On Current Cinema

It isn’t easy for me to make this next confession. After all, we’re talking about a medium that has kept me excited, enthused and alive for damn near my entire life. But if the point of this blog is to chronicle the truth, then I have very little choice in the matter.

Anyhow, the confession is this: I have very little desire to go to the movies anymore.

It’s not the obnoxious people. I can handle their cell phones and their terrible cellophane wrappers and their talking through a movie. Years of constant moviegoing has inured me to the rudeness of the American public.

It’s not the prices. Ten bucks isn’t really all that much more than eight bucks. And besides, even at that price, you can at least get a theatrical experience that deafens your eardrums.

What it is, I think, is the fact that the people who produce these movies probably don’t know who John Cassavetes or Federico Fellini were. I get the strong sense that they do not read, let alone live. I get the sense that they no longer have the ability to reduce me to some silent and lifeless hunk of flesh, completely in awe of what has just transpired. Because what it is all about these days is pure profit. It’s about taking something that might have been special to me once (e.g., The Fantastic Four) and reducing the magic to utter idiocy.

I have no desire to patronize their crapola. The last film I paid for was Land of the Dead, and that was only because I inherently trust George Romero.

I am probably the only human being in the world who has not seen The War of the Worlds. Probably because I liked the H.G. Wells novel just fine and I don’t want my fun memories of George Pal’s version to be sullied.

Every time I go to the movies, I see trailers that mean absolutely nothing to me. They fail to delight, to suggest, or to play with my imagination. I presume that this is because I don’t fall within their demographic anymore. And I am forced to conclude that I am either too old or too demanding of my fantasies. Either that or I’d like to think that something is terribly wrong with Hollywood.

But whatever the case, aside from the new Terry Gilliam film, there is not a single film coming out in the next few months that silently demands, “See me.” There is not an upcoming release that I believe will sufficiently take the wind out of my lungs and transport me so completely into its world. Instead, I have had to rely upon DVDs of older films made by people who know and intuitively feel that this is what the cinematic medium is about.

And for this, I am very sad. Because I know the power of the medium. I know that it is a place that can produce something that matters. I know that it is a realm that can demand an intense vicariousness. And it is my hope against all possible hopes that one day, it will do so again.


  1. Good post, and I agree with you, with one exception:

    “Years of constant moviegoing has inured me to the rudeness of the American public.”

    As far behaviour in a cinema or theatre goes, they’re the same all over the world.

  2. God, I feel old. I don’t go to the movies anymore for that reason, but also because I cannot endure the prices, the rudeness, the smells the noise.

    And trust me, I will not see War of the Worlds, not even when it comes out on video. I despise that little Dakota brat even more than I despise Tom Cruise.

    Watched a DVD of ‘The Third Man’ on the weekend. Not too long ago my husband introduced me to ‘Across The Bridge’ with Rod Steiger. There’s enough old stuff out there to keep this old broad happy.

  3. Talbot: The birth certificate says eight years old. Bite me, mothafucka.

    Thomas: Very true. But I have no other national cinemagoing experience to compare this with. But I have, on occasion, seen crowds reduced to silent reverance and awe — largely in rep houses that didn’t play those deafening ads before the show. Again, when the theatre chains can’t even respect their own theatres or audiences, it’s small wonder that audiences react with rudeness.

    Patricia: On a similar vein, I recently saw “The Life and Death of Colonel blimp” for the first time and found myself magically transported. I firmly believe that it really is a matter of quality and the people you’re with. I enjoyed “Land of the Dead,” but the audience we were with didn’t understand Romero’s satire and found themselves unsure of how to react. (Was it okay, for example, to laugh at the affluent getting their pictures taken with the zombies?)

  4. Ed,

    I hear you, but there’s still good stuff out there. Beth and I recently saw “My Summer of Love” and that was great.

    Also, you always can hop across the Bay and visit the Pacific Film Archive. Nightly, they screen some of the best, most difficult-to-find movies ever made.

  5. Scott: I have. There’s the Parkway too, which shows some oddball fare as well.

    I will confess that a lot of my malaise here is a “Last Picture Show” style feeling in the gut. It has to do with the Coronet closing, the Roxie almost certain to close and the Castro’s programming becoming mainstream. Three fantastic theatres that I regularly patronized gone in less than a year.

    While there’s still the Balboa (and thank goodness the Red Vic), this pretty much leaves obnoxious and boxy multiplexes to choose from. And that includes the Embarcadero Center, which despite showing indie and foreign films, is a haven for idiocy and intolerance among the Financial District creeps.

    Years ago, I wrote a piece about people laughing and shouting a variety of homophobic epithets during the major emotional revelation during “Boys Don’t Cry.” It seemed to me no less onerous than the Oakland kids who laughed over “Schindler’s List” so long ago. But the difference here was that these were grown adults. It pretty much sealed the dark side of moviegoing for me. My friend and I felt then that we were the only civilized people among visigoths.

