What’s your first memory of watching a movie in a theater?
For me, it was "Annie" in an old-school (heavy on the red velvet) movie theater in Toronto. My mom was with me, through multiple viewings (thank you, Mom!), and I distinctly remember embarrassing her by singing along to "Tomorrow."
When I compare that to the way I watched movies this week – on my phone during my commute and at the gym, on a DVD at home and through Netflix – and how long it's been since I was actually in a theater, it seems a little bittersweet, like winning a race but beating your best friend to do it.
There’s obviously something to the communal experience of sitting in the dark with a bunch of strangers and sharing a movie together. The sound of a room exploding with laughter or discretely muffled sniffles, shushing someone with the inevitable tightly wrapped candy or the couple who explains what’s happening to each other as it’s happening – it’s something that defines what moviegoing is, or was.
I’ve seen movies in huge theaters that were almost empty and overcrowded ones where I was nearly sharing my neighbor’s popcorn. I’ve seen movies overseas, where they smoke throughout and have an intermission. I’ve cracked up, even when no one else got the joke. I’ve sniffled and snuffled during romantic partings. I even remember doing some seriously ugly crying during the “It’s not your fault” scene from "Good Will Hunting." Twice.
There’s a special kind of release from unleashing your emotions amidst strangers, when each of you connects to what’s happening in your own way, at the same time.
I started out seeing movies with friends and family but over time, because of the difficulty of scheduling, had grown to like seeing movies by myself. I found myself freed from worrying if they were enjoying themselves or feeling irritated by the chatter throughout. It became a sort of zen time, when I could just be one with the movie, something that technology now enables me to do anywhere.
I will admit that I’ve genetically predisposed to nostalgia. In fact, I’m the kind of person who knows they’ll be nostalgic for something even as it’s happening. It doesn’t matter if the things I’m nostalgic about where flawed or more difficult, I tend to paint them in a warm sepia glow of fondness. One of those things is going to movies.
I miss the old theaters, with their Velveteen Rabbit seats and old world feeling. I mean, I love a good cupholder as much as anyone, but every movie theater looks exactly the same, whether you’re in Des Moines or New York. I miss being in a theater where everyone watched the one screen, instead of constantly checking Facebook updates and sports scores on their own tiny screens.
So I find myself incredibly grateful for living in the future. I grew up in a world of VCRs and watching a movie on my phone at the gym is pretty "Jetsons." For someone like me, who was always a back-row, never-on-opening-weekend type moviegoer, having a movie all to myself, anywhere I want, falls squarely under the heading of “beyond awesome.”
I know that having my 24/7 access comes at a price. But it’s a price I’ve already paid so I might as well enjoy it. I know that my kids won’t experience moviegoing in the same way I did. I’m sure that new inventions and changes in the way we live will make current movie theaters look ridiculously old-fashioned and obsolete.
They’ll grow up thinking that everything should be 3D. They may never know what it was like to sit in a room full of strangers and experience a movie together. It’s a feeling that I’m forgetting so I may not even be able to explain its strange, magical allure. It’ll be great to have something new to feel nostalgic about.