Without the movies, where else can we go to temporarily unplug and leave our world behind?
If I walk at a brisk pace and have the right song playing on Spotify, I can get there in eight minutes. To get there, I take one left, one right, and cross the street. I go there when I am stressed and in need of a break when I want to temporarily trade our world for a new one. I could only be talking about one place: the movies. More specifically, the Marquis Theater, located just down the street from my college in the center of downtown Middlebury, Vermont.
The Marquis has two theaters; one downstairs and one upstairs. The upstairs theater is smaller and more intimate, with a few dozen seats and a slanted wooden floor that brings you to the front row, which is so close to the screen you can almost reach out and touch it. The downstairs theater is larger, with more seats and a hodgepodge of couches and armchairs spread throughout for moviegoers to enjoy a film in complete comfort. The snacks are good too. There is popcorn, candy, soda, a bar, and a small restaurant serving Mexican cuisine.
On this website, we often reflect on what it means to go to the movies. Last fall, Matthew Monagle channeled the belief many of us have that going to the movies alone is better than going with a group. In January, Christopher Campbell offered some helpful tips on how to improve moviegoing in 2018: buy snacks, clean up your mess, express appreciation to employees, et al.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how important the movies are, not only to those of us who study and write about film but to our society. In 2018, where we are on our devices nonstop, with constant access to our planners and emails, always able to be contacted by our employers, family, and friends, the movies may be our final refuge from our responsibilities and the stresses of everyday life. (Unless, of course, you’re a professional film critic.)
I was thinking about this on Monday evening, as I attended a screening (not at the Marquis) of Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game. Just prior to the screening, I had worked at my job for two hours, ate a quick dinner, and run our student newspaper’s editorial meeting. As I made my way to the screening, I was thinking about the homework I had yet to start, of the job applications that had yet to be completed, and of the interview I had the following day. But, as the lights dimmed and Renoir’s masterpiece began to play, the mental to-do list began to fade away, and I thought to myself, “Man, am I lucky to be at the movies.”
There are many places folks often go to temporarily seek refuge from the responsibilities of everyday life: the gym, a restaurant, a sports game, the park, a drive around town. But even at these places and others, the cell phone’s allure is difficult to resist; the ping of an email or push notification is constant, CNN is always on one of the TVs behind the bar, and the sight of everyone else on their phone/tablet/computer is always serving as a reminder of all of the things you have yet to do. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the movies may be the final refuge from the aforementioned reminders of daily life. Sure, one could go see a play or ballet or take time to go on a camping trip or hike if you live in a rural area, but those are not as accessible as the movies. For the most part, they are not places one can go on a whim and on a budget.
And that is why I love the Marquis Theater in Middlebury. On a rainy day, or in between studying for finals, I will often walk down there and forget my responsibilities for a couple of hours. It is there where I saw most of this year’s Oscar nominees, where I attended a screening of I Am Not Your Negro, which was part of a film series co-hosted by a local racial justice organization, and where I saw a group of friends race to see the new Star Wars as soon as they were able. What makes the Marquis even more therapeutic than a corporate theater chain is not just the couches, armchairs, and throwback décor, but the sense of community that it embodies. When you walk into a movie theater, you’re walking into a new world, yes, but you’re doing so with a group of people, all of whom have willingly signed up to go on this mission, who have committed to leaving society and their technology (hopefully) behind for a couple hours. Where else does this happen today?
A couple weeks ago, Steven Spielberg made headlines when he said that Netflix movies should not be eligible for Academy Awards. His comments came at the same time the Cannes Film Festival barred Netflix films from the competition. I agree with both decisions. Each year, the old (and many would argue) ways of filmmaking and exhibition occur less and less. The rise of streaming and digital formats has made the movies less exciting, and give moviegoers even less of an incentive to leave the house. Why drive to the movies and pay money when you could sit on your couch and watch almost anything for a fraction of the price? The answer: the experience. In 2018, the movies are more than just a place where cows go when it rains, they are our final refuge from the obligations of humanity. We should visit them more.