Well fellow film lovers, something struck me these past weeks while reading the countless memories of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni. Notable critics, writers and directors from every corner have been sharing the stories of their first encounters with the work of these two masters and each tale takes place inside a small, atmospheric art house theater surrounded by fellow film lovers. Of all the remembrances, no one has yet said, "I remember my first experience with Antonioni. His movies had a high rating on IMDb so I put a few of them into my Netflix queue." Yet for young cinephiles, VHS, DVD and downloading is the overwhelmingly popular way of experiencing the classics, and has been for some time. Not on a giant screen, surrounded by strangers, but on a small screen (and getting increasingly smaller with new technology) surrounded by friends, or sometimes by themselves. And I can't help but wonder, how is this difference shaping the current generation of movie lovers differently than their parents?
(...) Yet something about watching these old movies on a giant screen appeals to people. Many large cities have summer events where classic cinema is screened, and they attract large crowds. Is it the novelty of these events being outside? If that were the case drive-ins would still be booming. Is it that some of these showings are free? Perhaps, but most of the movies that are shown can easily be freely rented from a large city library chain. So what attracts people? Perhaps it's the sense of community, the sense that watching a film should be part of an experience that must include others (and not just a few friends, but strangers too).
While none of the remembrances of Bergman or Antonioni specifically have mentioned the importance of watching such films in the context of a theater, there is always a sense of magic that comes from sharing the experience with others. Of course, our modern view of the theater experience is less than popular; crowds, overpriced food, obnoxious teenagers, cell phones, oh lord the cell phones...
(...) Movie downloading is quickly catching on, you can watch a film on a screen the size of a postage stamp whenever you like, you can find out everything you need to know by wikipedia-ing your favorite movie. It's a great time to be a cinephile. But have we traded in something great for something easy?