If you try to follow the business end of the film industry too closely, you can get some awfully mixed messages. (I mean “the business end” in the literal sense, although I’d imagine the sentence reads accurately the other way as well.) Perusing the Internet this morning, I found out that a) domestic box office is still on the decline and b) DVD and Blu-ray rentals are continuing to drop as well, though c) IMAX is booming, and d) ticket prices will probably go up, to make it seem like 3D is less of a rip-off. Oh, and e) The Hunger Games had one of the biggest opening weekends in movie history.
In other words, William Goldman was right: In Hollywood, nobody knows anything.
Of course, this whiplash-inducing confusion (are people going to the movies, or not? And if not, where are they seeing them?) is a natural byproduct of the cinema’s current state of transition, where people are as engaged and passionate as ever about movies, but changing the ways they watch them. And that’s why we’re curious about you, the Flavorwire reader: how do you see movies these days?
If there’s an easy lesson to extrapolate from that cluster of news items, it’s that the pattern of the past few years seems to be holding and, if nothing else, expanding: wait to watch the little movies at home, and go see the big, loud, expensive studio movies in the theaters, with your choice of up-charged bells and whistles (IMAX, 3D, that goofy thing where your seats move with the movie) available like options on a new car. These are the “event” movies, and though our popular culture continues to further splinter and niche out, seemingly by the minute, the event movie — the thing that everyone has heard about for months and sees right away and talks about the next Monday — has, if anything, become more of an omnipresence. These are our shared points of reference, conversation starters, safe zones.
In other eras — the “New Hollywood” of the ’70s, the indie film boom of the ’90s — smaller films could fill this same function. But that’s both the blessing and the curse of the proliferation of home video, movie streaming, video on demand, and the like: everything is available to everyone at any time, which is great, but having the plurality of cinema at your fingertips also means that appreciating film becomes an individual, rather than community, pursuit. In the pre-VHS era, seeing a forgotten film noir on the Late Show or an obscure Howard Hawks movie at a film society screening was a one-time thing — you saw it then or you missed it, but if you saw it then, you could enjoy the experience with your movie nerd buddies. And even after VHS came in, there was still a sense of discovery in waiting for Miramax to roll out this year’s Sundance sensation to theaters (particularly for those of us who lived in secondary markets that weren’t part of the initial “limited release”). These days, the hot new indie may very well be available for “on demand” download the very day it hits screens in New York and LA — if not before. And if it’s not, well, it’ll be out on DVD and streaming on Netflix in a couple of months anyway.
Don’t get me wrong — in the strict sense, these are not bad things. It’s not that I long for the days where there were old movies you had to comb the TV Guide every week looking for, or when the hopes of a promising-sounding indie making its way to our Midwestern city lay entirely on the whim of two or three local programmers. But there was a sense of urgency to cinephilia that’s not there anymore — yet that remains with the big, Hunger Games-style blockbuster conversation pieces. That urgency is the result of their marketing budgets and peer pressure-scented cultural cache — see it right away, it’s what everyone is seeing this weekend! Damsels in Distress? A Separation? Jiro Dreams of Sushi? Eh, I’ll Netflix it.
Sure, some of this is about age; the movies I mentioned are all geared towards an older audience, and as moviegoers get older, they get less and less likely to bother with the inflated ticket prices, flickering phone screens, and non-stop chatter that now seem par for the course when braving the multiplex. Or maybe that’s just me. As media, I’m lucky enough to see some (but not all) of the new movies in advance, at press screenings. The ones I don’t, I tend to wait to rent or stream from Netflix; some, we just buy from Amazon, the $20 or so for the DVD or Blu-ray roughly comparable to what we’d have spent on a pair of tickets. (Frankly, the story on the drop in brick-and-mortar DVD rentals was less dramatic than I’d thought; I’m not sure I know anyone who still goes to a Blockbuster.) I’ll probably see Hunger Games within the next couple of weeks, as a semi-responsible film writer; I’ll also recognize that by plunking down my twelve bucks for that instead of some foreign obscurity, I’m contributing to the problem. And, for whatever it’s worth, I’ll feel bad about it.
What about you? How do you see movies these days — and why?