' ' Cinema Romantico: Dreaming of Going to the Movies Part II

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Dreaming of Going to the Movies Part II

My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife was out of town the last week of February and I intended that Sunday to catch a matinee of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” Alas, I lazed my morning away, sleeping too late, drinking coffee too long. “I can just watch a movie at home,” I thought. And I did. That, I have come to realize, was my last chance to see a movie at the theater in 2020 and I gave it up to stream something. All I do now is stream movies. It’s funny, sort of, if you had asked off the cuff in 2020 what filmmaker I might risk my life for in order to see his/her new movie, it’s likely I would have said Kelly Reichardt, or Sofia Coppola. But “First Cow” hit theaters two days after March 11 and “On the Rocks” was just recently showing in theaters, ahead of Chicago’s latest stay at home advisory. I didn’t risk my life for either of them.


A few weeks back, the Washington Post’s Megan McArdle wrote a column warning us to be prepared to say goodbye to movie theaters. She shepherded us through the usual streaming-era apprehensions about the industry being on the brink before suggesting that even if some movie chains keep kicking as a vaccine is found and produced and distributed, statistics suggesting significant portions of the populace might refrain from taking it based on, I dunno, the sage advice of a relative’s Facebook meme? McArdle wondered, then, if for the foreseeable future movie-going was worth the risk? Pivoting off her piece, Will Leitch suggested that it was not, even if, as some studies have shown, no COVID cases have been traced to a movie theater. But the fear, Leitch wrote, was more than enough. McArdle’s Post colleague, Sonny Bunch, sounding an awful lot like our Carnival Barker-in-Chief espousing some mind over matter bunkum, claimed that fear is exactly what’s killing movie theaters. Technically, he might be right. But why it’s up to us to take a needless risk for an industry that long ago yoked itself to nothing but tentpoles in a country where the (current) leadership has shrugged and left us all on our own, who knows. 

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott proffered his own State of the Cinema piece, wondering if we would even want to return to the movies when all this is over. His arguments stemmed from the streaming age, too, combined with a general audience indifference to those pre-show messages of no talking and no cellphones, etc., in some ways foreshadowing the current civil liberties tumult that is doing no favors in eradicating COVID. Movie-going has its annoyances, granted, but, gees, there are few things I have missed during the Pandemic like going to the movies. Even if the seats are dusty, the projection is off, the audience members talkative, it’s easier to disappear into a movie in the darkness of the theater then it is at home, no matter how disciplined I am in hiding my phone in the other room or telling myself beforehand not to let everyday distractions distract. I enjoyed watching “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” on my teensy seatback screen on a flight home from Berlin wedged into a middle seat, I truly did, but that couldn’t compare to watching it in my neighborhood theater on opening night, surrounded by so many like-minded folks, three-fourths of the way into my Daisy Cutter when Ethan Hunt HALO jumped into the club and I smiled so wide I felt like I was going to burst. In July, when Tom Ley, Editor-in-Chief of Defector, Tweeted that the last time he was truly, 100-percent happy was watching “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” for the first time, I knew exactly what he meant. 


I’ve been having dreams lately about going to the movies. Well, not going to the movies, really, but wanting to go to the movies. You kids, you young ruffians probably don’t remember this but once upon a time to see when a movie was playing you had to check the times for various theaters in your newspaper. If you didn’t subscribe to the paper, which I sometimes didn’t, then you had to go buy one. I’ve been nostalgic for those movie times, lately, surfing through old Google images of them, like the one above. (Shout-out to some extinct movie theaters from my hometown - plus, Raul’s!) And maybe because I’ve been Googling them, I’ve been dreaming about them too. 

In the dream, I go out, early in the morning on a Friday, excited to see what movies are opening, and pick up a paper from a vending machine on the corner. I bring it home and, over coffee, flip to the movie times. But I keep flipping and flipping and it’s just blank page after blank page. There are no showtimes. No movies are playing. 

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