(CNN) On Wednesday, the world’s biggest movie chain announced it may not bounce back from the financial damage of the pandemic shutdown. AMC Theaters has said it is “generating effectively no revenue,” hasn’t for some time, and doesn’t see the forecast improving anytime soon. As a professional moviegoer and lifelong cinephile, I’d like to venture a suggestion: Maybe the crumbling of Big Cinema has been a long time coming?
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Too scared to go out. 64, some health problems. REALLY don’t want to get Covid, especially with scary long term effects if one gets a bad case, even if you survive.
The economy is going to struggle for a long time because of people like me and even Wall Street will eventually figure this out. Terribly sorry for AMC and their people.
I feel your pain ! I was the projectionist at the Elgin Cinema in the 70’s and the
Waverly Theater ( IFC now ) in the 80’s. Pretty much ran most of the great
cult movies of all time, for the first time.
Thank you for this piece. I can’t wait to get back to the movies–a la your style, of course.
A few years back I wrote this for my micro-memoir, God, Sex, and UFOs:
A Night at the Movies
Prelude: I love movies and TV shows as much as the next guy. I keep a growing list of the films I’ve seen and liked—beginning around 1956. There are more than 900 titles on the list so far. However, I have found going to movie theaters,… how shall I say?… unrewarding.
I wrote the following piece as if I was the unholy love child of Andy Rooney and Dave Barry.
Movie going has changed tremendously in the last fifty years. I remember the joy of going to an opening night for the latest James Bond or Woody Allen movie, or the latest epic such as Dr. Zhivago, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Lawrence of Arabia. We enjoyed such definitive sixties films as The President’s Analyst, The Magic Christian, Easy Rider, and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas.
To feel better about ourselves, and to look cool, we attended foreign films—I remember being glued to my seat by the fascinating, horrific violence of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo. Then there were films I loved simply by virtue of their titles. Can you beat Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Merci Hummpe and Find True Happiness? or Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? I’ll never forget I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname.
M*A*S*H, Little Big Man, and The Graduate ushered in a new Golden Age of American Cinema—the Seventies.
Our gang typically went to opening nights. There were no multiplexes showing the same film simultaneously on five screens. Instead, every seat in these large houses was filled. We’d arrive early to avoid standing at the end of a long line, and sitting in the first few rows.
The packed theater was alive with an eager anticipation that was consistently justified. As the sixties evolved, so did our use of herbs prior to screenings. Was it the people? the era? the movies? our youth? the herbs? I don’t know, but I do know it was easy, joyful, inspiring, fun, educational, and, of course, entertaining to see a movie.
Times have changed. There are still great movies to see, there always will be, but the movie-going experience has become miserable.
To begin with, we’re talkin’ talkin’. It’s an unreported epidemic, compulsive talking. People can’t shut up for fear of going stark raving mad, and/or for the narcissistic pleasure of hearing the sound of their own voices, or showing off their brilliant intellect to movie-goers within earshot, letting us victims know that they know what just happened on screen, what’s happening, and/or what’s going to happen.
Whatever the talkers’ motivation, I’m driven madly out of the theater. And I’m not just talkin’ kids. Eyes Wide Shut, an adult melodrama with less action than an Andy Warhol film, incredible hype, a packed theater—and the couple next to us talked to each other the entire film. This was a classic case of torture on top of torture.
But that’s just the beginning. People routinely go to movies with various and sundry maladies. Contagion be damned! The film’s dialog and soundtrack are frequently punctuated with a variety of coughs, sneezes, sniffles, snorts, wheezes, and hacking throats—often originating from just one person. These sick sounds don’t just impinge upon the movie-goers in the immediate vicinity, they echo throughout the theater.
Let’s not forget the nervous movie-goer sitting right next to you, shaking their legs, shifting around constantly in their seat, eating compulsively, hogging the armrest, stamping their feet, sucking on and scraping their straw against the bottom of their drinking cup—and laughing at very odd times.
And popcorn! Of all the possible snack foods on planet Earth, we had to choose popcorn to nervously munch at the movies. Even mature adults going to quiet foreign films with quiet, intense dramatic scenes find it necessary to damn those delicate moments to hell with their ceaseless foraging in the popcorn bag, and theater-reverberating crunching.
Just when I thought I had figured out some ways to avoid or reduce these annoying, distracting sounds, the seat-back pushers oozed their way into the audience. Yes, feet and legs were evolutionarily designed to kick the seat directly in front of you. The solution to that one seemed logical—simply move horizontally along the row. Not! A talented seat kicker several seats away can set up a standing wave motion that magically goes right to my seat providing an unwanted two-hour amusement park ride. Someday a pusher is going to find the theater’s resonant frequency, and the whole building’s gonna collapse like the infamous Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State. (Google it.)
And those epic films from the sixties? Well, they still make ‘em. Three hours or longer. But, due to corporate pressure from the makers of Depends, the intermission has been removed.
