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Feature The Death of Movies
I'm into movies less than I was in the past.
January 8, 2006
The movie-going experience for most people is not the same as it used to be.  Go ahead and classify me as an old-timer if you must, an aging male who remembers when it was fun to go to the movies, when a movie was an experience, an event, not the manufactured "event" we endure today.  Before every Tom, Dick, and Croco was a critic, before theatres forced television commercials on us, before the price of tickets became prohibitive.  Admittedly, none of this material is virginal, film aficionados have been saying it for years, but only I can say it with crocoPuffs style.

The state of movies saddens me because viewing a picture with the right audience at the right time can make all the difference in the world.  Here's an example from my personal experience.  Rocky V is much loathed by critics and fans alike.  I recognize it's not a "good" movie, per se.  But dammit, I saw it in a theatre on opening weekend in 1991 with an audience that loved Rocky.  This audience cheered the climactic moments and booed the bad guys.  Normally I shun noisy people during movies, but that's only when it's a distraction (which is most of the time).  When it's the entire audience hooting and hollering in the spirit of the film, you're not alone in the dark anymore, you're part of a movie-going community.  I hold a lingering fondness for Rocky V because of the outstanding experience I had at the theatre.

Some of my favorite theatre experiences came courtesy of horror movie crowds.  Scream and Scream II I saw with audiences full of giggly and screaming teenagers, which was perfect for those movies.  Giggly teenagers during Saving Private Ryan?  Not so good.  But absolutely perfect for the Scream series.  In the same way you scare yourself by watching creepy movies late at night in an empty house, a primed crowd adds to the film experience because you can feel the tension in the crowd, and everybody releases it together at the right moment, then builds it up again together until the next one.  It makes the movie a more tangible experience, something emotionally real.  Your environment becomes part of the film.

It's unfortunate that as awesome as audiences can be towards the enhancement of a film, they can be equally awesome in their capability to ruin a film with their cell-phone ringing, chair kicking, popcorn crunching, neighbor whispering, bathroom breaking, soda slurping, screen talking, diaper changing antics.  It's often cited as the reason theatre attendance is down.  Why would someone want to watch a movie in a broken chair with a spring up their ass and their feet stuck to the floor when they can wait 6 months, watch it at home on their 50-inch plasma screen with surround sound while lounging in their lazy-boy?  Well, there are reasons, the right crowd at the right movie can be the reason, so too can screening the film with the filmmakers present.

If theatre owners want to get us back in the theatres, they need to change the movie-going experience.  Fancy tricks like 3-D films or smell-o-vision, or whatever the fuck, are not going to lure people back.  They need to change the experience.  Stadium seating and chairs that rock are not enough.  We want couches and coffee tables.  We want the theatre to be like a giant living room.  We want theatres to promote events, encourage the right audience to attend the right movie.  Hell, maybe there can be professional moviegoers, people who sit in the audience and cue the crowds as to how to respond.  Theater owners should stand at the front of the theatre before each screening, introduce the movie, offer trivia or historical perspective.  They should hold Q&A or discussion sessions at the end of the show, invite people to discuss, to engage.  Right now, those types of events are rare and often invitation only.  They need to be the norm.  And I don't necessarily mean having the director come speak.  How about a gaffer, or a set extra?  Surely, they have at least one interesting story to share with the audience.  Maybe studios can hire people whose job it is to hang out on the set during production and to sit in on VFX dailies during post-production, taking notes all the while, then attend screenings throughout the nation.  It would be like DVD extras, but better, because it's live and personal.

Speaking of DVD's, sales have reportedly been down.  The average person is not stocking up and building a collection anymore.  I think I know why.  Part of it is because we've been through it so many times before, and the reward is always the same: an obsolete collection.  LPs turned into cassettes which turned into CDs which turned into MP3s.  Reels turned into VHS which turned into DVD.  Frankly, I think we're sick of building collections of things that are destined to be obsolete.

It's also the DVD extras themselves.  They have given away all the "secrets" of filmmaking, but the real secret is that every movie is made the same way, more or less.  So all these extras are getting stale.  Not because people aren't interested, but because they all document the same things, it's just different people from movie to movie.  And the people should be the focal point, the extras should be focused on them.  But to do that properly, Hollywood would have to give up it's vanity.  I want to see extras that, say, document an actor's struggle with a particularly emotional scene, or the struggle between a high-powered actor and director as they butt heads because they don't agree on how a scene should play out.  That's the problem with these extras, there's no conflict.  They show us how the set design was created, or how stunts were performed, or how dialogue was looped, and how awesome it all is, and how happy everyone is to be doing it.  But so what?  Every DVD has that shit.  Show us what was unique to THIS movie in terms of the people and the conflict.  Everybody knows good stories always involve good conflict.

I think Hollywood is not quite ready for that.  They're not prepared to expose the conflict because it's such an ass-kissing community, everyone is afraid to stop on everyone else's toes.  And nowadays, many actors have final say on how they are portrayed in documentary materials, and if they don't like the way they are coming off in one particular snippet, they can have that section removed, it's right in their contracts.  I feel like the extras need to be created by independent sources, to keep things honest.  Similar to the way the media are supposed to keep the politicians honest.  Imagine if there was no such thing as investigative journalism, where all the news printed was pre-approved by the subjects of the stories themselves.  That's what the DVD extras are like.  Studio created content up-plays the cool stuff that they want you to see, and hides the things they think are damaging, which makes these materials little more than marketing fluff. (Yes, there are exceptions, some DVDs have excellent extras, but the large majority do not.)  How many times do I need to hear a commentary track where the speaker points out the obvious, "There's Bill, he's great in this scene", or, "That explosion was gigantic!"

Here's a strategy that also hurts consumers' view of the DVD industry: the practice of releasing a DVD with one set of extras, and then releasing a later edition with a super-sized boatload of extras, an "ultimate" edition.  I'd think this would be obvious, but apparently it is not: people don't want to buy the same movie twice.  Because, let's be honest, we buy the DVD for the movie, not for the extras.  It's the movie that we watch repeatedly, we watch the extras only once, maybe twice.  It's clear they're trying to trick people with this tactic.  This makes me want to not buy DVDs at all.  It makes me feel cheated, like all these companies see when they look at me is dollar signs, and they spend their days and nights doing nothing but trying to find ways to separate me from my money, when they should be concentrating on the quality of their product instead of slick marketing tactics to encourage me to buy multiple copies of the same film.

Back on point.  Combine all that nonsense with Hollywood's inability to figure out (yet) how to utilize the internets to the customer's favor (while being fair), and I get a sour taste in my mouth regarding the film industry overall.  I'll never go so far as to say movies are not as good as they used to be, there are dozens of good movies released every year, and I still get excited about the handful that really hit home runs for me personally.  But I just feel less enthusiastic about film in general, it's not as exciting or magical or important for me anymore.  Maybe everything I wrote above is hundred-dollar truth, or maybe it's just rationalizations for growing out of something I used to love ... either way, the effect is the same.

You may have already noticed, I've cut way back on writing movie reviews.  I made an informal decision months ago to not write reviews of movies I've seen unless the movie touches me in some way.  I'll still write a review when I find a film that is exceptional ... exceptionally good, exceptionally bad, whatever.  But I'm most decidedly not going to write about Every Movie I See.  There, I've made it official.  My gift to the film community is to (mostly) stop writing film reviews.  Even though I'm the best of the lot, I imagine one fewer amateur critic will do the world good.

- crocoPuffs

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