Movies are a true American tradition.
If you had a nickel, you could not only go see some silly cartoons, but the newsreels, meet friends and neighbors, and enjoy yourselves. TV was new, terrible, and so expensive as to make it out of reach for a long while.
I still remember theater ushers, guiding people to their seats and shining lights if things got rowdy. And theaters were packed knee-to-knee. Later in my life, I felt theaters were a throwback concept. Like some dystopian communist concept, sharing a screen with total strangers. We still have a number of similar concepts based on early America. Airplanes, trains, busses, public pools, libraries. Times where completely random citizens get together and share a resource because they can’t possibly afford to own it themselves.
Theaters have been in financial trouble for a while. As TVs get bigger and bigger and pipelines to homes get fatter and fatter, the need to pay $12 for popcorn becomes less enticing. For probably a decade, when I go to see a movie, I’ll go at like 11pm on a Wednesday. Because the audience no longer contributes to the enjoyment, they contribute to me being annoyed. Staring at ultra-bright phone screens and talking non-stop. The vast majority of audiences have never ever experienced ushers escorting people out. I’ve climbed over rows and rows of chairs to rudely tap someone on the shoulder and, through clenched teeth, tell them to please put away their phones. One of my neighbors told me I was going to get shot sooner or later. And I suspected he was right. So I started going when there was no one around. I’ve bumped into a number of celebrities doing that–who were doing the same thing. But I have to admit that a good movie, in a good theater, with a good audience, is vastly better than the best big screen at home. It’s just that it’s so rare to have a good audience so I gave up trying to find one.
Now with Covid-19, I strongly wonder if I, and most of America, will ever set foot in a movie theater ever again.
I’ve had truly wonderful times watching movies. Hanging out with friends. Going on dates. And consuming everything from the sublime to the ridiculous to mind-numbingly bad entertainment. You see those B&W pictures of huge swathes of audiences in their 1950s Sunday finest watching a 3D movie with paper glasses on and it seems wonderfully archaic. But I suspect the younger generations currently alive will look at ANY movie theater and marvel that anyone ever used them.