People who care most about movies are the ones who stay home

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An empty theater is bad for movie houses, but good for me.
With attendance steadily decreasing, specialty movie houses around the country are closing up shop. The corporate chains aren’t faring much better. Naturally, a fair amount of discourse has arisen as to what could be behind the public’s apparent insouciance toward moviegoing. Conventional wisdom points to a number of contributing factors, but if you ask me, one needs to look no further than the behavior of contemporary audiences. I’ve never understood the need for exhibitors to run a disclaimer telling people to be silent during a movie. Such would seem to go without saying. And yet, exhibitors large and small—from AMC Theaters to our own Music Box—spend an ample amount of time reminding audiences to please turn of all cell phones and electronic devices and to refrain from conversation. But this almost never works.

Most of the films I've seen in recent weeks have been at either the Gene Siskel Film Center or the Music Box, places where one would assume the audience to possess a certain refinement. However, members of the audience at both theaters weren't averse to whispering loudly with their friends about things unrelated to the movie, texting, fiddling with their snacks, chewing food loudly, or even falling asleep.

When I really think about it, most theatergoing experiences I have are disrupted by behaviors such as these. Considering this, I’ve drawn the admittedly imprecise but no less eye-opening conclusion that the people who care most about movies are the ones who stay home.

That’s a disheartening notion, because the slow death of the movie theater is truly a painful thing to witness. On a personal level, watching its demise only reminds me that I’m without the sort of experiences so many filmmakers and cinephiles seem to have HAD: escaping to the movies as youths, sequestering themselves in the theater for hours and hours on end. I wasn’t made privy to the allure of cinema until my early 20s, and I feel as if I’ve been playing catchup ever since—which is why I value home viewing as heartily as I do. If I were to delineate percentages for my viewing habits, the results would heavily favor the DVD or streaming format. Without these options, I would've missed the pleasure of a plethora of great films. The nourishing experience of, say, Au Hasard Balthazar would have had to wait until the Film Center’s recent Robert Bresson retrospective. Who could bear such a thing?

Considering this, I’d venture to say that home viewing—though certainly not in the intended format—is the more intellectual exercise. To watch a film at one’s leisure, to have the power to pause, rewind, and examine a film, frame by frame, is an invaluable practice. That’s not to say I dislike or avoid going to the movies. My recent eight-film jaunt at the European Union Film Festival proved most fruitful—even if the chap who dozed off during Bruno Dumont’s stirring Hors Satan did detract from the film’s powerfully minimalist sound design. You’ll forgive me if I found myself wishing I were back home with a pair of soundproof headphones, away from the snores of disinterested moviegoers.

Still, as long as movie theaters exist you can expect to find me in the third row, just a bit to the left of the screen, trying my darnedest to ignore everyone around me.

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