Let’s Go to the Movies
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
By Kevin Lasit
My earliest recollection of a cinema experience was seeing Escape from the Planet of the Apes in Alameda, California. The year was 1971, and I was four years old. That’s right! Four! (irresponsible parents LOL). And I LOVED it. Back in the day, the theater managers didn’t clear the seats after a viewing, so if you missed the beginning, or wanted to watch it a second time, you could. After the first viewing, I asked my parents if we could watch it again. We did, but I fell asleep pretty quickly. The only other movie I begged my parents to stay and watch again was Star Wars in 1977. That’s right, I saw Star Wars – A New Hope two times on opening day. Movies transported me someplace else and made me feel like anything was possible. With Planet of the Apes, I was fascinated by the makeup effects and how a human being could be made-up to look like an ape. I instantly fell in love with the apes and all the conflict within the story, and even though I was only four, I completely understood how wrong it was to treat the apes so badly. Escape was the third film in the series of five films produced by Arthur P. Jacobs, and at the time, it was hailed with great respect with its ground breaking visual effects. I personally loved the soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith. It had a sense of desperation, urgency, sci-fi melodic synthesizers, steel drums, and conga rhythms. It was way cool and had me bouncing in my seat... like an ape.
I loved everything about the cinematic experience. My parents allowed me to indulge in a refreshing Coca Cola, Red Vines, Swedish Fish, and popcorn. They let me choose the seats too. Everything about it was magical. Movies always left me so inspired. I’d go home and draw characters of all my favorite moments. I would reenact scenes from the movies, driving my parents crazy. I think they thought I was insane, but I was simply expressing myself through my early creativity. In two hours, you experience a person’s complete life and fall deeply in love with the characters. They become your friends (when you’re a child). You love them like family.
Movies stand the test of time, even when the world may be struggling. During the great depression of the 30’s, folks were still able to enjoy a movie for only, wait for it, .35 cents! Today, you could expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $12 depending on the theater and if it’s a matinee or an evening show. Still relatively affordable. Movies and entertainment have always encouraged and brought hope. George Bailey, Luke Skywalker, Forest Gump, E.T., and Kermit the Frog are proof of that. Boy, do we ever need hope these days.
As I drive around my small village of Sandwich, MA and pass, the now empty, Heritage Movie Theater, and see the empty marquee, my heart sinks. Will this “ma and pop” theater survive this worldwide shutdown from the Corona Virus? And what will this pandemic mean for other movie theaters across the country?
Even before the pandemic, there were grumblings about the longevity of the cineplex with the high competition and comfort of streaming services such as Netfilx, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney +. Now add Covid-19 in the mix with its limited allotted numbers to gather at events. What will the movie theater experience look like in the near and distant future?
My gut feeling is the studios will still want to make their billions on their franchises and tent-pole productions through first-run theatrical distribution. But what does that actually look like at the movie theater? How will the theaters enforce social distancing? I’m sure they will close off every other aisle and have seats 6 feet apart. We’ll most likely still have to wear face masks. I imagine many theaters will have to install state-of-the art filtration systems. The bigger summer blockbuster movies may have limited seating and will there still be fresh popcorn?
AMC, the world’s largest theater chain, had to lay off or furlough 26,000 employees because of the shutdown of our nation. Studios are hoping to have wide-releases of new movies mid-July 2020; like Disney’s Mulan and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. But who’s to say theaters will be ready by then.
Domestic theatrical movie going grossed $11.4 billion in 2019, with global earnings topping $42.5 billion, but that’s coming from, again, the franchises and tent-pole productions. I imagine all the smaller movies, like; The Lighthouse, Knives Out, Just Mercy, and Glass will go directly to VOD, leaving the cineplex experience to the super heroes, space wars, and certain Disney princesses. All the other lesser grossing princesses will most likely launch on Disney +.
