The collective moviegoing experience is a lie
James Cameron knows why we really go to the movies
There’s much to be said about the almost inevitable but still questionable mega-success of Avatar: The Way of Water since its release in late December 2022.
Is it a legitimately great film? Does it resonate so profoundly with audiences? Has the concern over the COVID-19 subsided to pre-pandemic times? Was everybody just bored over the holiday season?
Ask again later, cannot predict now, most likely and signs point to yes, according to my Magic 8 Ball.
However you look at it, in this interview discussing the concerns over a pandemic-era theatrical release, I think James Cameron summarizes the power and allure of the moviegoing experience, regardless of when, where or who you are:
Common wisdom is we all like to get together in a big communal experience. I think that’s horseshit, frankly. And I don’t think we rush to the theater and pay for the parking and every other damn thing so that we can listen to some guy over here farting and somebody over here coughing and everybody munching on their popcorn. It’s like, “screw all those people, they’re kind of in my way.” I want to have a direct relationship with this bigger thing, right? What those people are doing for me is creating a scenario in which I have no control. I can’t just pick up the remote and stop it, because of my social contract with everybody else there. Right? And neither can anybody else. And it’s making the decision, consciously, to have an experience over which you have no control, knowing that it will flood into you with greater impact.
He also follows with an observation that because of this industry-wide focus on larger than life spectacle, the smaller, more intimate stories aren’t finding success in theaters. The shift here is unfortunate, but it’s also reality (and undoubtedly more of a concern for filmmakers than for audiences).
Personally, I don’t necessarily need (or want) to be with two hundred other people to enjoy a well-made film experience. In fact, some of my best memories have been watching a film in a completely empty auditorium.
Sure, it’s a nice notion, but the idea that we all enjoy being stuck in a dark room with strangers for the sake of entertainment…it’s a falsehood that we let others tell us. Maybe that’s too cynical of an outlook, so we choose to believe the lie, but I appreciate the honesty of going to the movies with the sole intention of wanting to get lost in an experience .
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