It’s that castle I think about these days, when I revisit, in memory, the St. George Theatre, a 2,672-seat movie palace I struggled to keep afloat in 1976 with a group of like-minded idealists. At that point, I was little more than a decade older than the mythical boy on the swing, which, in my mind, gives our daring and doomed venture of movie palace management the (autumnal) burnt orange hues of the Parrish print.
I suppose the reason I’ve conflated movie palaces like the St. George (still standing), with a mythical castle is that the whole experience of movie-going seems, after these two long years of pandemic, far away, if a bit fantastical. Even a trip to the local UA multiplex or the Angelica in Manhattan is, well, a less-likely journey than it might have been two years ago. To sit in the dark with strangers for several hours is, face it, a pretty daring thing to do at this moment. White men from 25 to 45 seem to be the only people doing it with any regularity. Women are, by nature, more health-aware, which may be why their movie-going numbers are down.
Then there is the big question: Are we (us, you know, Americans) drawing away from each other in some general sense? We do seem less inclined to mingle with un-like-minded people. I don’t want this to happen! I don’t want to be one of the last people around to recall happy communal experiences.
And there's the fact that streaming sucks! When was the last time you had to provide a password and user ID (which you forgot) to watch a movie in a theater? Or how recently did the spinning wheel (a friend calls it the “wheel of death”) promise but never delivered the entertainment you were primed for? Or the stream was just plain oversubscribed?
Never mind screen size (though I mind it a lot, especially when it affects a movie with a big landscape like Nomadland. And while we’re at it, what’s the difference between a first-rate movie and binge-watching Succession?
One of my favorite bedtime adventures is, actually, an episode of What’s My Line from 1963 or ‘64. Dorothy Kilgallen and crew can tell you every movie that’s opening on Broadway that long-ago week, which is how they often as not guess the identity of the “mystery guest.” There’s nostalgia for you! — for the movies, as filtered (ironically) through network television — which took a crack at finishing movie-going off, before being itself destroyed by cable. The tech fishes all eating each other in succession: interesting, but let’s grab hold of the bigger picture, the one on the wide screen. Let’s just not lose the habit of sitting down together in the dark with strangers.