Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why Do People Go to the Cinema?

Earlier in the semester we discussed Tarkovsky’s writings on the cinema in a chapter from his book, Sculpting in Time. The chapter "Imprinted Time" contained a myriad of intriguing concepts regarding the cinema in general. It was his discussion of the cinema experience that I found to be most interesting. Tarkovsky boldly asks, “Why do people go to the cinema?” He briefly examines the way in which, despite the commercialism and entertainment aspects of cinema, a person goes to the cinema to experience time:
He goes there for living experience; for cinema, like no other art, widens, enhances and concentrates a person’s experience – and not only enhances it but makes it longer, which have to do with the human need to master and know the world. I think that what a significantly longer. That is the power of the cinema: ‘stars,’ story-lines, and entertainment have nothing to do with it [i]
Tarkovsky successfully outlines the reasons why a person looks toward the cinema to experience life. Of course, there are people that depend on the cinema for entertainment too, but there are many more that go to the cinema to learn about life and learn about themselves in the process. I’ve always looked to the cinema as a therapeutic place, an educational place, and sometimes a place to be disturbed or shocked. It is a place to go and figure out yourself a little more through the images presented to you. I feel as though Tarkovsky’s description perfectly explains some of the reasons why I find the cinema to be amazing, interesting, and undoubtedly important to the art world.

However, is this experience negatively effected when the movie theater is taken out of the equation? Although Tarkovsky obviously wrote about cinema before the advent of certain new media and technology, which brought new formats to the film viewing experience, it is relevant to cinema today. Going to an actual movie theater is no longer necessary to view a film. It begs the question, are we losing an important aspect of the cinema by losing the movie theater experience? Personally, a movie theater will always be the optimum choice for viewing a movie. The theater separates the audience from outside distractions, thus allowing for a complete encounter with the piece. At home, the viewing experience is riddled with distractions and interruptions. A viewer can stop and start the movie at any point, work on other things while watching, or even skip through parts completely. Seeing a film in a theater creates a vastly different experience for the viewers than when it is seen in the privacy of their own homes.

Hollywood and capitalism have always been linked to one another. It is difficult not to look at that decline of the movie theater experience as a result of capitalistic ventures. However, one also must not completely put blame on capitalism for these issues. A movie ticket generally costs around $12.50 today. As much as I would always prefer to go to a theater, it isn’t always the most financially sound decision to makes. I can rent movies On-Demand for 24 or 48 hours for $4.99 or less. I can see more movies for the price I would be paying to go to a theater. Also, there are the online renting options, such as Netflix, which allow us to pay a monthly fee that is often times cheaper than one single movie ticket. Overall, the theaters aren’t giving the casual viewer much motivation to go to their venues.

It will be interesting to see how the new media outlets influence the production of film overall. Amateur filmmakers can easily have their work seen thanks to digital technology, which is certainly a positive aspect of the expansion of the cinema. However, many major filmmakers now must take into consideration how their film will be perceived on smaller formats (computers, home television screens, I-pods, etc.). A movie no longer must be viewed on a projected screen, thus possibly changing many of the aesthetic elements of the work.

Overall, the content remains the same no matter where a film is viewed. It is the audience’s response that can be influenced according to venue. The theater allows us to be completely immersed in the images and stories being projected for us. At home, we can allow our own lives to take precedence over the viewing experience. The actual film has not change, but our reading of it has altered according to the attention we give to it.

- Stephanie Class

[i] Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time. (Austin: University of Texas Press. 1989), 63.

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