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June 18, 2005

Why I Stay Home

In the past few weeks articles have appeared with Hollywood executives bemoaning the decline in box office receipts and why people haven't been going to the movies. I don't understand why these people are surprised at all. I figured that if I wrote something on my own reasons for not going to movies, maybe some fairly bright exec will get a few more clues. Besides, any reason why I shouldn't weight in here with my own reasons?

First you need to know that until a couple of years ago, I went to movie theaters more frequently than most people. Denver is a better movie town than Miami Beach. There are about sixteen screens in Denver devoted to art and independent films, with three Landmark Theaters and the independent Startz Theater. There were even more screens in Denver when Madstone ran a six screen theater until a year and a half ago. In Miami Beach, there is only one theater. Of eighteen screens, sometimes two or three will have art and indie films, and when they play, it is usually for a week or two at best. The films I see in Miami Beach are usually from the big distributors, or are the films that have the best box office. In Denver, the Starz Theater could usually be counted on to show the revivals as well as films getting good reviews. When I was in Denver last Labor Day weekend, kicked out of town by hurricane warnings, I saw the Japanese version of The Grudge. That's one of many smaller foreign films that never came to the beach. But I have come to the point where I make a note of a film of interest, and keep an eye open for its DVD release because . . .

It's the economy, stupid! Bargain matinees aren't that much of a bargain at $7.50 a pop. Where I live, evening shows are $9.25 per person. There have been too many times when I see a movie and Peggy Lee starts singing in my head, "Is that all there is?". I know I am not part of the demographic that Hollywood seeks out first. I also know that not every film can be The Aviator or even Return of the King. On the other hand, the more money you shell out for a movie, the greater your demand is to get your money's worth. Renting a film means less of a financial investment. It also means I can more frequently enjoy the film on its own terms. For me this means catching up with diversions like Troy, Cellular or The Day After Tomorrow without grumbling about wasting my money. With some exceptions, I have also chosen to wait for the DVD release of foreign language and independent films because the cost of renting allows me to gamble more on films that I may or may not like.

The audience has also chased me out of the theater. A few years ago I went to see Chungking Express. I was at the Mayan Theater in Denver, well known as an "art house". During the course of the movie, a woman answered her cell phone and conversed in the theater TWICE! I confronted her about her rudeness. From her point of view she had done nothing to cause offense. Old fogey that I am, I remember a time when you could sit in a full theater and the audience was quiet during the course of the film. Those days seem to be gone. At least with stadium seating I no longer have the problem of people sitting in front of me, ruining my sightline.

What I have at home is a good system but not a great system. I have a sixty inch LCD TV with a Bose stereo system. I did the math. With the number of movies I watch, my home theater will pay for itself in about a year. In the past few weeks I saw a varied selection of films good: Night and the City, the Jules Dassin original, not so good: The Village, and guilty pleasures: Venus in Furs. Essentially, I'm pretty much watching what I want on my own schedule. No out of focus projections, no volume to loud or too soft, and much better and cheaper snacks.

Steve Soderberg may have the right idea in his proposal to have films released simultaneously in different platforms - DVD, theatrical, and cable. I just know that as interested as I am to see how George Lucas concludes the second Star Wars trilogy, I will excercise my force to watch it at home. I already paid enough when I saw Jar Jar Binks the first time.

Posted by peter at June 18, 2005 03:01 PM