“Imagine a world without movie theaters. No multiplexes. No arthouses. No way to communally experience a film. That day may be coming sooner than you think.”
The complete LA Times story is here. Use this link rather than the Digg link above to read the full text of the story.
I don’t think movie theaters are going to go away. In a post I wrote a while back, I reiterated an observation someone made about how obsolete technologies become art. Examples would include black and white photography and motion pictures, the use of antiquated analog sound recording technology for it’s ‘warmth’ and ‘character’, and in the near-future, a preference for books and newspapers over their electronic equivalent.
And right now music-on-vinyl is back. Many independent musicians are cutting through the clutter of CD jewel-cases and mp3 downloads by presenting their music on old-fashioned vinyl records. And, according to a friend of mine, some artists are packaging vinyl records designed as high-concept fetish-pieces for collectors with cards containing a URL and unlock code for an encrypted download. That way you never have to play/degrade the record. You look at the record but you listen to the download. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
So even though I believe the movie theater will survive, I’m not all that confident about the suburban cinema multiplex as it exists today.
Who hasn’t had a bad experience in one of these? I remember watching a local premier of The Matrix in a packed cineplex. Theater management started the film and ran it with the overhead lights on. The full house lights were up for the first 15 minutes of the film. And then there are rude and noisy patrons. People make noise eating, talking to their friends, or talking back to the screen. I’ve even had people arrive to the movie late, then have the audacity to ask me to move so that they could enjoy the film from a better seat!
And I’m not even going to talk about all the over-priced, unhealthy snacks on offer.
Overall, I think we’ve lost social consensus on what constitutes appropriate behavior in a movie theater and at public events and performances of all kinds. Television is to blame, probably. Many people tend to treat a movie theater, or any kind of performance, for that matter, as if they’re watching it on TV in their own living room.
I’m not a complete tight-ass about this though. When I was younger, I lived in the city and enjoyed going to martial arts films screened in downtown theaters. Clever audience participation actually enhanced most of these films.
But overall, I like a movie theater to be quiet, comfortable, and to have a good sight-line. I resent noisy, inconsiderate patrons, bad environmental conditions that make the theater too hot, too cold, or too bright. And even as a former rock musician, I find many cineplex sound systems to be too loud, or too distorted.
And I have no time at all for intrusive advertising in the movie theater.
Everyone has a personal threshold for adopting new technology. For me, VHS tapes were a great way screen films I didn’t get to see in a theater. But the quality wasn’t good enough to keep me from going to the movies on a regular basis.
But progressive-scan digital satellite television with surround-sound was good enough in terms of picture and sound to make staying home a viable alternative to the movies, at least for me.
Movies as high-resolution mpeg4 files played on high-resolution computer monitors are even better.
So I have no interest in the mall cineplex these days. It’s not worth the effort, especially when you know you can wait a scant six months and see the film on pay-per-view or rent it from Netflix. Most of the high-budget studio stuff sucks anyway. Even a high percentage of the art-house stuff turns up on Sundance or IFC in six months or so. A couple of years ago, my wife and I attended a pretty good regional film festival and were pleasantly surprised a year or so later when a lot of the most notable fare turned up on premium satellite TV.
On the other hand, even out here in the rural Pennsylvania countryside, specialized boutique theaters are opening all over the place. Many are vaudeville theaters built in the early 20th century and renovated. These theaters serve as regional arts centers and host live performances as well as films. I recently saw Richard Linklater’s ‘A Scanner Darkly’ in one of these theaters.
The experience there was a step up from the mall cineplex. The theater had a cafe with real food and coffee. The patrons were more subdued and polite. The theater itself, because it is beautiful and unique, is a destination, an attraction in it’s own right.
These boutique theaters are probably the future of going to the movies. Mall cineplexes were over-built after the movie boom of the 1990’s. What will happen to all these spaces when the bottom falls out?
A lot of talk is going around about a new discipline called ‘Performance Cinema’ that mixes live performance with projected images. Maybe all the abandoned cineplex theaters will become Performance Cinema venues.