One of my most memorable moments as a youthful film going audience member was sitting in the theatre and watching David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) for the first time. I will never forget seeing Peter O’Toole emerge on the left side of the screen, first as a speck on the screen, and then filling out the screen while riding a horse in the desert sand. Desert scenes never looked more inviting and menacing at the same time.
This sweeping biographic tale certainly embodied great drama, acting and directing. But what made this film especially engaging was seeing it on the big theatre screen. Although I was in the audience, I felt so engulfed by the action that I was also fighting the elements. The visual power of viewing the story of men in sand storms on a big screen remain with me throughout my adult years.
With that early and hundreds of subsequent positive film experiences in mind, I am appalled to hear the current commercial emphasis on purchasing new products which allow you to watch films and television shows on a miniature screen. In America, everywhere you turn ads are touting electronic equipment which enables consumers to view on screens small enough to fit in your hand. I consider this a pending disaster for the complete and best movie going experience.
For the younger generation especially the big screen experience is in serious jeopardy. Sporting better eyes and youthful dexterity, they maneuver through a small screen cyberspace to communicate with one another via electronics which fit neatly in their hands. My teenage nieces, who are constantly using their cell phones to text message one another, are part of the youthful generation whose visual landscape is geared to the miniature. So seeing a movie on a screen held in their hand is a natural progression for them.
The small screen might be their playing field, but think what they are losing out on. Nothing replaces the power of the big screen on being engaged in the storyline and the drama of a great movie. Just think of viewing the great romantic scenes of the past on a screen larger than life. The power of Rhett Butler taking Scarlet O’Hara up the steps in Gone with the Wind or Humphrey Bogart saying good bye to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca would offer a blimp of emotion if just seen in your hand.
Classics would not fare well on a tiny screen. You just are not able to capture the acting nuances, the landscape, nor the body language on the miniature screen. Can you imagine seeing the bold desert scene described earlier in Lawrence of Arabia when the riders come in on the left side of the screen? They would be dots in your hand instead of one of the most cinematically beautiful moments on the screen.
The socializing of sitting in a theatre with others also contributes to the positive gestalt of movie going. Viewing as a community in a large audience in a movie theatre often contributes to the positive perception of a movie. Comedies are especially infectious to be seen among others. Despite the downside of people talking loudly in the movies or having to leave the theatre and trample over you, that group experience is irreplaceable.
With recent releases, we are often a community witnessing unique celluloid moments in a collective setting for the first time. Part of movie memories is recalling standing in line waiting to see a first run release that first opening weekend. There does not seem much bragging rights to claiming one saw a film preached in my palm months after it was released.
These young people would also miss out on the social scene, for going to the movies is an asset when it comes to courting. You get to sit next to one another. You are able to share in the wondrous picture on the big screen. How are you going to kiss or hold hands if one of you is watching a film positioned in your hand?
For us baby boomers with failing eyes, arthritic hands and old fashioned tastes, the big screens remain our salvation. An article in the The Washington Post by Yuki Noguchi confirms our tastes.
Statistics report that “48 percent of those ages 13 to 17 said they are interested in watching a feature-length film on their cell phones, compared with 23 percent among those 55 and older.”
Often times when I am on trains I see people viewing films on the computer. I am even not interested in viewing a film in this manner. I need the darkness of the theatre, the magic of the projection larger than human size and the group experience of an attentive audience.
The exhilarating experience of a good drama or the stomach hurting reaction to a hysterical film should stay in the movie theatre.
You have a more captive audience in the movie theatre. I know I give more concentration in a movie theatre. When I watch a movie on television via DVD my attentiveness is severely challenged. The phone rings, or I am tempted to stop the film from running and grab a treat. I do watch a lot of television drama and news in the confines of my house. Television shows are programmed for audience breaks. The commercials allow me the breaks to make a phone call or go to the bathroom.
I can understand receiving baseball scores and headline news, and even television shows, via your cell phone or ipod. But not a movie shot for a theatrical release. Only in a movie theatre, and especially if its an old fashioned big screen, am I completely captured. Life is in full proportion. Why view pictorial stories on a miniature scale?
Artistically, there is no greater thrill than to see your film on the big screen. For years my editor and I were editing a documentary about a Jewish baseball player on a small screen of a steenback. Only when the film was first projected did I feel the power of my biographical film on the baseball player being projected thirty feet high. I also saw things in the archival footage that I never saw while we were editing. As my film tried to depict him larger than life, a theatrical screening of the film most validly proved my point.
As a filmmaker and consummate film goer, I am horrified by these latest so called technological advancements. I am hoping my baby boomer generation will not fall into the miniature film going trap and remember all the sociological perks of watching a movie in a grand movie theatre. And I will keep trying to convey that wondrous experience to the younger generation.
Washington, DC based filmmaker and writer Aviva Kempner produced and co-wrote Partisans of Vilna. She directed, wrote and produced the award-winning The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. She is making a film on television and radio pioneer Gerturde Berg, who created The Goldbergs. She founded the Washington Jewish Film Festival. This is from a chapter she is writing for a book entitled Middle Age Madness.
–Gabriel Rodríguez Álvarez