An Ode to Our Closed Movie Theaters

Some thoughts on being stuck at home with everything to watch

It was bound to happen with that virus making its way around our country and our world. Things are closing. Schools, offices, and now movie theaters. While we might have all been staying at home, there was at least the possibility of getting out of the house and seeing a show, as ill-advised as that might have been.

But no more. They are closed. First Regal, now the Alamo Drafthouse, and from there what else really matters? Dominoes are set to fall and fall they must. It will be weeks or months until cinema can be consumed in its true and proper form. That day will come, but until then we stream.

Or maybe we watch a disc or possibly even broadcast TV. Well, maybe not that, but our entertainment will come via our televisions, and we’ll make do with that as best as we can. But something has been lost.

Much of this is specific to me (and, I assume, others with a similar worldview) in that seeing a movie in a theater is not just good, is not just right, but is in a way necessary. I’m both conscious of–and a slave to–our modern, ever-multitasking, lack-of-attention state of being. Sure, I can pop something on a screen in front of me, but what are the chances I watch it uninterrupted? Will a phone be checked, a laptop turned on, some interaction with some mechanism of distraction I’ve surrounded myself with?

This is one reason I like film festivals so much, especially South by Southwest. That’s why its passing, temporary as it hopefully is, struck such a chord. I reserve a week of my life every March to watching three, four, even five movies per day. There’s nothing like it.

Admittedly, not everyone needs to push down the cushion and take their seat, wait for the lights to dim, and be shushed before enjoying a movie. It’s like slipping into a bath, with the bubbly introduction of trailers through to the final stopper being pulled. A concrete, finite, and primarily aesthetic experience that goes on for a couple three hours and then ends, sending us back out into the world to think on it a bit but then move back into the current of life.

That’s over for now. Like everyone else, I’ll do the streaming shuffle and look at film after film on any number of services I have access to. Maybe I’ve got a watchlist already set aside, but is now the time for that one? Or that one? Oh, I know I should watch that one, but I don’t feel in the mood. It is as good an example as we’re likely to get of the tyranny of choice.

I remember the first time I was slapped in the face by that quasi-ethical conundrum. Going to school at Texas A&M meant having maybe two or three bands to go see on any particular weekend in the mid 90s. It was fine. Visiting Austin one weekend, I found myself in the original Kerbey Lane Cafe and could not believe the number of show posters plastered around that tiny waiting area. How do you pick what to go see?! It boggled my mind. Moving here a couple of years later, I figured it out. One has to self-constrain. Only a few venues played the kind of music I liked, so it was easy to narrow it down.

And isn’t that what theaters do for us? Yeah, I have a significant chunk of cinema history available to me just with Amazon Prime alone, much less Disney+ or The Criterion Channel. But when I peruse the listings for the Drafthouse and AFS Cinema and even MegaPlex USA, there are only so many choices, and lots of them I will have already seen because, well, that’s what I do.

So how do we attack this? We can let our friends suggest movies. We can seek out services like Cinapse’s own Field of Streams, with its pithily worded lists of recommended titles. Or maybe something else. Or maybe I’m overthinking this and most people just want to hit play and chill. That’s fine. Trying to watch good movies is fine, too, and while the weathering of this storm and its million tiny inconveniences will go on for a while, there will always be something to watch. Now to go find it.

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