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.
Ironically, you couldn't have said it better; why movie reviewers are so out of touch with the reality of movies. And why as such your opinion of a movie should matter the least. Yet "movie reviews" can sway people from seeing, and buying a ticket for, a movie that THEY might actually like, and vis versa. Other people waste money on movies they don't like, because some professional movie reviewer said HE liked it. Everyone's a critic, but the worst of them all are professional critics, and you've just done a fine job of explaining why. Thanks, and Happy New Year!
cufford on Dec 28, 2008
You make some strong points there, Alex. You're right, not everyone may have the luxury to watch all the films that their hearts content but you're doing something good with this website. You're sharing your passion of film with other filmmakers and film fans alike so that their film going experience can be more pleasant for everyone all around. I may have not have been able to see how good, "Let The Right One In" really is but who knows, maybe in the future I'll consider watching it on IFC or in a local theater. You're letting people know that there's a world of artistic talent to be found out there in filmmaking and people are paying attention and are willing to explore and take risks in watching things that they never thought they'd ever enjoy. Keep it up! Happy Holidays!
Frost on Dec 28, 2008
This is my favourite film site ever. I like the fact you see so many films, and the site is packed with info about movies I might miss if I never saw the site. Hopefully you won't go on about The Dark Knight as much in 2009. Let The Right One In was amazing and also can't wait to see The Wrestler, also watched The Fall from a recommendation from this site. Look forward to more in the new year!
Crapola on Dec 28, 2008
Welcome home to Colorado!
Chris W on Dec 28, 2008
I've watched several movies mentioned in this site, and i am especially happy with the ones that i discovered here. The Fall is definitely one i would have never heard about if I hadn't learned about it here. I also want to see The Good, the Bad, The Weird. Noone else seems to even be mentioning these films, and it's definitely a strength here at First Showing. I'll be honest, I came here a lot over the summer, and then discovered /film. And for a while, every time I visited both your site and theirs, they were reporting stories before you published yours. But in the past few months you have been offering stuff that they don't publish. First Showing has become a very formidable player in my choice of sites for movie news, so thanks! I guess this post turned from a review on your one review to a review on your entire site.
Jeremy on Dec 28, 2008
Great article Alex! It reminds me of my "11 things I learned in 11 years" article. It's very easy to get lost in the superficiality of it all. Keep up the good work. 🙂
Boxoffice Marco on Dec 28, 2008
This is why i don't have real problems with people downloading movies. I always try to think of the artist, the guy who wrote it, directed it, stared in it. If they make something really good, really worth while, really not wanting only to earn a buck, only wanting for their story to b viewed by us, the average joe so to speak, to carry us somewhere, cuz movies do that[that and certain MMORPG's that shall remain unnamed], u should pay the ticket, u should buy the shirt, buy the dvd, it's whats right, but to b honest, seldome of those are who make movies like this today, and u can sence it in the movie. This is one of the reasons i hate The Tranfosrmers [the movie], go on with a formula that sells, and make a ton of cash and not really care if they gave a qulity piece of fiction! I know this is not what u wanted to say but...u know net, a great place for everyone to lash out their crappy opinion :))
sng. Sheep on Dec 28, 2008
Your situation sounds similar to one I found myself in for a few years, perhaps a little different since I didn't actually get to write about movies. I was once part of the population that worked at movie theaters. I was able to see every movie for free, but let me tell you, once that life is over actually paying for a movie is a horrific experience. I hope that is something you'll never have to endure. It was like leaving a secret society and learning to feed myself again. Aside from that, I think you explore significant factors that effect the decisions average moviegoers make. I didn't even realize that I do this. Although I'm likely part of a lower stratum of moviegoer that can't afford every movie but won't let that stop me. Sometimes I give in to the power of the internet. Horrible, I know. When I'm rich I'll repay the world. Best, Happy Holidays.
Carlos J on Dec 28, 2008
This is a great piece. I find when I have tickets for a free screening I'm much less critical of the film. When I pay, I have expectations. And that's why I started reading reviews, and am thankful for movie blogs that steer me toward the best bang for my buck at the theater. I'm proud to have become a discriminating film fan. It's also great to have resources like this site. Thanks!
Linda on Dec 28, 2008
Let me preface all this by saying I'm relatively new to the site and have enjoyed the trailers and such provided, and yours has become one of many movie sites I regularly visit. Because I've never read a review written by you, I also had no idea you were recognized by the studios and offered the chance to see films at their screenings. That said, I cannot believe the utter condescension with which you wrote to the common people in hopes of "educating" us. I don't need to be educated on how to watch a movie in your "perfect world". I average over 100 movies a year in theatres, travelling an hour away most of the time because my city provides only Hollywood fare in theatres rife with technical difficulties and inconsiderate audiences. I have watched movies in full theatres, in empty ones, and at home, and the surroundings do not influence how I view a movie's worth. I choose critics who have similar tastes and go with their recommendations on occasion, not because they have a god-like wonder for me, but because they ARE "just like me". Sorry for knocking you down to my level. I don't believe your core audience here only sees one or two movies a year either. If that were the case, they'd likely not have the time or inclination to read about movies they'll never see or want to see. So thank you for your benevolence but I believe it's misplaced.
Julie on Dec 28, 2008
The problem with many critics who are at the game a long time view movies as either good or bad. The public does not! Some of my favorite films are 2.5 to 3 star movies out of 4. (My own opinion of them) I know there flawed but there's still alot of entertainment value in them. They might be cheesy or have a weak ending but I still enjoy them. I also can't stand the fact that some many critics hate sentimental films, or cry that they were being manipulated as if there above all that. I remember a critic who gave a one star review to Titanic. What a joke. Thats a great movie in my opinion. I saw it 7 times in a theater. I could care less if some of its a little hokey. Its great. That kind of critic has seen way too many films and is just looking to pick apart for the sake of picking apart! Chuck
entertainmenttodayandbeyond.com on Dec 28, 2008
You are right about expectations. When I put my money down to see a movie. I expect that the theatre play an in focus print that contains no interruptions from beginning to end. If there is any type of technical problem during the film, other than maybe a blip (some prints have been repaired from previous problems), than I am at the customer service counter after the movie asking for my money back. When my local theatre opened with the latest hi-tech theaters, they were pretty sloppy. They didn't care what the film looked or sounded like, they just collected the money. After enough times of my friends and I asking for our money back, they've cleaned up their act. It's probably been a year now since I've had to see the manager. The only other gripe I have with theaters is when there is a problem with the print so bad that I have to leave my seat to notify them about it and then at the end of the movie say they won't give me my money back because they were able to correct the problem. The moment there is a problem and the projectionist confirms it, there should be no argument about giving me my money back.
Mark on Dec 28, 2008
Over the holidays, we had to "make the decision" about what movie to go see with our visiting family and friends. You are so right about how an opinion about a movie is shaped by your own lens, the theater, time, and what you want out of that movie! It was really difficult to agree on a movie. That is why I value your reviews - you usually consider different angles and why one might enjoy or not enjoy a particular movie. You are more of an "analyst" and reviewer than a critic who looks for negative aspects which is why you attract so many followers. Thanks.
MgbPeregrine on Dec 28, 2008
Sorry, new comments are no longer allowed.