Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Church of Cinema: A Preamble

I love movies, obviously, and I love my home entertainment center. I love DVD(and, slowly, I will come to love Blu-Ray), and I love popping a disc into the player in the wee hours before I go to bed at night. But above all, I love going out to the theatre. I don't do it as often as I once did, or as often as I'd like. Partly that's due to the consequences of having an 8-5 job, a child, bills, and a healthy ongoing relationship. But it's also partly due to the changing theatre experience. And yet, despite the fact that theatre chains are charging us more for less, and all major chains now play television commercials and military propaganda advertisements-sometimes under the guise of an exclusive 'short film'- I will continue to treasure the theatrical experience above the home theatre experience. There's just something to be said for surrounding yourself with strangers in a dark room while this fantasy plays out in larger than life scales, knowing that for those few brief hours you are connected with the people around you in your emotional responses.

Our local arthouse theatre, the Bear Tooth Theatre & Pub, which isn't quite an arthouse theatre but plays arthouse films more than any other movie house in the state, is a wonder. Great seating, tables or booths, a balcony, a restaurant on site with the best pizza in town, and a bar with locally brewed root beer, cream soda, or alcohol. All for 3 bucks a movie(they make their money back on expensive, but worth it, food). Heaven, right? Well, sometimes. Part of the problem, in fact, the main problem, lies in the audience. I love going to a movie and getting involved in the audience experience, but when you give people beer and pizza at a movie, they start to feel too much at home, and the Bear Tooth has the most vocal audiences in town. And not in a fun, Rocky Horror way, but in the way that they loudly talk to their friends, or forget to turn off their cell phones. This is something everyone has dealt with while out at the movies, and I for one have decided to not put up with it anymore. If you find yourself in a theatre, and your cellphone goes off, and you answer it, or if you have in depth conversations with your friends about what boys at school you think are cute, don't be surprised if I walk over and very politely ask you to 'shut the fuck up!' I do not tolerate people at the theatre who think they're at home. And so far this has not been a problem, most people are so shocked by a stranger saying anything to them about their bad habits that they apologize and spend the rest of the film in silence. I urge you to try it. You don't have to be mean, as I sometimes am, just quiet and insistent.

My other problem with the Bear Tooth is their increasing dependence on DVD. It used to be that all of their 'classic' films(every other Monday) were from old touring prints, complete with scratches and sometimes faulty audio. But now they have a DVD player, and use that as their primary projector when it comes to older movies. And they don't even have to be older films. Is there a foreign film currently touring the arthouse circuit? Well, if the Bear Tooth is playing it, it's likely the imported DVD version, which often has less than suitable subtitles, and has the added problem of occasionally freezing or shutting off.

I had an argument with a projectionist friend about this recently, saying that I preferred film prints, with all of their defects, over a DVD copy I can just watch at home. This is why I stayed home instead of venturing out to watch Carnival of Souls or Night of the Living Dead, two of my favorite black and white horror films. That, and the drunken Tooth crowd is not always very friendly to B-movies. My argument was that I actually kinda like the scratches and missing frames. They add character to an old film that's been around the block a few times. Her rebuttal was that, as a projectionist, she hates to see any imperfections on screen. I think I won the argument when we saw The Shining on Halloween(at a different theatre), and it was an old print with plenty of glorious imperfections.

[At this point I need to acknowledge that I might be a bit unfair in my portrayal of the Bear Tooth. It's a wonderful establishment and I look forward to going there every chance I get. My disappointment comes from how great the place COULD be, in addition to how great it already is.]

Maybe I'm just being an elitist snob, unwilling to accept this newfangled digital revolution, but I can't help it. I'm always going to prefer seeing a movie on film stock, much the same way that old music fans can't let go of vinyl. And in fact, I think there's a reasonable explanation for this preference. Scratches in the film remind me of my childhood. They remind me of watching horror movies on TV in the days before I could handle them, when every cheesy rubber monster or skeleton on strings sent me under my covers and probably scarred me for life. Even now, as a jaded adult who complacently sits through some of the most horrible gore, a simple skipped frame or scratched negative gives me a whiff of childhood terror. It's why I enjoyed Grindhouse so much. Particular Planet Terror which got the feel of those old late night horror movies down just as well as the overall look. And that viewing of The Shining still had the power to scare me. Part of it was the scratches, and another part of it was the crowd. It was a small crowd, but everyone there was caught up in the same sweeping waves of terror.

And I remembered again why I can't use a bathroom with a closed shower curtain.

1 comment:

Rik Tod said...

The drunken Bear Tooth crowd not being friendly to B-movies? How about drunken Bear Tooth employees?

Remember when I went to that showing of War of the Worlds and that ex-roommate of yours (what was his name?) decided to MST3K the film until I growled at him?

Still, I love the Bear Tooth almost unreservedly, and I have yet to find anything so cool down here in CA yet.

And believe me, if I were up there, the first thing I would do is drag you over there to see any film whatsoever. Strange that I left Alaska for California, and the thing I miss the most is going to the movies up there.

Rik