Many of you would say that you saw one sometime recently. So now I have to ask where did you see it? If your answer is at home or at a friend’s house, I would say that you didn’t really see a movie. Yes, you saw an entertainment package that was designed as a movie or film, but you did not see it as a movie.
I recently went to a theater to see a re-release of “The Wizard of Oz.” This makes for a wonderful example. In 1939, when “The Wizard” was released, there were very few tv’s, and no VCR’s or DVD’s. RedBox, NetFlix and Hulu did not exist. To see a movie, you had to go to a theater. You had to sit in the dark with a bunch of people you did not know and experience a communal event. Today, many of us see movies at home, but I argue that you are witnesses to only a small portion of the intent. At home movie viewing is as far removed from a theatrical experience as a movie is from reading the book from which the movie was made.
I am not talking about the size of the screen or the technical quality. Many home screens produce superb images, and home sound systems can relay every sonic detail. Size may have some issue, but it is not that important. It does not matter if you sit in the front row or the balcony. What matters in a real movie event is the audience itself.
Like ancient Greek playwrights, writers and directors consider the group during the design, just as a novelist considers the isolated event of reading. An audience moves in mass. In “Star Wars,” when the Empire’s battle cruiser first rolled across the top of the screen, and kept coming, and coming, and coming, the crowd collectively drew a breath. Within the crowd you are afloat on a sea of human emotion. Small ripples roll through the crowd, creating waves. They say that laughter is contagious and that is strongly evident in a movie theater. At home, a punch line that may cause nothing more than a smile, in a theater gets a laugh. TV exploited this decades ago, adding laugh tracks to help the isolated viewer at home.
At home, the stoic male may hold back his emotions as Dorothy kisses Scarecrow goodbye, or some other heartstring is plucked. He may avert his eyes and attention to keep his manly virtue. But in the theater, floating on that ocean of human emotion while women sniffle, no amount of aversion can keep the feelings from penetrating. We are social creatures, connected by an ethereal space between us that can only be felt. The intent of the writer, the director, and the actors counts on this invisible interaction. It is what a movie or film or play is all about.
Do not mistake me. I am glad for home systems and DVRs. I have many of my favorite movies in some recorded format, viewing them from time to time at my leisure. But I view them to remind me of the feeling I had when I sat in the dark with dozens of strangers and we all had the same realization at the same moment in time. Do not relegate all your movie viewing to RedBox. From time to time, step out of your box in order to step in with a crowd and take a seat in front of the big screen and ride the human wave.