Let There Never Be A Last Picture Show

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.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

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.

20130216_210649_HDR-1-1Eric 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.

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55 thoughts on “Let There Never Be A Last Picture Show

    • Hello Alexa! I would say that I strongly prefer independent theaters over the multiplex not that I find every multiplex experience horrible. Like I said, chairs are comfortable at the multiplex! But seriously, I am a huge film lover which means I try not to discriminate what I see. How can we be critics if we dont give everything a chance? How would we put anything in context? Not all films play at the smaller films so I mix it up. Last week I went to a midnight movie at a smaller independent theater and I went to see the new Die Hard at AMC. Its not that I hate the big theaters, its just that I wish it was a warmer experience. I tend to find all my experience at the smaller theaters enjoyable.

      Thanks for reading.

      -Susanna

      • I do agree that it could be warmer, but I just find something magical (sometimes) with a packed theater, the lights going down, the gentle munch of popcorn. It’s special when you get a good audience who laughs and cries and gasps at the right time. I just wish I could get that all the time at *any* cinema.

        I also wish I could get to the small theaters more around here – but they’re few and far between.

  1. I liked the smaller theaters too, when they were around. In my current time and place, you have to drive so far to find a movie theater that the gas costs almost as much as the ticket!

  2. While I find the multiplex a fine experience for such recent showings as Les Miserables, I do find the small, independent theaters better because of the films they show. I remember watching both Himalaya and War Photographer at an independent theatre in San Rafael, CA.

    • I agree, absolutely. I think its important not to just stick to the blockbusters or just the independent films. I switch between the two but the experience at the smaller theaters is just so much more pleasant to me. Although some movies, usually ones with Anne Hathaway, are visually stunning on the larger screens at the multiplex.

      -Susanna

  3. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie in a proper theatre. There’s a cute independent single-screen movie theatre in my neighbourhood and the owners are lovely. I may schedule time this week to check it out.
    Thank you for the reminder.

  4. There is a Majestic Theater in my town and I agree it is a totally different experience… And not just because of the balcony seating or clouds painted on the ceiling of the theater 😊

  5. I don’t enjoy going to the movies anymore for the reasons you listed above and that people talk through the movie.
    It would be nice to experience the independent theater you spoke of, I have not been to one.

  6. I used to love going to the movies – was probably there once a week with a group of friends, and now that I no longer live near that group of friends and I’ve had some priority shifts, it seems be longer and longer between trips to the “multiplex.” I think I’ve only been to one movie in the last 5 years. You’ve really sold the independent theatres here – I wonder if i could get that same level of commaraderie that I used to have when I went with my friends at a smaller local theatre.

  7. Sadly, the movie theatre is a dying business. With home TV systems slowly creeping up in quality and size, it gets hard to justify spending money on someone elses setup, regardless. Of course the price is a turn off, most movies are now just churned-out rehashes or downright waste of scripts. Digital distribution is becoming the norm(legal or otherwise). I am glad I live where I do and that movies are only $8 and not the price-gouching $12+ at these megaplexes I have seen. All too often it’s not even the cost that drives out business owners, it’s the control. I know one owner who was driven out because he simply couldn’t compete. He hd an awesome theatre setup (way cool fiber optics in the hallway!) You can read about it here: http://www.thehamiltonian.net/2011/01/final-curtain-for-movie-palace-on-feb.html Like printed material, it is all a dying breed. Time to adapt and move on.

  8. In an effort to compete, many independents in London have gone down the route of becoming almost boutique theatres, emphasis being on the luxury recliners, table service etc. With that comes a hefty entry fee which has priced me out of many places I used to go and want to support. But then hating the chains as I can’t bear the chorus of people eating during a film is making going to see a film a thing of the past for me. I miss the old independents, no one chatted, no mobile phones, no one eating a three course meal…you immersed yourself in the movie which is almost a secondary thought these days.

  9. The average crowd at classical music concerts is even more hateful than a packed multiplex ) Cough or sneeze and a zillion hateful glares ruin your Karma for the next month ;-)

  10. Here in the UK we seem to be losing the ‘Big Screen’. Part of the charm of cinema viewing for me is to watch the film, be immersed in the film, giant size. Multiplex screens and independent cinema theatres alike seem to reduce screen size all the time. TV screen are so large and with surround sound and home theatre devices it’s no wonder audiences prefer to watch DVDs in the comfort of their own home.
    For me though, I love the cinema, noisy pop corn eaters, nudges on the arm rest, whispered ‘excuse me’s of late comers and all.

