I was casting about for a holiday-related column topic when it plopped in my lap, courtesy of a couple of friends.
Dave Wingert, who shares his radio mike with me for a few minutes each Friday morning on 101.9FM, where we talk about new movie openings, said recently he was surprised to learn how many people go to the movies on Christmas Day.
I have long known the multiplexes are packed on Dec. 25, and I like to joke that families need a little relief from talking to each other.
Sure, it’s true all of us can get an overdose of togetherness. But I think the real reason the multiplexes are packed is that people still love seeing a movie together.
I know, Grinchy Claus, you want to quip that would be true if you could find a movie fit for a family. Or if those other people, unlike yourself, knew how to behave at the movies so as not to spoil it for everyone around them.
But “all those people out there in the dark,” as Gloria Swanson famously referred to movie audiences in “Sunset Boulevard,” collectively add something important to the experience of watching a movie.
Hearing, seeing or even feeling the response of those around you to a particularly moving moment, a really hilarious one, or a thrilling or scary one, can deepen that emotional experience. It can open you to the essence of the feelings we all share.
Movies can connect us, much more so if they are seen together. Who doesn’t like tapping into the collective mood of those around you as the audience spills out into the lobby? Or having that heated discussion with those you love about the movie you just watched together?
Isn’t it fun to discover how differently people can respond to the same story?
I was thinking about this when a colleague in the cubicle next door suggested I write about how many families can’t afford to go the movies together anymore.
Her friends with two kids recently dropped more than $50 on tickets, a bit of popcorn and pop. It doesn’t take long at evening showtimes to rack up quite a bill.
The way to afford it, I said, is to go at 11 a.m., when tickets are $5 or less at several theaters. Some theaters also have senior citizen days, cheaper rates for everyone on what’s traditionally a slow night (I’m thinking Tuesdays for some reason, though not on holidays) and other discounts.
Back to that collective experience.
I have a pet theory that social media and electronic communication have increased our access but diminished the depth of our connections. Texting is not the same as talking to someone on the phone. An electronic Christmas card is not the same as someone’s handwriting.
To me, watching a movie on your cell phone, iPad, or even your flatscreen TV at home, is a lessened experience over seeing a film on the big screen with an audience.
But texts, tweets, Facebook postings and email have turned everyone into an instant movie expert. If you type the name of a current movie into your online search engine the number of websites with opinions about that title is longer than a string of garland.
In that cacophany of opinion, how do you know where to turn? Read the short reviews often posted on imdb.com, a movie database website. Some are sharp and insightful. Some carp. Some are semi-literate. Few are credited to anyone. The anonymity alters what’s said.
In the 1940s, most of America went to the movies at least once a week. They shared that experience, it was a social event. Pictures had time to build an audience. Now the verdict is in fast. Small, human stories often get lost in the trample toward the latest digital wonder in 3-D.
Most people my age don’t go to the movies much. When they can find a movie not aimed at teens and twenty-somethings, they wait for the DVD to come out so they can watch it at home alone. I understand why that choice is so attractive. I’m still sad for what we’ve lost socially, in making connections, in sharing a moment.
I can’t begin to fathom why a person would download a movie and watch it on a tiny screen. It’s convenient, but seeing it that way is such a diminished version of the intended experience. I wonder if they know what they’re missing, both visually and in terms of interaction.
But the fact that millions are browsing the Internet, then downloading or renting rather than visiting a theater, has changed the industry for good. It’s part of the reason theater tickets cost more and are out of reach for some families.
I’m grateful for the Christmas season, when people share that movie experience in large numbers. Together. As family and friends. The way I really think movies are best seen and connections are best made.
I’d love to hear from you about a movie you enjoyed that way over the holidays.