11 February 2009

Going to the Movies

Have you ever seen a movie at Hollywood's Chinese Theatre? A lot of people include it in their sightseeing when they're visiting the area, to put their hands and feet in the cement prints of their favorites and see how they measure up, and snap pictures of the ornate red towers at the entrance. But most people just passing through don't stop to actually see a movie there. They should.

It's more beautiful on the inside than it is on the outside. It's enormous, like theaters used to be, before they got divided up into the multiplexes that exist today. The center row is about 25 seats across, and the walls are covered with giant wooden Chinese carvings, and top-of-the-line speakers, front to back. The screen is about the size of a basketball court stood on its side, and is covered until the start of the show, as in the old days, by a huge red velvet curtain. It opens about 3/4 of the way for watching the previews, then closes again and reopens to full width for the start of the feature. The Chinese does it up the way theaters used to, when going to a movie felt like the event it still is to me, instead of the cheap, easy, compromise it has become, with not only previews but commercials that tack a half hour onto your time there, which is already more time than many are willing to take out of their daily "busy"-ness, whatever that is.

I don't get it. I don't take the time I used to for movies, but I like to think that it's just where I am, and that my "busy"-ness has at least a finite term length. Even now, I go to the movies more often than many people I know. I wish that the experience was always as great as it's been the few times I've seen a film at the Chinese, old-style presentation with absolutely modern sound and picture technology, but I'm happy just to have a screen roughly the size of an outside wall of my house. I try to time my arrival to miss at least most of the commercials (which never should have been allowed to breach the tv/movie theater threshold), although I do love to see a couple of previews. I trade being spared the ads for seeing the theater darken, but it's worth it. Commercials are irritating on a small screen, at normal volume, and many people cite them as one of the main reasons they've been "turned off" by movies in recent years. The marketing is especially annoying because it's just another way to squeeze more money out of people, which never should have taken priority above the theaters' integrity and taste, and the customer's experience. Splitting two theaters into 12 multiplied their profits by almost six times (allowing for increased procurement costs) without even raising the prices, which have also at least quadrupled in most cases. And that's before figuring in the cost of refreshments, which were always higher than on the street, but have multiplied along with ticket prices.

Personally, I also wish they'd left the floors on gradual slopes instead of turning everything into stadium seating. I understand that on the rare occasion that really tall person sits in front of a really short person, stadium seating works better for the really short person, but I don't like sometimes having to sit not only close, but below, the screen; or not only far away from it, but far above it.

Still, I wouldn't give it up. Even on a multiplex screen, a fifth the size it used to be, at $9 a ticket, it's still an experience I can't get any other way. The smallest movie screen is still bigger than anyone's entertainment room screen (unless you're a pro ball player or a movie star yourself), and the two hours in the dark, commercial-free (once it starts), story-absorbed subreality with outside distractions and stresses prohibited, is a necessity to me. I love it. It does me more good than an annual physical or vitamin supplements, and I hope they can hang in there, and wait out the people who haven't yet figured out that they won't be able to stay sane their whole lives if they can only watch a movie if they can also spend that time texting and emailing, balancing their checkbooks, checking their eBay, talking, cooking (for those who still do), and making to-do lists for the stuff they're not doing at the moment.

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