Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Right and wrong ways to see a movie

Last time I raised the philosophical question: What is the “right” way to see a movie?

Some would argue that if you don’t see a film on The Big Screen then you haven’t really seen it. Other people think those people are snobs. Lots of other people don’t even think about this and just watch the fershlugginer movie. Who’s right?

Like any good bartender, I think everyone is right. To clarify, I love movies and I think people should watch them. And, in the grand scheme of things, seeing a movie is better than not seeing a movie. So the bottom line is: See the movie any way you can.

But we can generalize that some ways to see a movie are better than others. Unquestionably, the absolute best way to see a movie is at a world premiere at a film festival. Your anticipation is at its peak, your mind has minimal pollution by reviews and word-of-mouth, and you are part of the best buzz you can be a part of, a film festival audience. Of course, you can’t see every movie at a film festival. You could try, but eventually your family insists that you stop borrowing money from them and that maybe you think about getting a job again. Spoil sports.

The second best way to see a movie is in a cinema on opening night with a really good audience. Or on another night with a good audience. Or in a cinema at a cheap matinee in a mostly empty theater, hopefully without a senior citizen couple behind you yelling, “What did he say?!” “I don’t know! Something about he sees dead people!” A good audience really makes a difference. A few times I have been the only one in the theater, and the feeling is definitely lonely. Back in the 1980s on separate evenings I saw Turk 187 and Bad Medicine in Seattle’s cavernous, domed UA 150 all by myself. More recently, I saw Magnolia at a matinee in a suburban multiplex, but the auditorium was small enough that the sensation was more like being in my own living room with a really big screen TV.

Which brings up the point that with modern technology, i.e. home theaters with large screens and stereo surround sound and DVD, the experience of watching movies at home, for those that can afford it anyway, approaches the quality of a small movie theater. Forget about all the potential distractions of watching films at home (crying babies, ringing phones, knocks at the door, etc.). The level of enjoyment is quite liable to be determined by the people you are watching the movie with. Sure, people at home feel quite comfortable about chatting during the movie and talking at the screen, but let’s face it, the sad truth is that lots of people feel the same way when they are in a movie theater as well. My worst cinema-going nightmare is a couple of old friends who haven’t seen each other in years and have so much to catch up on and so they quite logically decide to go to a movie together. And they sit right behind me. Arghh! (Yes, this has actually happened. If you are reading this, you know who you are, you idiots!)

Let me now take this occasion just to mention, DVD rules. This is wonderful technology and makes home viewing quite acceptable to my way of thinking. You then get into the question of whether there is something magic about celluloid and that the only “true” way to see film is through light passing through celluloid. I’m afraid this question is moot because it is just a matter of time before the movie you watch in the cinema is digital. Or you are downloading if from the Internet. There’s no stopping it. Some people will fight to the death over this and resist to the very end, but there is no stopping it. I will always have a soft heart for celluloid. Just as I still have a soft spot for hot lead type and letterpress printing. I had this soft spot even while I was forcing graphic designers to user computer-aided publishing against their will.

Something else to get used to: The technology also guarantees that multiple versions of major movies are bound to exist. As if they don’t already, i.e. theatrical, TV, airplane, etc. Heck, George Lucas does a totally new version of the Star Wars movies every time he re-releases them. Because the technology makes it first possible, then easy, it will happen. Do yourself and your nerves a favor and get used to it.

-S.L., 13 April 2000

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