An afternoon or evening at a movie house has always been a great treat for most folks. The custom is threatened, but fortunately it has survived, at least for a time.
Universal Pictures announced in early October that its new comedy “Tower Heist” would be made available for home viewing on their video-on-demand service at $59.99 per showing, just three weeks after it opened in theaters on Nov. 4.
If you get stirred up at a charge of practically $60 a pop for a single movie, think of the cries of outrage from theater owners. It was only a test offer, limited to Atlanta and Portland, Ore., but the cinema industry reacted angrily at this action to shrink the traditional window of 90 days between the time a movie debuts in theaters and when it’s available for home viewing. There came a week of irate phone calls from the theater owners. Several cinema chains threatened to refuse to show the film at all if Universal went ahead with the test. Universal scrapped the test and our last-minute rescue was like the that of the old-time actress who was tied to railroad tracks and saved just as a train bore down on her.
Such old movies and old movie houses held a special magic. They were sometimes called palaces of pleasure, with their ornate decor, big gooey bags of popcorn and “selected short subjects” such as brief comedies starring Mickey Mouse, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd or, sometimes, a live vaudeville act.
Watching a movie at home, as through a Netflix subscription, can be fun, but it means interruptions by telephone or doorbell and the temptation to interrupt with a comment on a film, distracting others in the room.
At the movies, such comment would bring a whispered “hush up.” The draw of going to the movies is still the experience of letting someone else decide when the show will start and relaxing with folks we don’t know while the projectionist does the work.
The New Yorker’s film reviewer, Anthony Lane, put it best: “We are strangers in communion, and, once the pact of the intimate and the populous is snapped, the charm is gone. Our revels are ended.”
Of course, in this digital age, everything changes. The National Association of Theatre Owners, after winning this temporary victory, said that it “recognizes that studios need to find new models and opportunities in the home market and looks forward to distributors and exhibitors working together for their mutual benefit.”
Still, as long as the movie houses still operate, even if they are cut-rate cineplexes, we can keep enjoying them.