There’s a moment in Frank Darabont’s shamelessly schmaltzy film ‘The Majestic’ where you get a glimpse at what it was like to go to the cinema back in ye olden times (and, by ye olden times, I’m here referring to a film set in 1951. Make of that what you will).
A trip to the cinema wasn’t an everyday occurrence. It was an event - to be savoured and treated like a momentous occasion. People would even get dressed up in their most elegant clothes for the outings (said the man who was wearing trackie dacks and a t-shirt the last time he went to the movies). And, in ‘The Majestic’, the reopening of a local cinema signifies the rekindling of optimism for a small town where hope is almost entirely gone. Such is (or was) the power of cinema, at least according to Frank Darabont.
Flash forward some nearly 20 years since ‘The Majestic’ came out - or nearly 70 years since the period in which it was set - and going to the movies is an altogether different experience. Single-screen cinemas mostly have gone the way of black and white movies, while the experience these days is anything less than an occasion. If you can find a cinema that isn’t inhabited by at least one person who seems to have purchased the loudest possible snack to chomp on or another who thinks they’re in their own private ‘Mystery Science Theatre 3000’; or a third who’s live-tweeting the whole thing from a smartphone that emanates a disproportionately distracting glow that’s strangely impossible to ignore.
So yeah, the cinema-going experience has kinda gone from first class to Tiger Airways in a brief period of time. Yet, the desire for that kind of communal event remains. Whether it’s seeking out a midnight premiere screening of the latest Star War, going with a bunch of like-minded friends to see the latest blockbuster and experience it as a group, a lot of people still seem to want a level of importance attached to going to see a movie.
The problem is, these days; there are plenty of other ways to seek out that communal experience - lots of which have nothing to do with actually watching an entire movie. Sure, thanks to social media, there’s the joys of communal live tweeting (which, with the right crowd, is an absolute blast). For the most part, the marketing has overtaken the movie as the central part of that communal experience… to the point where the event people experience isn’t the film - it’s the promotion of the film.
This week, marked the long-awaited release of the teaser trailer for Danny Gordon Green’s upcoming ‘Halloween’ sequel.
Now, these days, it’s not just enough to release a trailer. You need to build hype for the release of a trailer. Even a teaser. Just look at ‘Ant Man’, which offered up one of the most ludicrous bits of pre-teaser-release hype in known history. A teaser to a teaser that nobody could actually really see.
So for ‘Halloween’, we could take two days worth of teasers building up to the teaser.
Besides, social media has now given us the wonders of the entirely-marketing driven social media embargo… where critics and the select few who get to see a movie pre-release can only offer their opinions on the said movie at a certain point in time.
This can be anything from the day of release to weeks ahead of time.
The end result? Anyone who follows film critics on social media will be deluged with reactions (often, for reasons that I’m sure someone more cynical than me could fathom, wildly enthusiastic) to a movie that ordinary punters have yet to see. This has helped lead us to a point where the actual moviegoing experience is somewhat irrelevant to proceedings… and has become an inconvenience.
By the time a film is released, the discussion isn’t about whether it’s a good film or not. It’s around whether there’ll be a sequel (and, associated debate around box office performance), it’s around the trailers that were played before the movie and basically a bunch of other peripheral white noise - all of which goes to cheapen the actual experience of watching a movie.
The fact is that home entertainment systems can – in many cases – provide an experience that’s just as good as going to a cinema. There’s minimal incentive to venture out to the multiplex (unless it’s a visceral experience that needs to be seen at a cinema, like Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ or ‘Paul Blart 3: Son of Blart’). After all, why would you pay $20 to go to a cinema where people spend half the movie starting at their smartphones and chatting amongst themselves when you can have greater control of your surrounds for an equivalent, if not better, experience at home?
My advice? Watch ‘The Majestic’ (sure, it’s shamelessly schmaltz. But it’s also a great fucking movie, and Carrey’s performance gets me every damned time), remember what it was like when going to the movies was an event - not just a random occurrence. Turn off, “mute” people, drown out the white noise - it really doesn’t matter.
Anotherfilmnerd's earliest cinematic memory was seeing Don Johnson throw up all over a suspect in John Frankenheimer's 'Dead Bang'. Ever since, he's devoted his life to searching out cinema that's weird, wonderful and features vomit in the most unlikely of places.