What’s The Big Deal About The Big Screen?
I love seeing movies in theaters. I always have. One of my earliest memories is seeing Willow on the big screen when I was about three years old. In recent years I haven’t been able to go to movies on the big screen as often as I used to. And most recently I’ve been really into classic film, so it’s been doubly hard to see anything on the big screen. Though, when I was in college I went to the Pacific Film Archive to see classic films occasionally. I saw my first Buster Keaton film there (Seven Chances) and I saw The Shop Around The Corner (twice). One of the first things I did when I went to college was to see Nosferatu at the PFA with a live organ accompaniment. I saw a handful of other films over the years there, too. When I lived in San Francisco I only managed to see one classic film at the Castro – George Stevens’s Giant. It was amazing. I did, however, see a few cult 90s films there, too. This past weekend at the TCM Classic Film Festival I saw about 11 classic films or so on the big screen within a four day period. It was mind-blowing. Seeing Citizen Kane on the big screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theater was life-changing. I fell in love with A Place In The Sun, a film I was previously eh about. I discovered the humor in Becket. I lost all ability to function while watching West Side Story. So what is it that makes seeing a film on the big screen so dynamic?
I think a big part of it is that’s how these film were meant to be seen. They were made to be projected on to a giant screen, filling a large dark room with their bright lights, images and sound. Being able to watch a film on a television or a computer is great because it makes the films more accessible – and cheaper – but the films lose their initial impact when screened like that. The scope is destroyed, often the picture and sound quality is diminished (yes, even with Blu-ray). You don’t see that “cigarette burn” when they’re changing the reels. It’s all gone.
Another thing that is so great about seeing films on the big screen is the audience. Now, sometimes seeing a film with an audience can be a bad thing. Some audiences are a pain, this is true. But some audiences are so wonderfully receptive of the film and then you join with them in this moving experience. When I saw The Shop Around The Corner the first time the audience was so into the film and it was like we were all feeling everything at the same time and it was a very powerful movie-going experience. This past weekend, watching Becket with an audience is how I discovered how funny the film was. Any of the films I saw in Grauman’s Chinese Theater were so thrilling because I was experiencing them with 1,000 other fans – and some people who’d never seen the film before. With almost every film I went to during the TCMFF, when one of the main actors appeared on screen, everyone clapped. During the screening of West Side Story, the audience clapped at the end of every musical number – like we were watching live theater.
I don’t think it’s something that can really be described, this group experience of truly enjoying the film in all its big screen glory. I recently read the Grauman’s Chinese theater is being sold and might be turned into a night club. That reminds me of when the Act 1&2 closed in Berkeley, it’s just unbelievable sad. I guess you can’t always convince the money people that these grand old theaters are worth saving. That these emotionally charged experiences are something everyone deserves in their life. This last weekend was my first time seeing a film at Grauman’s (I saw three films in it, actually), yet I feel a deep sadness and concern for it. I’ll always cherish my memories there and I hope this all turns out to be false and many more people can experience cinema as its meant to be experienced there too.