The last time my husband and I bought a new TV was 1995. Thirty-six-inch Sony, pre- flat-screen/high-definition days. We had just moved into a new house and the size was predicated on the room, coupled with the design aesthetic of my husband (a designer by trade). I have a very strong memory of the salesman trying to sell us on an even larger TV with this pitch: you never have to leave home.
Little did he know he had the wrong customer.
I love going to the movies – the smell of popcorn the minute you walk into the theatre, the scramble for the perfect seats (or whatever is available), the settling in once the lights start to dim, the enveloping darkness, the shared escape from the world as it exists to the one that lures us with technological wizardry, three dimensions (even more these days) captured on a very large flat screen, a blurring of lines between observer and participant. I can still remember the sense of awe that carried me through The Ten Commandments, the mesmerizing hold of Lawrence of Arabia, the tension that gripped my body the first time I saw Jaws. Used to be a more majestic experience, I admit. Double features. Glorious movie theatres (the Loews the king of them all) with bathrooms the size of NYC apartments. Not so much anymore.
And yet, even with state-of-the-art home entertainment systems and DVDs and the immediate gratification of streaming a film, up close and personal on your laptop the minute it’s available, very little beats the cool relief of a movie theatre on a sweltering summer day or the inviting warmth on a frigid winter night. Doesn’t take a Don Draper to tell you why Hollywood makes most of its money on summer blockbusters and winter holiday fare.
Say what you will, Mr. Salesman trying to sell me on private screenings in the comfort of my home, some movies demand being seeing on a very big screen. And I’m not just talking about the stupendous 3-D experience of Avatar, which may have raised the bar in movie making but was proof positive – based on the mediocre copycat follow-ups – that it takes a certain vision and art to know when that extra dimension is best left out of the cinematic experience and when it is oh-so-wizardly employed, as in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.” Just the word – CinemaScope – suggests something a little larger than life. Give me My Man Godfrey or Casablanca or Strangers on the Train on the telly anytime. E.T.? I’ll take it (especially once the boxy outdated Sony is replaced by the affordable flat-screen LED we’re holding out for) but nothing will ever beat the experience of watching it at an outdoor screening on a summer night. And it wasn’t just the ‘bigness’ of the screen. It’s the shared experience of it all, the reminder of the time when we didn’t have everything at our beck and call.
I’d be the last person in the world to romanticize the waiting in line, the overpriced candy, the scramble for seats, the smirk you can’t resist when the seat you got – dead center, unobstructed view – becomes less than ideal once the six foot man sits squarely in front of you. And I’ll be the first to applaud that sensation, unabated joy, of sitting in a packed movie house, everyone simultaneously laughing out loud.