Democracy and Home Theater
I remember as a young teenager how thrilling it was to be able to own a piece of a movie I loved. It often was a lobby card I would beg a theater exhibitor to give me after the movie had ended its run. I still have hundreds of those cards that I brought with me from Greece when I moved to the US to study film at NYU. I don’t look at them often—trying to relive my past as a movie-loving teenager is like gulping down three glasses of wine on an empty stomach. Nostalgia can go straight to my head, so I take it easy!
But there was an even stronger connection between me and movies in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s—the music of a film. Owning the soundtrack on vinyl was the next best thing to owning the movie itself. I would put Riz Ortolani’s soundtrack for The Yellow Rolls Royce or Maurice Jarre’s The Collector on my turntable, listen to it, and feel like the movie was mine.
I’ve replaced most of my LPs with CDs by now, but I’ve still kept most of those soundtracks. When I dust them off from time to time, there is still a palpable connection with the movies that shaped my early teens.
It didn’t occur to me back then that one day, in the not-so-distant future, I would be able to own not only a piece of memorabilia but the actual movie. Until then, we, the simple folk who loved movies, lived off breadcrumbs—a poster here, a lobby card there, an original soundtrack. Owning a copy of a movie was strictly the privilege of Hollywood’s power elite.
But a seismic change began in the late ‘70s. Starting with Betamax and VHS, and then with LaserDiscs, movies began to appear one after the other on tape or disc. I remember the nearly bankrupt 20th Century Fox coming out with its catalog movies on both tape formats.
I had read that Beta was the superior format so I bet my money on an early Betamax machine. I think I bought my first prerecorded tape from the now defunct chain Video Shack on the corner of Broadway and 49 Street on Times Square. It was George Cukor’s A Star is Born. The movie itself was of course the main attraction—and it didn’t even cross my mind that it was cropped. What mattered most was that I could own it—in glorious stereophonic sound, no less.
It took a couple of years for me to realize the importance of the video revolution. Not only could I have the soundtracks to movies I loved, I could actually have the movies themselves! Suddenly, I—an underprivileged, powerless movie buff—owned what the privileged and powerful Hollywood establishment owned, and I felt equal to them. I equated that with real democracy—movie wealth that could be shared by all.
We don’t often view this important change from that perspective. But as far as I’m concerned, the real story is that the average person who had the space and could afford a home theater could now feel like a Hollywood mogul. The very fact we could experience our own copy of a movie in our own home made us feel more privileged and, yes, equal.
My collecting habit has continued unabated over the years. But, for me, the real benefit of yearning to experience a movie in a theater-like environment is that it has led to a career as a home theater designer. Good things can happen when you least plan for them.
Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.