Friday, September 06, 2013

The New Social Cinema

I don’t know. I’m having some sort of convergence of ideas or something. I don’t know if it’s all very profound or not. Perhaps not, but a series of coincidences seem to keep me on a particular subject matter this week—that strange urge to consume what we already know.

It’s really been a while since I watched a lot of movies with which I’m already familiar. But this past week, I’ve just flooded my head with a bunch of movies I want to see again. I started pursuing this urge last weekend when I took in two Clint Eastwood movies (and almost a third) and then I moved on to “Rocky”. I also watched a very particular genre movie this week, which is so particular each and every entry is pretty much the same. I decided not to watch a couple of other movies in that genre that I was familiar with, but I might be moving into them this weekend.

When I was younger and really just discovering my obsession with movies, I used to watch my favorites over and over, incessantly. “Star Wars” was the first that I perceived to be consuming in a new way. I remember the event it was when “Star Wars” came to HBO. That probably had a great deal to do with the paid cable provider’s big push to success. It premiered on HBO, and suddenly I was seeing once more a movie I never thought I’d see again. It never even occurred to me before that to watch movies repeatedly.

It was a while before the VHS had really taken hold, but “Star Wars” was probably the first set of movies anyone owned, instead of just rented. Of course, by then reconsumption of movies had become second nature for most of us. “Batman”, in 1989, was the first movie that I actually kept count of how many times I saw it for a while. I saw it five times in the theater during a three-month period. I bought it as soon as the home video was released the following October and proceeded to watch it another 8 times over the next 7 months. I lost track after that, but from that point on collecting movies became a hobby.

Today, none of this even enters our minds. If we want to watch something, there are so many different platforms to consider, the actual movie becomes a secondary detail. In a way, it’s kind of a mirror to the social networking we’ve become obsessed with over the past few years. Now, hundreds of “friends” from our lives have suddenly become available to connect with through Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, and we’re all jumping in that car. I just had the image of a bunch of kids piling into the trunk of somebody’s car to get into a drive-in movie theater in the 50s or 60s.

Anyway, we’re all connecting. Of course, we’re connecting with anybody we can. Who it is doesn’t necessarily matter. It could be someone who, if were we born ten or twenty year’s earlier, we never would’ve heard from or seen again in our lives after high school or college. It might even be someone we’ve never met. Really, I don’t comment on posts by close friends as much as I do people I might never go to a bar with. I don’t mean by choice, but just as a fact.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With all those movies at our disposal, you don’t have to be a movie critic to finally watch one of those classics you’d always heard about. We watch movies sometimes just to watch something, and that can lead to discoveries that we might not have ever made before.

But also, there’s the matter of the quality of that newfound social interaction. Most texts don’t have the depth that you’d get out of a conversation you have in person while sipping a couple of brews together. The same can be said for that movie consumption. We don’t think as much about what we’re watching. With a new movie every night, you never get the chance to go back and really dissect a movie. You never get to fully explore its themes and meaning. Those films that really connect with you don’t ever connect as strongly as those movies you obsessed over in childhood.

Or worse, sometimes we think in a totally different way about the films we see than we might otherwise. Much like those dreadful comments sections on every web post, where people just bash everything they read, movies are getting that reactionary treatment much more often than people actually taking the time to really consider them. This has only increased Hollywood’s flawed system of the opening weekend crash and burn. If a film doesn’t make a positive mark immediately, often it never will, whether it deserves more careful consideration or not.

To be sure, I wouldn’t trade today’s all-access cinema pass for anything we had in the past. But, just like connecting with people you never thought you’d even care about again, you need to treat this new cinematic relationship with care. You need to take the time to reconnect in a deeper way with your new friends and continue to connect with the old ones to keep this new world order a healthy one. So do like I intend to do this weekend. If you’re going to run right out and see “Riddick” on opening weekend, on your free night, revisit a movie you loved from childhood, remember why you loved it, and maybe even discover something new about it.

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