I am tired of the multiplex. The chairs may be comfortable but the experience as a whole is not. There is no warmth. No friendliness. On a Friday evening, ticket lines loop around the lobby, no seat is left empty and still the experience is lonely, solitary business. We avoid each others’ elbows on armrests, we are irritated by someone’s ‘excuse mes’ on the way to the bathroom, and we shoot furious glares at those responsible for the accidental kicking of one’s seat. Post-film banter with fellow moviegoers is non-existent. It is as if we go to the theater thinking we are headed to our living room and are distraught when we find a naked fat man on our sofa.
The movie theater experience isn’t this grim everywhere. The independently run theaters are a happy alternative to the multiplex. The folks who sell us our tickets are knowledgeable, the ticket-takers are talkative, the audience is amiable. Popcorn is available, but it is not necessary that you buy a barrel. As you file out of the darkened theater you will often encounter a fellow film fanatic who wants to talk to you about that clever plot twist or her award-winning performance. I shared one such conversation after seeing Beasts of The Southern Wild at Coolidge Corner Theater while my eyes were still wet with tears.
Movie production is changing and with it comes a threat against the theaters I love so much. All major production studios will be switching to digital format from celluloid which means that theaters across America will have to update their projection equipment. For Regal, AMC, and the other large theater chains, this poses no problem. But for most independent movie houses, the cost of updating is crippling or impossible.
Eric Hynes, in a NYT article printed last August, said “John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, says 30,000 screens have already been converted, leaving nearly 10,000 in some stage of transition. As he told exhibitors at CinemaCon in 2011, “If you don’t make the decision to get on the digital train soon, you will be making the decision to get out of the business.””
Last fall, The Coolidge Corner Theater launched their Digital Cinema Challenge to fundraise over $200,000 to update to digital projection. They were fortunate to reach their goals in a matter of months with donations from over six hundred contributors. Theaters across the country are taking similar initiatives. Another Boston-area theater, Brattle Theater has a Kickstarter to help them reach their digital goals.
In 1977, NYT article, “The Last Picture Show,” prematurely predicted the end of the independent movie house. Perhaps the August article is just as prematurely pessimistic. I hope there are people like me who can’t — won’t — imagine the end of the independent theater. I hope that the digital upgrade is merely a hurdle that requires some community support to overcome.