Saturday, November 29, 2014

What do movies have to offer these days that TV doesn't already have?

What exactly do the movies have to offer these days that TV doesn't already have? This isn't a grandiose introduction to an essay but rather a public exercise in self-reflection as I struggle with this.
I have a great amount of appreciation for the democratic nature of movies and how the medium allows supporters to directly fund the movies they like through ticket sales. The good news is that movies seem to be doing fine without me. The question is what do movies have with me.

I didn’t always have a love affair with the movies. I grew up in a household with a slightly restrictive set of rules on TV. Up until I was about 16, TV or film wasn't one of my main intellectual interests or hobbies: It was just my favorite activity in the world. Nothing gave me greater joy in my youth than finding a way to sneak in more TV than whatever loose quota my parents set for me (usually an hour or a half-hour). 

My parents usually only used TV to watch news and believed too much TV would "rot your brain" unless you were watching educational television which was erroneously defined as Channel 26 or PBS. Of course this isn't true: Breaking Bad is a master's course in chemistry, CSI teaches you about DNA, the Americans teaches you about Cold War History, and Turn is a great way to get acquainted with the Revolutionary War. Deciding to use part of my parent-funded-college education on a film studies minor was, in fact, a form of rebellion. Before that I would often spend my time arguing with them about whether TV was a brain rotter. 

My family and I went to the movies in what I imagine was a regular capacity and I often would argue, "Hey. You watch a two-hour movie, what's the difference?" My dad would argue that a movie is different. [Editorial note: Not sure whether to pull this down two sections] More on that later.

At some point, movies became a hobby. The summer I turned 16, I came across a list by the American Film Institute of the 100 greatest movies ever and was fascinated by the fact that I had seen so few of those movies. I went to the library and spent that summer checking out films like "The African Queen," "Roman Holiday," "Palm Beach Story," "Bridge on the River Kwai," "All About Eve," "Network" and many more. A few summers later, I was out of school for a semester and kept myself busy writing user reviews on IMDB which prompted eventually morphed into a great determination to write better reviews (declaring a film studies minor when I returned to college) and watch more movies. I excitedly went to the movie theater all the time, even by myself (which for some reason was and is a taboo), and would soak up bad and good movies alike. The bad ones were great because as any film critic can tell you, there are few things more cathartic to do with the written word than rip on a bad movie.

I kept track of how many films I watched and rated them all on a four-star scale like Roger Ebert did. I usually watched about 30 films in a calendar year by the time December (or maybe January/February) rolled around. 

These days that number is significantly less. I've only watched seven films in a movie theater this calendar year (Lucy, Begin Again, X-Men Days of Future Past, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Grand Budapest Hotel, Interstellar, Gone Girl) so far this year at a theater and haven't found anything on my last stop at the Redbox to pique my interest. Granted, a lot of films from one year I catch in the following calendar year. In 2014, for example, I've watched the following 2013 films: "12 Years a Slave" I watched on the morning of the Oscars, "Nebraska" I watched in early January, "Philomena" I caught on Redbox, "Man of Steel" I saw on pay cable, "White House Down" I saw on Redbox, "Frozen" I saw on Itunes.

What's taken the place of movies these days for me is TV. Serialized dramas, the occasional escapist procedural and multi-layered comedies have so much to offer these days. I often say this is the Golden Age of TV and Oscar-winners like Halle Berry (Extant), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Dustin Hoffman (Luck), John Voight (Ray Donovan) Octavia Spencer (Red Band Society), and Jane Fonda (Netflix's upcoming series) are flocking to the small screen in droves. I love the idea of leaving my home to support and experience the arts (I would be a proponent of viewing parties although I've never facilitated one and have very very rarely been invited to such a thing. On another note, please invite me to more viewing parties), but these days, I'm going the path of Berry, Spacey and Voight and finding more richness in TV.

Back in the days when I would have a running argument with my dad over why movies were considered a more acceptable activity, he would argue that movies are different than TV because they are a communal activity.

Personally, I long ago decided that movies don’t function as a social activity considering talking during the movie can now get you kicked out of theaters. Of course, most of the talking and conversation happens after the film.

Now imagine if you could constantly talk during the movie as the storyline plays out without disturbing the people in the theater. That’s essentially what TV has become nowadays. As serialized dramas unfold and as procedurals and comedies tweak their formats on a week-to-week basis, people have rich and detailed conversations through twitter, on message boards, and through professionally written week-to-week reviews. The progress of ongoing TV shows is also a great social conversation topic and it’s far more engaging of a process to talk about a story as it’s unfolding. 

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