|Loss of Movie Magic Is a Dirty Shame
Sometimes you can be trendy without knowing it. I recently realized that 2005 is more than half over, and I haven't seen a single first-run movie all year. That's quite a change of lifestyle for someone who long prided himself on catching at least one new release every week, sometimes more. I kept a diary of each year's filmsHollywood blockbusters and independent gemsrating them from best to worst, and I shared it with my friends in the form of a newsletter. Many of my correspondents responded by sharing their lists of favorite movies with me, and when we got together socially our activities and conversations often focused on film.
However, my list of quality films for 2004 was considerably shorter than usual. And, since December, when John and I saw The Aviator, I haven't set foot in a Cineplex. It must be that we're getting old, I told John. We're too lazy to go out, preferring to stay home and pop in a DVD of something we missed a few months earlier, or a classic.
But, just as I was decrying my loss of youthful enthusiasm for filmmaking, I began to read reports that movie attendance is way down across the land. For the last five months (19 weeks and counting), theatrical revenues have been off significantly from a year ago. For the summer season, ticket sales are down 11 percenta major slump.
In fact, even young people are staying home more and entertaining themselves from their sofas. It's a trend that some observers see as a major threat to the movie industry. As The Los Angeles Times reported this month, "People are breaking a lifelong habit or not putting down the Game Boy, laptop or iPod long enough to develop it."
There's something of a social protest involved for many of us cinema vets who are now staying clear of the mega-movie complexes. For one thing, we're sick and tired of paying an ever-higher price for a product that has plummeted in quality. There are still plenty of talented writers and directors out there, as you'll see once again at the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival this fall. But the giant corporations that own the Hollywood studios rarely take a chance on such creativity. They are content to "play it safe" (or so they have thought), cranking out sophomoric action flicks with lots of high-tech razzle-dazzle or uninspiring remakes of such past glories as The Honeymooners, The Amityville Horrors, The Longest Yard, Bewitched and War of the Worlds. Then there are the ubiquitous sequels and prequels: Batman Begins: Bruce Wayne's Prenatal Battle Scars and Star Wars: The Cloning of an Obsolete Franchise.
Meanwhile, the average price of theatrical admission is nearing the $10 mark in most cities, and a tub of rubbery, tepid popcorn can cost $7.50. The drink with which you wash it down is likely to set you back another three bucks or so. And those "refreshments" are usually long gone before the feature begins, about midway through the half hour of advertisements for cars, sodas and online ticket-buying services that theatergoers are subjected to before the previews of coming attractions. Do we really want to pay all that money to waste our recreational time watching commercials on a big screen? What ever happened to the days of cartoons as pre-show appetizers?
At least the frequent bleating of cell phones can help keep theatergoers from falling asleep during the ads. Often, listening to the conversation of an agitated teenager three rows up is more entertaining than the drivel on the screenthough one recent poll indicates that cellular interruptions are among the reasons Americans are avoiding theaters.
There are numerous others. For starters, most of this year's theatrical releases are already available on DVD, where they can be viewed in the comfort of our homes at the time of our choosing. The time gap between theatrical release and home availability is down to as little as two to three months. If it's not an absolute "to-die-for" movie, a few weeks of patience can save a lot of hassle and money.
The lack of "to-die for" movies is clearly the major reason that so many of us aren't going to the cinema anymore. A new Gallup poll reports that 43 percent of Americans say they would go to the movies more often if they were of better quality; and 47 percent surveyed by the Associated Press complain that feature flicks are "getting worse."
I am among the disenchanted. Though I often look forward to a new release, I am usually disappointed by the reviews. Yes, I still read a lot of film criticism, most of which reinforces my reluctance to waste time on the movie in question. As with so many of you, "Let's wait 'til it comes out on video" has become my motto.
Even then, I'm frequently disappointed. With all the movies I haven't bothered to see first-run, you'd think I'd have a zillion intriguing choices at the video store. But I often end up breaking into a sweat as I re-walk the wall, frustrated by my futile effort to find something worth an investment of two hours of time. Let's see: There's Boogeyman, Cursed, Hostage and Assault on Precinct 13. I think I'll shoot myself. Then there's Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous.
The first one was pretty good, but I've heard that this sequel is Warmed Over and Fatuous.
How about John Waters' A Dirty Shame? Even the weakest of Waters' films has its hilarious
moments, and this one stars the wonderful Tracy Ullman. But Blockbuster stocks only the "neutered" R-rated version, and the reviews I've read say that the funniest jokes are in the original NC-17 edition, which also is in release.
When I asked the clerk why I could find only the edited version on the shelf, he informed me,
"Because Blockbuster considers itself a family store."
"So," I said, "Blockbuster believes the R-rated version of this raunchy sex farce is appropriate for young children to view with their parents?"
"All I know: it's company policy."
"Well, please thank your boss for censoring the arts," I replied and left the store in irritation.
While I knew I could order the unexpurgated version online, it suddenly occurred to me. "We really should have caught this one in a theater."
I made a vow to get us out to the movies a little more often, at least to the independent art house about 20 miles from our home. We have to pass half-a-dozen mega-cinemas on the way, but once there, we just might be able to recapture some of the movie magic that, thus far this year, has been missing from our lives.
Bill Sievert, a former board member of CAMP Rehoboth, is a regular contributor to Letters from CAMP Rehoboth. He can be reached at email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 9 July 15, 2005