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Culture Club: Movies Aren’t Yours to Own
  • August 06, 2013 : 07:08
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I’m certainly in the minority. I know friends who will watch a film two or three times in one weekend; others feel they haven’t watched a certain title in a while–say, three months–and decide it’s time to pop it in again. The logic is understandable: You love the movie, so why wouldn’t you want to watch it again and again? I feel the opposite way. The movies I consider the greatest–2001, Manhattan, Jeanne Dielman–are also incredibly emotional experiences. They’re rich feasts I don’t want to devour on a regular basis because I want them to be special each and every time.

Simply put, movies aren’t albums–of which I own thousands. A CD is something you need to live with–at home, in the car, on the subway–for days, weeks and months, their full scope becoming clear through repeat plays. Sometimes a movie’s greatness isn’t obvious on a first viewing (e.g., Mulholland Dr. or Out of Sight) but very, very few albums’ value can be gleaned from one spin–you need to let it seep into your system over time. Movies have to do their job in one sitting, whereas an album can be broken up into pieces (songs) that can be shuffled and even remixed. A movie is a much more permanent, imposing and monolithic thing. Consequently, movies aren’t something I want to revisit over and over again. Part of their power is forgetting what happens in them so that you can be surprised anew when you finally decide to revisit them.

And when I do revisit them, I prefer it to be in a theater. Friends have huge home entertainment systems with gigantic screens, and they can be a hell of an experience. But it’s not a theater. A movie theater has all these strangers–yes, some might be incredibly annoying–who are all sharing the same moment with a film. Beyond that, though, I love the idea of going to a movie, as opposed to having that movie sitting there on the shelf, readily available for a spin in the DVD player. That’s too easy. If Radiohead came to your house to perform, it would be amazing–but if you knew that they could stop by and play any time you wanted, how quickly would it become less special?

That said, I don’t want to kid myself: I know that I’m swimming against a tide that continually grows stronger. With the prevalence of on-demand services and high-def televisions, the theatrical experience is losing its primacy. (Adding to that is TV drama’s renaissance on cable, creating even more reasons to stay home for your entertainment.) In my formative years, I had to seek out movies on TV, but eventually I turned to the big screen for a more immersive experience; for young people starting out now, that might not be their path. On one hand, they’ll have better access to different films, but on the other, they’ll be growing up in a culture in which the theater isn’t necessarily looked at as a crucial moviegoing element. (And they may not even watch movies on a TV; perhaps they’ll use an iPad or Kindle.)

This realization ought to make me depressed as I reminisce about the way things used to be. But that would be a mistake. I don’t expect anyone to follow my example, and I certainly don’t judge others who amass a spectacular collection of great films at home. My favorite movies are so intense, they’re almost too much to withstand–having them around the house, just sitting there, seems weird. But if I feel defensive about this notion of owning a movie, it’s also ridiculous to think any of us “own” the future of moviegoing. Films are too big for any one of us to contain. And they’re also too enduring not to be open to the idea that they’ll continue to evolve, no matter how we watch them.

Tim Grierson is Playboy for iPhone’s critic-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter.

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