I thought I’d already had a healthy list of Andy Rooney kvetches when, at the third Lord of the Rings film, a woman sat down next to us wearing a perfume shop. This was a new low. To avoid our own choking coughs echoing throughout the theater, we quickly changed seats—an exercise that’s become de rigueur for practically every movie I attend.
Human beings are infinitely creative. Whenever I feel as if I’ve experienced all an audience can throw at me, there’s always something more. A packed theater. My first viewing of Avatar. A guy near me taps his feet, off and on, throughout the feature. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. My plea for ped-ological silence was ignored. I even noticed another audience member saying something—to no avail.
Oh! I almost forgot the heads! Yes, the heads! For ten or more bucks you not only get formula entertainment, you get a minimum of one head blocking your view, adding, perhaps, an artistic edge to an otherwise routine experience. The massive amount of chemicals, oils, and hormones in the American diet have fostered premature puberty—and, consequently, taller and taller people each year, some of whom insist upon wearing head gear on top of their big hair.
Tragically missing out on these endocrine-disrupting chemicals as a child, I grew to an average height. There’s a silver lining—for some people, at least. More and more theaters in America now feature stadium seating, but not in our county where it’s apparently against the law to angle the floor of a movie theater for us vertically challenged.
What’s behind all this? Raging American Narcissism. “I exist, I matter, and you don’t.” Oh, sure, you can say something to these enjoyment saboteurs, but there are two problems with that: Once you say something, you really can’t enjoy the next two hours living with this dark, silent tension. Secondly, these folks can’t stop themselves. Any attempt on their part to do so will only exacerbate that aforementioned tension. Incompetent and/or careless theater managers and owners don’t help, either.
This Just In! My friend Rebecca reports that a new bonus feature can be found at movie theaters: Head lice.
Like the many ‘bonuses’ offered by TV infomercials, there’s even more, much more! Exasperating television commercials; sticky floors; uncomfortable seats; rocking seats that creak; stale air filled with gasses released by your friends and neighbors; official theater solicitations for charities which are nothing more than drug company subsidizers; exorbitant prices for heart attack snacks from the concession stand; bright-light smart phones; three-hour long movies with no intermissions; inaudible movie dialog drowned in ear-pounding sound effects and overwhelming music; booming sound bleeding through the walls from other auditoriums; the incessant crumpling of paper and plastic bags; annoying shiny or dark spots on the theater screen; and faded images on the screen because the theater’s saving a few pennies by turning down the projector lamp bulb.
No wonder the home video, web-streaming, satellite and cable industries are doing so well—well, cable, not so much.
And for the countless number of people who can see only out of one eye, good luck with the expanding use of 3D technology. You will simply be unable to see a movie if it is released exclusively in 3D. But those of us with two working eyes have to deal with the washed-out colors concomitant with 3D. Hollywood’s gone gaga over 3D, and consequently, my quest for 2D screenings is on. I want to see the colors that were so lovingly created for a movie—and so sadly sabotaged by an expensive gimmick that offers little in return.
But I’ve saved the best for last. The previews. The Trailers. Yes, for the price of admission to just one film, you get to see a half-dozen or more movies. Each preview presents virtually the entire plot of that upcoming release—and the most amusing moments, if it’s an attempted comedy. Amazingly, most people love previews. Like fried pig skins, it’s a taste I’ve never acquired.
I hoped, in vain, that The Crying Game and The Sixth Sense with their surprise plot twists would drill it into all our brains that creative plots delightfully enhance the movie-going experience. I even approached an industry insider about this mega-annoyance. He said the industry’s marketing people swear the number one reason movie-goers list for going to a movie is their experience of the preview. Any hope of reform was squelched when I heard that one.
Take heart, though. For those who do not wish to be victims, I have a couple suggestions. First, it’s time for the portable, expandable movie cushion. You carry it in your pocket. Sit down in your favorite seat. Wait. When a variety of taller folk sit in front of you, you pull out the cushion, blow it up, sit on it, and rise above the madding crowd. Trouble is, what do we do if we all use these cushions? Cushion Wars!!! Might be more exciting than the latest “Star Wars” trilogy.
And to avoid dead-giveaway previews, you can do what I do—pace the theater lobby during the twelve or more minutes of trailers. Or you can use my patented PFAS—Plot Foreknowledge Avoidance System consisting of an eye mask and a personal sound system with headphones and fully charged batteries. You will need, though, a loved-one willing to sacrifice their pleasure for yours. They’ll be required to nudge you right before the feature starts to remove your phones and mask.
However, given all of the above, you might want to keep those micro speakers in your ears, the mask on your eyes, and have a much more gratifying night at the movies.
Oh, yeah, and there’s one more thing: You might get killed by gunfire.
Coda: You may see a short video I produced inspired by the above curses:
(Spoiler: This really happened to me.)