The Theater-Going Experience

Can you believe, this is my 5th year attending film festivals? My first was in 2014 attending TCMFF in Hollywood. Having just returned from Noir City Seattle and getting ready to head out again for TCMFF 2019, it feels like a good time to reflect on why I enjoy spending weeks of my life in movie theaters.

The Visual

When you watch a film (any film) on the big screen, it is a fully immersive experience. Your phone is off and forgotten and for 90 or so minutes, it’s just you and the film. Having the excuse to shut off the outside world and focus on just one experience makes that experience all the more potent and meaningful. Plus, the size of the screen allows you to notice details you would otherwise miss had you watched the film on your TV.

The Audience

Nothing better than a packed house. (Noir City Seattle, 2019)

Don’t get me wrong, I thrill at the thought of a theatre all to myself for a matinee showing. That said, nothing can compare to the exhilaration of being surrounded by appreciative like-minds during a screening. That moment when the whole audience collectively gasps when the leading lady is slapped in the face builds on your emotions and forces you to feel them on a deeper level. Festivals give us a chance to relive a few hours with these films as they were meant to be seen – with others who love them as much as we do.

The History

A major part of festivals is providing funds to support film preservation. In the Hollywood Studio Era, films were looked upon as disposable and once shown in theaters for the first run, there was no plan to rerelease or preserve them. Theater owners ended up with libraries full of film cans as the studios sent a new print to each small town theater upon a film’s opening. This is a god-send to film preservationists today because in forgotten corners of the world, prints of now-rare films still exist in private collections.

The Czar of Noir (and epic hugs)

Nearest and dearest to my heart is the Film Noir Foundation, which fights the battles of film preservation day in and day out. Founded by Eddie Muller in 2005 as a work-around to gain access to rare titles in studio film vaults, the FNF has now chalked up an impressive list of “saved” films. Too Late for Tears, Cry Danger, The Prowler and High Tide have all been restored thanks to FNF (and that’s just the tip of a pinkie finger compared to the full success list). Without these tireless film preservation warriors, our film history would fade away without a whisper, leaving us unaware of the beauty we had missed.

The Technical

Film cans from the Noir City 2018 lineup in Seattle

Each time a 35mm print is shown, that screening must be presided over by a skilled projectionist. They are few in number and getting fewer each year. While we sit in our comfy seats stuffing our faces with popcorn, these unsung heroes are bathing brittle, aged prints in vinegar to make them pliable enough to run through the projector. Or changing reels seamlessly so we don’t notice a hiccup in the run time of the film.

If the picture is slightly out of focus, that’s the film warping with age and not feeding through the projector smoothly. If the sound is off, it’s the projectionist’s job to put it back on track with the visuals. If you see no picture, but hear sound, the film has to be manually rethreaded in the projector. Each screening is a gamble, just for the unpredictability of the film stock itself and that’s part of the fun for me. It adds to the communal experience. We aren’t just watching a film played by a computer (as you are in modern theaters…). A real person is pouring their heart and soul into the screening of this film. It’s a performance – and no two are the same.

Because I understand how much can go wrong in the booth, I have zero tolerance for audience members who get loud when things do go awry on a film-projected screening. Please cut the projectionist some slack if you happen to attend a screening with a hiccup. Or get ready to field a death glare from me when you start whistling!

The Buildings

Film projection equipment isn’t installed in theaters anymore, so to see a screening on film, your options are limited. But those options are so glamorous! Seattle’s Egyptian theater where Noir City is held used to be a Masonic Lodge and retains the solid oak doors with custom door knobs. Hollywood’s Egyptian theater is larger and grander with a spacious forecourt and Egyptian themed murals sprinkled around the walls. Inside, both are decked out with carefully painted moldings on the walls and ceiling. These theaters maintain the charm of the eras in which they were built and add another layer to the experience of transporting the movie-goers into the past.

*All photos in this post are mine. Please do not repost them without my permission.*

Chime in with your favorite reasons for viewing films in theaters below!

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Filed under Classic Movies, Noir

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