The Day The Movies Died
What if movie theaters disappeared tomorrow? Would that really be such a big loss? There was a time when the whole country was addicted to seeing a handful of movies in theaters and a handful of TV channels at home. But that model hasn’t held sway in a long, long time, and I’ve got to wonder if movie theaters aren’t just dinosaurs, addled and doomed, letting out long wails and moans as they stumble and die.
There’s nothing in the Constitution that says there have to be movie theaters—or movies. (But let’s not talk about the state of the Constitution . . .) Movies are about the most American thing there is. (Forget that they were really invented in France—merci Auguste, Louis & Georges!) And movie theaters are considered just about as sacred.
But the movies—both the films and the theaters—have been stagnant for almost 40 years. Just about the time the culture—surprise!—ground to a halt. I could offer up all kinds of reasons, none of them palatable. But the simplest explanation is fear. At a certain point, the culture became scared shitless of the rest of the world, and fell back on what it already knew. So it started churning out films that avoided exploring new territory but instead delivered known experiences with greater and greater efficiency.
But one thing we definitely know from psychology is that you can’t keep going home again without eventually getting kicked to the curb. Freud called it The Uncanny—the heimlich (homelike), which, when you try to cling to it instead of moving on, becomes unheimlich (unhomelike—the uncanny).
And we’ve paid a hell of a price for clinging to (what we thought was) the known. First it stoked our fear of the rest of the world; then of each other; then ourselves.
We want to believe movies, and movie theaters, provide some kind of continuity with the past—and some kind of escape from The Other. Wrong. It’s just an illusion—or, more accurately, delusion. For better or worse, movies no longer have meaningful structure, form, pacing, or depth—they’re just epic joy buzzers, meant to stultify any more discerning thought or emotion. The predominant opiate of the masses.
And the theaters, filled with adolescents—aging and otherwise—are just extensions of the day-care centers their occupants were all raised in. A sterile arena for watching bright, shiny objects, while the studios and theater owners pick everything out of your pocket but the lint.
It was unthinkable until recently that movie theaters could ever go away. But what would we lose, really?
And would the world really end if nobody ever made another movie? Ever.
Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and