I think some of my coworkers at Google find it intriguing when I say I want to operate a movie theater for a living. While asking me about it one day, one of my friends, Matt, asked me (paraphrasing) what a movie that changed my life was.
I find that this is one of the most earnest questions that people are likely to ask me about when we discuss this topic, and consequently, one of that can provide some of the best insight as to why I would want to spend my life in movie theaters.
My answer to Matt was that I don't think movies ever changed my life as in introduced a new way of thinking. Generally the ones that really moved me -- or that I really found important to me and always remembered -- were ones that dealt with ideas that I had been tossing around in my head and either helped me put them into focus or affirmed a direction I was moving my life in. Like how Contact
landed right as I was at the peak of my academic ability in high school and as I was thinking about whether I should continue to spend my Sunday's in church.
I'm thinking about this now, because I just got back from watching one of those movies: Proof
I've been weirdly hesitant to blog recently, all of a sudden feeling the weight my work at Google and my own expectations. And it's left me very tired. While I've tried to continue keeping up the schedules and practices that I use to regiment some discipline into my blogging, I just haven't been able to turn any of the ideas I've been having recently into thoughtful posts or insight.
But in the end, the first practice I instituted is the one that's helping me shore up some inspiration. I made a goal to see at least one movie in a theater every week, and tonight is one of those nights where I remember why.
I've actually been to the movies 5 times in the last 2 weeks (I think I've been pretty desperate to get something going in my head and in my heart) to see Serenity, Roll Bounce, A History of Violence, Into the Blue, and finally, proof.
I walked away from the first four thinking that I'd seen each movie before, and in various ways I'd seen each done better (This was less true for A History of Violence than for the other three). I didn't detest any of the movies, and I could identify more than a little virtue in each film. But proof connected with me in a way that the other ones couldn't. And got me thinking about how proof tonight connected with me in a way that it couldn't have at any other time in my life.
Movies (like a lot of things in life) are all about timing.
I'll often hear criticisms of movies that rail on them for telling a story that had already been told or for trying something that had already been done. I feel like that is one of the least useful criteria for critiquing a film. But I also see it as one of the most natural things for an individual critic to bring up.
For me, films boil down to two things: Truth and Execution.
How good a film is dependent on its ability to resonate with a viewer because of how true it is, and how well it is accomplish what it sets out to do. Evaluating a film with respect to other existing films doesn't address either of these two things (which form the basis of a film's ability to touch people). But evaluating a film with respect to other existing films that you have seen does address whether or not you like it. Because a film that has moved you in a particular way, can never be supplanted by a film that moves you in a similar way. There just isn't enough room. (It's one of the great problems with having institutionalized individual film critics. A single person can really only advise someone with the exact same film watching history. It would make more sense to have one articulate voice rise out of the masses for each film. In fact, IMDB does this to some extend)
So what's the point of all this, and what does it have to do with movie theaters? Well, it's everything really. All there is.
I don't think people can mature without periodically taking time to reflect, either by creating art or observing art. The art can take many forms, printed literature, religious ceremonies, academic study, but one way that works for a lot of people is watching films. But as I mentioned before, with movies, as with art, timing is everything. So if movie theaters want to be venues that facilitate people's access to films that they'll remember, they have to recognize people's inherent sensitivity to timing. Movies need to be available to the patrons at the right times.
In a way, Hollywood does us a favor (or at least the younger generation) by remaking movies over and over and over again. In part it's less by diabolical design and more by nature. Just as there are legions of new people ready to receive an old message, there are legions of new storytellers that are just realizing how important that message is and desperate to tell it. And when it comes down to it, there are really only a few messages that need to be told. Some religious texts can fit it into a hundred page book that even I could finish. And the more current a transmission is, the more likely it is to be compatible with the receivers on the other end.
I take a lot of flak for being a "movie guy" and not having seen a lot of films like the ones that make up the AFI top 100. And I used to feel guilty or some how fake when I would watch some of those films and be totally unmoved. After tonight, I've got my alibi.
The challenge is to line up the people with what they need/want to see. And the exhibition arm is an important layer for filtering information down to the viewers, and back up to the creators. If people knew what they needed to see to they wouldn't need to see it. Theater operators (who have seen a lot of movies) are well positioned to direct people to films. Conversely, if filmmakers were perfect, they'd have very little to make films about. Showing the films to the right people can spark the dialog that the artists need to mature themselves (and make more and better movies).
Exhibitors can't do either of these things, without respecting timing.
As a bit of an aside, this explains another of my most commonly criticized movie quirks. In college I started amassing a rather large DVD collection that I would loan out to my friends and dorm-mates, and anyone who came by really. As it started getting bigger, it required a fair amount of organization, and I decided to order the films by year of release.
This infuriated people.
No one understood why I would want to do this, and I couldn't give a very convincing explanation. The main thing I liked about it was that I thought it was cool to see when a bunch of movies I really liked all came out for the same Oscar season (like 1998). I liked seeing them bunched visually.
Now I realize that it was more than that. I liked traversing my personal history through film. The concept of timing even explains the other thing that seemed to infuriate people: that I had lots of movies that they thought were awful. Organizing my DVDs (good and bad) by year gave me a rough map to revisit all the major events in my life. What would make even more sense would be ordering movies in the order that I saw them (and then possibly even in the order that I _saw_ them, or really understood them).
Now that I think about it, this would be a cool thing to offer movie theater patrons, to reward them for their habit and remind them about what their habit has built (like amazon.com does).
I think I'm going to go reorder my DVDs. :)