disney dreck so I could meet a deadline, or wanted to see a flick but couldn't afford a sitter. Still, I made certain to show my son the power of the big screen.
A favorite occasion came when we were living in Knoxville, Tenn. It was 1998 and Henry was 7. The Tennessee Theater is one of those huge old theaters with ornate everything - from chairs to gilded ceilings. There was even a lift that brought an organ up from the mysterious bowels of the place. It was here that Henry first saw "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." We roared at the Knights who say Nee, the rabid rabbit, and all the rest - our experience inarguably enhanced by the fact that this larger-than-life farce was being projected on a larger-than-life screen in a larger-than-life theater.
Henry and I are fortunate enough to live in Austin, now, where there are two prominent film festivals. The Paramount Theater offers a summer movie series of classics. And the Alamo Drafthouse provides several theaters where movie lovers can enjoy a meal while watching new movies or enjoying old favorites, preceded by hilarious and fitting trailers, not the usual assault of popcorn ads and blockbuster previews.
But a lot of the rest of the country is stuck with those darn multiplexes, which rob them of the magic feeling of immersion in a story.
Ubiquitous videos and DVDs and the growing popularity of home-theater systems, flat screen TVs, and mind-blowing personal sound systems have further lured moviegoers away from the go-to-the-movies experience and lulled them into a stay-home-and-watch state of mind.
This shift was lamented several times at the podium of the recent Academy Awards.
"The Academy Awards were about the funeral of movie going," says Sam Grogg, dean of the School of Communication at the University of Miami and former dean of the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. "It was an evening where a lot of terrific films and artistry in film were being displayed, but there was something somber. I think it's because we see the moviegoing experience as literally passing. It's something we'll see go away over the next several decades."