Columnist's Note: I wrote this column before the shooting at a Colorado movie theatre last week. My first instinct was to start from scratch and write a new column on a different topic for fear that my complaints below would seem insensitive or upsetting in light of recent events, but I decided not to. I believe my little article about the joys of the movies and the frustrations that interrupt them shows more compassion for those who are suffering than does the exploitation of the affected families that is currently occurring in the media, and I have nothing but sympathy for all who were hurt, physically and emotionally.
I was much delighted a few weeks ago to discover that Charlotte, North Carolina, where I currently live, is getting a Cinebarre. During college, I lived in another part of the state, near Asheville, where I was first introduced to the magic of this movie theatre, which is also a restaurant and bar, with an age restriction: no one under eighteen admitted unless accompanied by a parent. Even better, the Asheville Cinebarre is a second-run theatre, playing slightly older movies for as cheap as a dollar.
Places like Cinebarre are a boon for people like me who are frustrated with the modern American movie theatre experience. In middle and high school, I could be found at the movie theatre with my friends almost every week. For years I collected my ticket stubs. But as I got older and (somewhat) matured, I grew to loathe going to the theatre.
It's not just that the big-shot films that are everywhere are generally unoriginal and of poor quality (I propose a drinking game: go to MatchFlick's Coming Soon page, watch all the trailers, and take a shot for every film that's a remake, a sequel, a prequel, a spin-off, a revamp, a book adaptation, or a romantic comedy aimed toward women but directed by a man. Enjoy!). Movie ticket prices have increased significantly since my childhood, and fads like 3D and IMAX not only drive the prices up but give more than a few movie-goers, including myself, literal headaches. Of course, movie theatre popcorn is always better than microwave, but it's expensive. It seems impossible now to get popcorn and a Coke for less than the price you paid for your ticket. But worst of all is the attitude of movie-goers.
Almost every movie I've seen in the past five years
has featured, in addition to the film itself, people in the audience talking loudly, whispering incessantly, laughing during inappropriate scenes, letting their phones ring, kicking seats, or otherwise doing anything other than watching the film. I understand the occasional comment to a neighbor or a misplaced giggle, but this is absurd.
The stuff of nightmares
My first response to all this nonsense was to become the Movie Theatre Bitch, that girl that tells you to shut up or turn off your goddamn phone. After Across the Universe was ruined for me by a gaggle of giggling preteens, I vowed to never let anyone disrupt my movie experience again. I scared the hell out of a ten-year-old boy by looking him in the eyes and demanding, "Shut up, kid," during an IMAX screening of Transformers 2 (I in no way endorse the continued film-making of Michael Bay. I went because of a friend). During Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (probably the least Tim Burton-y movie ever made by Tim Burton, but that's a topic for another column), after someone's phone did a full ring to voicemail twice, I shouted out "Turn off your phone!" leading my friends to shush me while suppressing their laughter and a woman two rows in front of me to run out of the theatre to finally answer the ring.
But over time, my anger and determination to enjoy my movies morphed into disillusionment and jadedness. I abandoned the theatre and took to watching movies in my dorm room with the aid of Netflix, which despite the convenience of being able to watch movies in my pajamas in bed, just isn't the same. I miss the excitement as the lights dimmed, the movie trailers with their promises of future cinematic joys, the booming audio, and of course, the big screen, so important to the movie experience that the term is now synonymous with "movie theatre."
Places like Cinebarre give me hope that the enjoyable going-to-the-movies experience is not quite yet dead. As an eighteen-and-over-only establishment (minors can enter only if accompanied by a parent, but children under three years are never allowed, except on designated Cry Baby Days), Cinebarre has already eliminated giggly and rambunctious teenagers from the problem. (Before you accuse me of some sort of youth hate, let me confess that I was once one of those kids. We laughed during tragic death scenes, and, during the big
blockbuster premieres, would tease the movie-goers in line for the next showing by threatening to reveal the ending. We got yelled at a lot.)
I miss passing by this place on my walks between trendy Asheville cafés.
Small, art-house theatres are part of the solution as well. Even more than Cinebarre, I miss Asheville's Fine Arts Theatre, with its traditional black-on-white marquee and its patrons that knew how to shut the hell up and watch a film. Soon after returning to Charlotte, I discovered The Light Factory, a film and photography museum that hosts a few movie screenings a month. Because of the Light Factory, I was able to watch the Australian film Sleeping Beauty (a very Kubrick-like examination of desire and death) with about ten other people who really, truly enjoy watching films without texting or talking or doing anything else except enjoying the art.
I can't say for sure, but I suspect the decline of enjoyable movie theatre showings is mostly an American problem. During my month-long stay in Paris last summer, I attended the midnight premiere of the last Harry Potter film, and my American friends and I were the noisiest people in the theatre, even before the lights dimmed. We laughed louder than the Parisians did and whispered among ourselves more than they did. David Sedaris has an excellent essay about his experiences at movie theatres in Paris, in which he states, "I've never considered myself an across-the-board apologist for the French, but there's a lot to be said for an entire population that never, under any circumstances, talks during the picture."1 From my own experiences, this is very true.
There's also the issue of movie pirating. The theatre is becoming less necessary, and the norm is transforming into downloading movies for free online. As frustrated as I am with the state of American theatres, I would be sad to see them go. I can't wait for Cinebarre to open. Unlike Asheville's, Charlotte's likely won't be a second-run theatre, but I'll pay my ten bucks for a ticket anyway and grab a beer and a slice of a pizza and wait for the lights to dim.
Thanks for reading. All thoughts and comments are welcome.
More information about Cinebarre.
More information about the Light Factory.
1"The City of Light in the Dark," from Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
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Jul 25, 2012 12:50 AM
|As the builder of the Coming Soon page, I use a list that's created by a Google app. I usually list the "money" movies, but every Sunday (well, Monday, when it comes out), I build a list of every movie on that list. It includes the "money" movies, but also the independent, the foreign, and the off-beat.|
In addition, I have had the privilege to receive screener from independent movie makers, which are added to the Matchflick database for review.
As a contributor, it's my responsibility to attract people to the site. But it is also my responsibility to expose our members to every type of movie I can find.
I am very jealous you have a dinner-theater movie establishment. In the seventh largest city in the country, we have IMAX to the max (sorry) but no Cinebarres. So here's my routine:
#1 You want peace and quiet, go to an early show, preferably the first showing. No one in their right mind goes to the movies that early, guaranteeing you an enjoyable experience.
#2 If you love popcorn (and I do), or go the movies with a friend, bring an empty bag to the theater. Most theaters offer free refills, but know you won't leave your seat in the middle of the movie. So you get your first bag, empty it into your other bag, then go back up for your refill. It's legal, it;s legitimate, and you don't wait 20 minutes in line for a refill.
Sorry this got long, but I felt I needed to share alternatives to an otherwise unpleasant and expensive experience.
Jul 26, 2012 9:53 AM
|Enjoyed your column. My daughter lives in Asheville and loves it there. many of Charlotte's cultural and art innovations have found their start in that mountain town.|
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I watch cinema the way most people eat sugar: constantly and without consideration that I could survive without it. Sometimes I like to write about it.
I like movies, especially anything generally labeled “disturbing,” “bizarre,” or “trippy.” I collect movie posters but don't take very good care of them. I work in a library, which brings me much joy. I also like tea, dark beer, taking naps, and the art of conversation. I think the appreciation and creation of art, whether it be film or literature or music or anything, brings more meaning and value to the human experience than any other activities, which is my excuse for spending more time inside with movies and books than outside exercising and socializing.|
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