Movie theaters are going through a rough time right now. While many are open, they can’t operate at full capacity, and on top of all that, streaming movies from home is becoming the new normal. Warner Bros. made huge waves when they decided to release their entire 2021 theatrical slate directly to HBO Max, and other studios are continuing to sell-off some of their non-franchise titles directly to streaming services like Netflix.
With things the way they are, there’s been a lot of talk about the demise of the theatrical experience. But one person who knows a thing or two about the movies – Steven Spielberg – still has hope.
In the latest issue of Empire, filmmaker Edgar Wright “curates a massive celebration of cinemagoing, with Hollywood icons and Empire readers sharing their most treasured experiences of watching a movie with a packed crowd.” And one of the people Wright reached out to was Steven Spielberg, someone who has devoted his life to the moving image. Spielberg wrote about watching Lawrence Of Arabia on 70mm as a teenager, but he also wrote a little statement about why he still has hope movie theaters will survive after this seemingly never-ending pandemic finally ends. Spielberg isn’t offering solutions to a problem here; he’s primarily talking about why he thinks going to the movies is so magical. And with that in mind, he believes that audiences will continue to seek out that magic, even if streaming from home becomes more and more prominent.
Here’s the full statement:
“In the current health crisis, where movie theatres are shuttered or attendance is drastically limited because of the global pandemic, I still have hope bordering on certainty that when it’s safe, audiences will go back to the movies. I’ve always devoted myself to our movie-going community — movie-going, as in leaving our homes to go to a theatre, and community, meaning a feeling of fellowship with others who have left their homes and are seated with us. In a movie theatre, you watch movies with the significant others in your life, but also in the company of strangers. That’s the magic we experience when we go out to see a movie or a play or a concert or a comedy act. We don’t know who all these people are sitting around us, but when the experience makes us laugh or cry or cheer or contemplate, and then when the lights come up and we leave our seats, the people with whom we head out into the real world don’t feel like complete strangers anymore. We’ve become a community, alike in heart and spirit, or at any rate alike in having shared for a couple of hours a powerful experience. That brief interval in a theatre doesn’t erase the many things that divide us: race or class or belief or gender or politics. But our country and our world feel less divided, less fractured, after a congregation of strangers have laughed, cried, jumped out their seats together, all at the same time. Art asks us to be aware of the particular and the universal, both at once. And that’s why, of all the things that have the potential to unite us, none is more powerful than the communal experience of the arts.”
It’s hard to argue with Spielberg here. I have some problems with the theatrical experience – theater chains have become lazy, resulting in poorly projected images and audiences that are obnoxious and inconsiderate. But that doesn’t mean I want movie theaters to die – I just want them to be better. My biggest hope is that whenever we come out on the other side of this pandemic, theater chains will work hard to better themselves with the goal of drawing audiences back. That’s not so much to ask, is it?
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