The grand (and idealistic) idea of watching movies in a crowded theater being the proper (and some say only!) way to watch movies can seem a bit antiquated by some (the younger blogger/twitter crowd who have grown up on You Tube and Hulu) and a bit right-on-the-proverbial-(fucking!)-nose for others (the so-called old guard who chained themselves to the cinematheque doors back in May of '68 - at least metaphorically-speaking). I personally consider myself a product of the generation inbetween these two (seemingly) warring factions.
Born in 1967 (the Summer of Love as it were), I grew up watching movies on TV. Sure I would go to the theater (it is quite the strange juxtaposition of having Benji and The Towering Inferno as the first two films I remember seeing in a theater proper!) but the movies that made me love the cinema were those I first saw on my little 12" TV in my childhood bedroom late at night (when I was supposed to be fast asleep dreaming of sugar plum fairies and warding off those dreaded bed bug bites!). Films like King Kong, The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, The Philadelphia Story, To Have and Have Not. These are the films that led to my love of classic cinema. My love of the golden age of Hollywood and eventually my love of an expanded world cinema.
It wasn't in the theaters where this love was born, but on a tiny TV in a wide-eyed child's bedroom (ignore the hyperbole). It wasn't until I became a (so-called) grown-up that the cinema houses became a haven. Films as diverse as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Amadeus, A Passage to India, Sophie's Choice, Brazil and Ran (the very first foreign-language film I ever saw on the big screen). Along with my duties as a film critic and (sometimes) film historian, I now run a three-screen arthouse cinema in Harrisburg Pa, with my lovely wife (sorry GK for usurping your loving spousal pet name) so even though the small screen gave me my first tastes of cinematic love, it is now the large screen that carries me along.
The reason I even bring this whole thing up is a post I recently read on Jim Emerson's wonderful Scanners blog, entitled "Cinema Isn't Dead, It's Just Different" (perhaps I was hooked by Jim including a pic of Godard that I personally use as my Facebook profile pic on a semi-regular basis - but it is a must read anyway!). Many older critics (that damned old guard!) tend to grandstand that cinema is dead and it has the younger set to blame. Granted the idea of instant gratification in critical duties (re: anyone can write anything on anybody - whether they have a talent for such a thing or not) is taken to the proverbial nth level these days and there are many (too many I suppose one could easily say) voices that know absolutely nothing about cinema or its history spouting off all over the web. I suppose because many of these voices are the so-called younger set (though many are not) it is because of this that the old guard grumps and groans about cinema (and film criticism) being dead. Their easy wail is that the internet has killed it! Of course there are many "critics" out there with ties to "hard copy" jobs (those with gigs in the ever-dying paper world) who know less than nothing about cinema, and yet they keep flailing about with the respect often given out freely to anyone who is not "just an online critic". Their names need not be named here, but we all know who they are. Of course being one of these very same "just an online critic" (though I do have a regular film column in a local alt monthly) I must take offense at such generalizations. But I am getting (sort of) off topic.
The whole debate (if one can even call it that - though I just did, so there!) has merits on both sides. On one (Emerson's - among many others - side) there is the fact that because of today's technology there are so many more classic films available to watch that it is indeed a cinephile's boon. On the other hand, to see something shimmering up there in glorious 35mm is a sight to behold indeed. As I said, I fall inbetween the two warring factions so I suppose I can see both sides for what they are worth. Though my cinephilia was born on that tiny bedroom TV (there is still a certain nostalgic romanticism to recalling seeing King Kong or Frankenstein on that tiny TV on the Late Late Show - even if modern technologies have made it null and void), and many of my favourite films I have never seen on anything bigger than my own grown-up big screen TV, I cannot deny the giddy rapture of watching these great films in 35mm on the theater's own big screens.
Just last year, on one my many trips to NYC to catch some movies (as I am prone to do as often as I can) I had the opportunity to see The Red Shoes (one of the greatest films of all time I declare unabashedly!) at Film Forum. Rushing in (much like those kids at the beginning of that very same movie) and taking my place front row, center, it was almost a religious experience. No, I take that back - it WAS a religious experience! Other favourites I have been lucky enough to see on the big screen include The Bicycle Thieves (at Lincoln Plaza Cinema during the same trip), La Dolce Vita (also at Film Forum a few years back), Casablanca (at Hershey Theater here at home - a wonderously restored art deco movie palace), Singin' in the Rain, Some Like It Hot and Vertigo on it's revival a decade or so ago. There is nothing that can top these experiences, but (outside of a perfect world) this is not a practice to be had with every movie one sees - especially considering this cinephile sees at least 300+ films per year (with a goal of 500+ per year that I shamedly have yet to meet).
I suppose my tendencies do lean toward the movie theater experience over home viewing (no matter how big and luxurious one's home system may be) though one cannot help but be put off by the rudeness of all those talkers, texters and tweeters strewn about the typical multiplex (then again, many of the films playing there end up unwatchable anyway!). This 35mm theater screening (sans, the annoyances) is the ideal, but one must still take into account the amazingly vast availability of film on DVD/Blu-Ray that was never near as prevalent as back in those supposed halcyon days of lore. And one must also take into account that many (nay, most) of the films one cannot easily see in a movie house, so home viewing is their only option. My lovely wife and I often put one of our DVD's up on the big screen in our little theater after hours for our own viewing, so we do have a better opportunity to see these classics in a cinema (even if it is not 35mm), but others do not, so the DVD/Blu-Ray boon is, well, it's a boon. Perhaps my ideal is to be front row center at Film Forum watching Moira Shearer twirl about - surrounded by like-minded cinephiles (NOT at the multiplex!!) or after hours at my cinema with my wife and a few close friends. Then again, I watch movies (like a rabbit does other things) at home in the dark - and without interruptions (I so hate that!). I suppose, no matter a young buck or an old head, there is something for everyone. Like Emerson said, cinema isn't dead, it's just different.