Sunday Discussion: Putting a Perspective on the Cinematic Experience
by Alex Billington
December 28, 2008
I rarely talk about my job of seeing movies and writing about them because I'd rather just talk about the movies themselves. However, there is one thing that I can never forget, and that's what it's actually like to be a typical moviegoer. In this job, I watch nearly every movie released all year for free. Living in this world, one slowly loses a bit of perspective, such as what it's like to be the average moviegoer who attends only a few movies a year and pays regular admission prices. Being at home for the holidays, however, has given me a taste of that normal life all over again and put a perspective on the cinematic experience.
This idea of perspective has been on my mind for a while, ever since I started getting into this. What really kicked it into overdrive was the news yesterday about a man shooting another moviegoer for talking during a movie. For most of us, we're never in situations turn violent like that (thankfully), but it was a way to remind me that absolute silence and perfect cinematic experiences aren't what the typical moviegoers gets. Although talking during movies doesn't happen in every theater everywhere, it's just one of many things that makes the cinematic experience less-than-perfect for the average moviegoer in this country.
The first realization I had is that everyone doesn't get to see as many movies as I do and subsequently they have to pick and choose much more carefully. For me, formulating a year end top 10 list is fairly easy, because I've seen nearly everything and can choose my favorites from there. But for the average moviegoer, they've probably only seen a little over 10 movies over the year anyway. So what does that mean for me as a writer? Occasionally, it means I put an emphasis or particular films more than others (e.g. Let the Right One In or The Dark Knight). Additionally, it means that I try and value the reality that most people do not see as many movies as I do and thus need more concrete reasons to see (or not see) any particular movie.
The second realization I had was about the marketing effect of showing me (and other writers) movies at perfect screenings. If a Hollywood studio shows me a movie in the perfect setting with the best projection, meaning we see the movie exactly as the filmmaker intended, I'm more likely to be more supportive of it and encourage more people to see it. All that matters to these studios in the end is that people pay the price to watch it. As a member of the press, we've done our job then, right? I don't believe so, because when I watched The Spirit at my local theater and it looked awful on their digital projector, I was quite upset.
The perspective that I gained here was that it's very rare for most moviegoers to get that perfect experience in their local theater. While that won't change how I view movies in the end, it has made me more conscious that this occurs and that I need to educate moviegoers like you about it. Instead of just pretending that everyone lives in the same perfect world that I (and my peers) do, I know that bad projection is a common problem and that the only way to solve it is to demand perfection locally. The filmmaker has done their job making it look good, so why don't you deserve to see it exactly as they intended? You do deserve that and you should make sure that's the case, because it won't improve for everyone unless someone complains.
The third realization I had is about the value of money. While this ties in with almost everything I've already mentioned, it's something that I believe most critics have forgotten about. Those who only earn enough money to simply live a sustainable life have come to value money more than others because they're simply happy they can survive and live as they are. Every dollar they earn and every dollar they spend means something to them. With movies, it's the exact same thing. You pay money, you expect a good cinematic experience and good movie in the end. You deserve to get your money's worth, right?
In my job, when I see a bad movie, it's just wasted time. I move on and forget about it or potentially write about it. But when the average moviegoer sees a bad movie, they've wasted more than just time - they've wasted their money. Does this mean I try harder to make sure you don't see bad movies? Not really, because I value differences in opinion as well (you might like one when I don't). But I do try harder to make sure I identify which ones are the better choices. Either way, it's another bit of perspective that I'm glad to have, as I hope it will help me make sure I don't forget that everyone else does have to pay for their movies.
I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to come home to Colorado and be slapped in the face with this bit of perspective. It means so much for me to sit in a theater full of people who have paid for their tickets and decided to come because they wanted to enjoy a good movie. It may seem very weird or shocking for me to talk about this and that's because I'm bold enough to admit that it's something I strive for. I'm not trying to boast, I'm trying to show you that I am just like you. While it won't change my opinion on movies I like (or don't like) and I won't start paying for movies just to be like the average moviegoer, I hope it means I can at least connect with my readers and fellow moviegoers just a little bit better.
Movie theater photo courtesy of BigFrank on Flickr.