The End of an Error: Movie Palaces Are Going Under

The movie industry isn’t in trouble…yet…but the motion picture exhibition business, and the distribution system, are in deep, deep trouble. Once upon a time, motion pictures were a novel innovation. Today, not so much.

Just as orchestral music developed from chamber music to take advantage of the burgeoning middle classes desires to enjoy the music that was previously restricted to the ears of the aristocracy, motions picture brought theater to the masses who might only have seen one or two plays in their whole lifetimes if they happened to live in a small town far from the big city.

When the first black and white televisions hit the market, there was a dip in movie house revenues.

They countered with larger screens, Cinemascope, and Technicolor….and audiences streamed back to the theaters to catch the blockbusters of the fifties and sixties in living color.

Then color television sets started to encroach on the theater market. The motion picture exhibitors countered with their movie palaces, ten screens, then twenty screens, gourmet foods, liquor, arcades, restaurants and bowling alleys. (No, seriously, bowling alleys.)

The electronics makers replied with bigger and wider screens, using projection systems, LED screens, OLED screens (whatever they are) and an increasingly confusing plethora of add-devices to “enhance” the experience.

The exhibitors put their movie palaces into mega-malls, banking on the attraction of the malls to bring audiences to their turnstiles.

Tastes changed. Mega-malls began falling upon hard times. The anchor stores around which the mega-malls were built started to fall ill themselves, victims of the exploding internet shopping craze, the Amazon experience.

Sears sank from view. Neiman Marcus hit the skids. JCPenny has been reduced to penury, Lord and Taylor pulled the pin.

The list goes on and on…but the smart money is already betting that the malls of America (but not necessarily The Mall of America itself) are in a death spiral, with the pandemic being the last straw.

Now, with the pandemic strangling the American economy like a python around a pig, America’s movie palaces find themself trapped in failing malls surrounded by going out of business signs,

Malls just aren’t that much fun anymore….and neither are movie theaters.

With the way that prices are falling, just about everyone can afford at least an entry-level flat screen that will give them a reasonable facsimile of the movie theater experience at home where you can watch the latest releases from the comfort of your own living room (assuming that your living room  was comfortable in the first place.)

You don’t have to buy tickets or wait in lines because there is no waiting online, You don’t have to risk sticky floors or sticky seats (unless you have fallen behind on your housekeeping), noisy neighbors, or unruly children who shouldn’t be at an R rated film in the first place (unless, of course, you have unruly children of your own, in which case good on you for not inflicting them on a defenseless  world.)

You won’t have to put up with overpriced and substandard food and drink (unless you insist upon stocking your kitchen with overpriced and substandard consumables.)

But, best of all, if you feel like talking about a film, you can and, if you need to take a bathroom break, you can do that too without missing a second of the film you are watching.

Sooner or later, the pandemic will run its course. The econ0my will recover. People will start going out to restaurants again and SITTING DOWN TO EAT  The past is prologue.

We won’t be going back to those old movie palaces any more than we will be lining up at the cash registered of overpriced chain stores selling the same goods at higher prices and without the free delivery.

For me, personally, it’s all about popcorn.

I hate popcorn. I have always hated popcorn ever since my cousin poured a whole gallon of popcorn over my head when I was eight years old.

Aside from that trauma, I absolutely hate the sound of people crackling their popcorn bags while that nauseous popcorn smell wafts over me from their nearby seats.

So, no, I am not going back to those movie palaces to run the risk of getting into a fistfight with a rude neighbor in an adjoining seat. (I’ve had two. Won both.)  I am not going to sit next to a  couple of muscle-bound bouncer boys speaking Russian to each other, nor am I going to be afflicted by someone who poured cologne all over him or her self (I couldn’t tell which it was from the scent alone) before coming to the show.

Thank you but I think I will stay home. Live music, yes. Live theater, yes, but nothing written in this century, please.  Live comedy, yes.

Going to the movies? That’s so twentieth century. It’s never coming back.

(PS.  Just for the record, and full disclosures, I almost grew up in the movie theater business. One of my first jobs after college was as a theater checker. I used to get paid to stand in the lobby of a movie theater and count the number of incoming patrons for each film, using a little handheld clicker to count the paying customers as they went by. I would then compare my totals to the numbers from the box office and send off a daily report to an address in Hollywood.  I was the distributor’s eyes and ears on the ground. The theater owners referred to me as “The Fink.” I got paid and I got to see every movie in circulation free of charge, but that was back when the admission fee was around four bucks, back when a dollar was worth something.)