  6. I’ll throw in a plug for the Cine Arts theater out in West Portal – tends to show the same types of films as the Embarcadero theatre, but with a less-hip, more geriatric crowd which I find agreeable.

  7. It’s true that movies have been getting worse and worse, no doubt leading to the kinds of puerile audiences you talk about Ed. (I wonder what people like that were even doing watching “Boys Don’t Cry.”) I guess I would be more hopeless except that there are a handful of pretty damn good independent theaters I can count on in the East Bay to have the kind of movies that don’t suck.

    Me and Beth were just talking about this the other day, and neither of us can even remember the last “mainstream” movie we saw. And, yes, on those rare occasions that we have had to venture out to the huge-o-plexes to see something we wanted to see, there were plenty of, errr, coarse folk around, thankfully not participating in our moviegoing experience. I really can’t stand rude people making asses of themselves during movies.

  8. Tito: Ah yes, the Empire. I’m a bit afraid of the geriatric crowd there — largely because of a strange experience I had there watching “Winged Migration.”

    I went there shortly after getting a haircut from my then regular barber (this was during the halcyon pre-buzz days when I actually had hair on the top of my head that could grow and curl in the right places). I had a few hours to kill and I wanted to see this documentary, which had wowed me in trailer form.

    Well, sure enough it was playing at the Empire. And I went in. Twenty minutes before the show, there was nobody else.

    Suddenly, hordes of little old men and ladies came hobbling in! They had walkers and canes and moved very slowly. And I soon discovered that I was the only person under 60 at this theatre.

    But what made it a bit odd was that on the seat to my left-hand side, a little old lady lodged herself into place with her walker. On my right-hand side, a man of considerable girth slowly settled into his seat. These were herculean efforts that took easily ten minutes. I knew then and there that both of them would not be moving until the movie was done and that I was locked into place by my own politeness.

    It suddenly occurred to me that I really had to pee.

    Now I could not jump over the seat in front of me or behind me. Because these were occupied by septuagenarians and they didn’t exactly have the quick reflexes of the young to dodge my sudden leap. Even if I warned them in advance, I divined that my natural clumsiness might preclude any precision in my pre-leap warning.

    So I decided to huff it out and wait until after the movie to urinate. And let me tell you, my legs were dancing faster than Fred Astaire in that theatre.

    Eventually, the movie ended. The credits rolled. But the elderly moviegoers who were seated to my left and right would not move! Was it possible that they were dead? Or asleep?

    Thankfully no. Their eyes blinked with the suddenness of pleasant koi fish. They were quite alive. I wouldn’t need to contact an ambulance or perform CPR.

    But I did have to pee and I pointed out to them during the credit roll that the movie was over. The little old lady actually put her lips to her fingers and shooshed me!

    I looked behind me, saw nobody sitting in the seats, and took a wild leap behind the seats, where my right foot landed in a bucket of popcorn that someone had left. This causd me to slip on the sticky floor. I was unbruised and unharmed. But of course such an unexpected jolt was too much for my bladder. And I felt an unfortunate warm trickle in my pants.

    Let me tell you that I was quite relieved that the bathroom had a blower.

  9. It is very sad to witness the steady decline in quality films . I have not and will not see The War of the Worlds. I too prefer the novel (and my imagination). Can anyone say overcompensation? In Hollywood’s case, bigger is not always better.

  10. I sure as hell would not shell out my hard-earned cash to watch some drek in a filthy theatre chock-full of knuckle-dragging cretins, but dammit, I would have paid damn good money to se Ed wet himself.

  11. I don’t want to go to the movies any more either, and I have to review the fvcking things for a radio show. If I didn’t have that to force me to keep up-to-date with new releases, I’d hardly ever go to the cinema at all. I’m glad I don’t actually do reviews for a living (the radio show is voluntary), or else I’d have to see even more shit than I do now.

    I only quibble with this statement:

    “Because what it is all about these days is pure profit.”

    It has always been about pure profit. Hollywood has only ever been keen on artistry and prestige when they’ve made money for them.

  12. “And it is my hope against all possible hopes that one day, it will do so again.” Why wait around for someone else to do something? You are more than capable of producing worthy material. You have the love and passion for it, so do something about it yourself.

  13. Low-budget films of substance seem to be having some luck at the moment, just look to the likes of Garden State, Lost in Translation, Sideways and the upcoming sequel to the excellent Royal Tenenbaums. I don’t think we’re going through a patch that’s worse than those Hollywood has forced on us thus far.

    The good news is digital technology may help us in future.

  14. The Coronet closed? Oy. My old neighborhood theatre. First place I went to the movies alone. 1975, age 8, re-release of Singin’ in the Rain. Sad days.

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