Who’s to say what the cinematic experience will turn into? All I can say is, if it disappears, I will grieve the movie theater like the loss of a family member. From the beginning of time, since the human species could gather and communicate, we’ve been telling stories, from drawings in a cave, carving sculptures, and painting to eventually writing and creating books. Stories help shape our culture. The power of story has always brought our species closer together. That’s the thing I hate about this virus, it separates us. How will all this social distancing change how we experience events? I’m not only speaking of movies, but sporting events, Broadway, community theatres, high school productions, elementary schools… sadly the list goes on.
Part of the shared experience of going to the movies or theatre is hearing all the laughter when it’s funny, tensing up when it’s silent from all the suspense, all the screams when we are frightened, and the cheers of triumphant celebration when characters like Rocky win the fight. The human interaction becomes a part of the soundtrack. The response from the audience validates your own experience of the film.
The good news is entertainment is, with the forced stay at home regulations, thriving during these challenging times. Streaming services viewings have increased, especially for Netflix, the King of the streaming platform. As a matter of fact, Netflix has years of original content already in the can, so they won’t be playing catch-up as hard as all the rest. New content is always a great commodity, but again, watching a movie on your cell phone, iPad or at home isn’t as magical as heading out to the cineplex. Planning to see a movie at the theater is quite seductive. Think about it. First, we read about a certain film going into production. A year later, the trailer comes out, and if it’s edited correctly, it won’t spoil the entire film. We make plans to see the movie, we put on nice clothes, we call friends to go out with and make reservations to have dinner beforehand. For the more epic movies, we buy tickets in advanced. We purchase our favorite soda, chocolates and fresh popcorn. Then we enter the threshold of the cineplex to pick the right seat. We give thumbs up or thumbs down to the trailers of upcoming films… then the lights dim and the main attraction begins. BAMB! That’s pretty sexy, don’t you think? I’ve always loved the anticipation of seeing a great film.
The movie experience at home looks like this; we fight over the most comfortable sofa in our sweat pants. We usually spend about forty minutes scrolling through the menu, like we used to walk up and down the aisles of Blockbuster Video, just to find the right movie, only to stop it after ten minutes to find another one, equally as bad. Yes, a plethora to choose from, but quality is like trying to find The lost Ark of the Covenant. We pause the movie for bathroom breaks and when there is too much dialogue, everyone’s heads go down to their cell phones. But at least you’re in the comfort of your own home and your own rules, right? (I guess so).
It doesn’t beat the real deal, and I don’t care how tricked out your sound system is, the sound systems are usually far superior in the multiplex, especially theaters like The Arclight and AMC. And what about all the historical movie houses like Cape Cinema which has been around since 1930, with its art deco design, and 6,400 square foot mural covering the ceiling? If the walls could talk, right? The cast of The Wizard of OZ had a premiere at the Cape Cinema. Margaret Hamilton, The Wicked Witch of the West, was engaged at the Cape Playhouse and made arrangements for the Cape Cod premiere, one day prior to the world premiere! There are classic movie houses like Cape Cinema all across our nation. I pray they survive the “New World.” How are some of these smaller cinema’s surviving this crisis? Cape Cinema has a virtual screening room where you can rent movies for $6.99 to $12. Click here for more info.
As for our small Ma and Pop movie theater here in Sandwich, word is, owner Thomas Tsakalos, will convert his parking lot into a drive-in theater. His idea is to project the film on the front wall of the multi-theater complex which has been closed since Covid-19 began. That would be so much fun, and I think it’s a great way for local folks to support his charming theater. Meanwhile, looks like Hyannis will open their drive-in theater on July 3rd. The drive-in is a collaboration between The Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District, The Hyannis Film Festival, and Love Live Local. These pop-up drive-ins are a great way to still bring families together during these challenging times, and I support them 100%, but I have to be honest, I can’t wait to see a movie at the Archlight in Boston again.
All we can do is wait. Wait to see how our governors, mayors, and communities will handle the reopening of America. If the movie houses have to shut down, it won’t be the end of the world, I do realize there are larger issues at stake, and who knows how far the rabbit hole will go from the domino effect of Covid-19, but I can remain hopeful. I look forward to the cinematic experience once again, and I plan on doing my part to keep this treasured tradition alive. If you are a hopeless romantic of movies, like me, I look forward to seeing you at the movies. Remain safe and healthy everyone.