  11. We are very lucky here in my city to offer the best of both theater experiences. Yes we have the Mega Movie theaters (all in the burbs) but we also have two small, vintage theaters (in the city) that have managed to not only survive but to offer a completely different atmosphere and urban casual evening out. Offering live music, bakery and cafe’, foreign films, documentaries and the like. Special events too. I saw “Sling Blade” there many years ago – before it went mainstream.
    Every independent owner in every industry has to struggle. I speak from experience. There is an ebb and flow to the big box destruction of small business. Once all of the “little guys” are crushed and destroyed the mega money monsters only survive a few years. They leave a landscape of empty storefronts and concrete shells ( that were once lush farms). Slowly, dreamers with capitol start to open doors and the cycle begins again.
    Supporting locally owned businesses has never been as important to this country as it is now. I’d rather pay a couple extra dollars to support my community than save a couple extra dollars to support a big box monster.

  12. We have the Irish Film Institute here in Dublin which is a cosy government funded cinema that shows a whole host of small, independent and foreign films as well as the odd big budget film that they deem worth putting on.

    It has a bar and restaurant as well so it’s an all round lovely day or night out.

    I certainly think that there will always be a need for the smaller movie houses. Just like we still have artists releasing music on vinyl even though we have MP3s, I’m sure films we will still be able to enjoy the humble movie house for some time to come :)

    Thanks for sharing, and congrats on being freshly pressed!

    Rohan.

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  14. I wasn’t even aware of this digital upgrade. I love my community theatre and hope it never shuts down. Next time I go, I’m going to ask them what they’re going to do about the upgrade… Thanks for your post!

  15. I recently moved into a new neighborhood right around the corner from a Sundance Theater and my experience there mimics how you describe yours at independent theaters. The staff are very knowledgeable about the films and, by talking with us about the movie we’re about to see, they enhance the overall experience. I hadn’t really thought about the difference between the big theaters and the small ones, so I appreciate the call to action about supporting small theaters. Great post!

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  17. A sad truth about going to the movies it seems. The last film I went to see was at the local theatre where most films last one week. That was a splurge, given ticket costs. I find it easier and enjoyable to get together with friends and watch video tapes/dvds on TV.

  18. Great post. The independent cinema experience is completely different to that of the multiplex and one that I savour, not least because of the variety of films they show. I’m looking at relocating to another part of the UK at the moment and high on my must have list is a quality independent cinema! Having said that, I do end up at my local multiplex quite often due to the value offered by the Cineworld Unlimited card for frequent cinema goers, delving into independents for more obscure movies instead. I hope the independents survive as the experience they offer can’t be rivalled.

  19. seriously i miss theater. i want share my experience when i was n grade 4, we use to watch movies in open theater at night and that was the best thing i still remember. and i really like your post.

  20. This is so true. Independent movie theaters have much to offer. What is great about them (one of many) is that there are always going to be the mainstream movie theaters, but independent films and theaters allow people to pick and chose what they want to see (mainstream or indie or in-between, if such terms can be applied). It makes room for everyone.
    –JW

  21. Nice article. I wish there were more independent cinemas where I live but there aren`t and the last independent cinema house I went to was not that warm or welcoming. The girl behind the counter when I bought the tickets looked like she couldn`t have cared less if I bought a ticket or not!! Like you though, I like to mix it up when I can. I don`t exactly love multiplexes either and find going to the cinema quite pricey but as the films I happen to want to see are shown there I just go and make the most of it (whilst sneaking in my own food so I can relax instead of fuming at how much the sweets and drinks are). Keanu Reeves of all people is releasing a documentary where he explores, by interviewing various directors and other people, how directors and the film industry are being affected by the new digital age. I`d actually go to see that for itself but also to see if KR interviews better than he acts :P (he`ll always be hot though). Sorry to read above how cinema houses are finding it hard to keep up with the cost of going digital.

  22. I completely agree with you. I avoid the multiplex where possible – not only is it unfriendly and expensive, but the audience don’t know how to behave! Perhaps i’m being intolerant, but overhearing a phone conversation during a film is quite annoying ;)

    Luckily, where I live (Bristol) there are many thriving independent cinemas to choose from – I endorse them as much as I can – i’d be devastated if they shut down!

  23. Independent theaters are way more comfortable then multiplex’s, nonetheless the movie theater experience is changing all together. I feel as though they have lost site of it being a relaxing escape from your week of chaos, and more so focused on increasing the amount of people that can fit into the theater itself. There are the upcoming theaters that are quite comfortable though with the couch, lounge chairs and offering dining food, those are quite nice!

  24. A touching, respectful and informative entry. I agree with you, I sincerely hope there is no last picture show. I just think, movie-goers at some point will have to be more involved in saving the product through response at some point…

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