What is the Shared Experience? Whether you’re sitting in a movie theatre with strangers and a large tub of popcorn, or at home with the kids banging pots and pans while you watch a flick on your flatscreen; whether you’re at your desk with the laptop, headphones, and a good stream, or sitting at a train station catching a few minutes of your fave movie downloaded to your iPad, smartphone, iPhone, or tablet, you’re engaging in the shared experience of movie watching.
Today, movie theaters must compete with lavish home entertainment, a plethora of wireless devices, and on-demand media. Some theaters have responded by spicing up their business to offer something else besides the usual fare – pastries & coffee or a full dinner menu – or maybe it’s a different way to watch films on the big screen altogether (couches instead of seats, or even canoes instead of seats — yes, it is happening). New digital projectors can allow for more diverse screenings, and some theaters have adapted to hosting sporting events, parties, conferences and more as a way to produce alternative revenue streams, diversify options for audiences, and stay relevant in an age of instant gratification.
For me, the theater experience remains the one type of shared experience that remains in my mind long after it’s over. I can barely remember the first time I saw any movie on DVD, but no matter how many times I watch Pulp Fiction, I still feel that emotional DNA which was encoded when I saw it for the first time at the Cross County Multiplex. I remember when the audience laughed; I recall the timbre in the room during different scenes. The same goes for The Thin Red Line and pretty much every other major movie I saw in the theater when it opened.
And “major” is the operative word. I’ve also seen many movies that just weren’t as memorable. In that case, it probably doesn’t matter whether I saw it in a theater or not. It’s the movies that are meant for the big screen that ought to be seen on the big screen. That equation alone will probably always keep movie theaters relevant…but not all movie theaters.
The big multiplexes are fairly protected by their corporate bulk, but the smaller, independently owned onesies, twosies, and quads have been an endangered species for some time. It’s primarily these smaller theaters which are embracing the type of arthouse convergence that could keep them vital in a digital age.
What is the Shared Experience? It’s whatever you want it to be. We all contribute to shaping our culture, and right now the clay is fresh and malleable. It’s an exciting time for the way we watch movies.
The Lake Placid Film Forum will host “Coffee and Conversation with Ira Deutchman” on Saturday, June 15th 10 a.m. at the Palace Theatre. The conversation will focus in the role of independent, local theatres in the digital age.
Words by T J Brearton
Photos by Jordan Craig