While most people are staying away during the pandemic, movie theaters are still important and people will return once vaccinated.
One of the things I keep going back this early in the year is The Big Picture by Ben Fritz. It’s been a few years since the book was published but what Fritz has to say is still relevant. Do not be surprised if you see me come back to this book throughout the year for the inspiration.
The streaming services are changing how we watch movies. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, whatever the ViacomCBS service is called on a given day (Paramount+). Consumers have so much content at the palm of their hands. No, really. Much to filmmakers’ dismay, people are watching big screen films on their phones. I can’t see myself doing that but you do you. Well, except for the two flights to LA in 2019 where the guy to my left was watching Avengers: Endgame. I just wanted to see Captain America pick up Thor’s Hammer. Who wouldn’t? It’s an iconic scene! As the way we get our content changes, people are more likely to stay at home rather than go out. But in spite of this, movie theaters are still important.
My own viewing habits have changed over the past year. What I want to watch at home might not be the same as what I want to see on the big screen. Another thing I’ve learned is that the smaller indies do not play so well at home than watching on the big screen. If I’m not watching a film for review, I gravitate more towards comedies, Marvel, Star Wars, and Steven Spielberg films. I’ve also used the pandemic to catch up on series that I couldn’t keep up with over the years. It’s so refreshing to finally be able to finish many series that I couldn’t keep up with because of foolishly moving without a DVR. But I’m getting off-track.
But even when one is a film critic, we still have to make choices in what we decide to watch and cover. Studio films and the big streaming releases will always get priority because that is what brings in the traffic. But when it comes to the low-budget and micro-budget indies, it means making a choice. Which film will be entertaining enough to watch at home? Will the film keep me awake or put me to sleep? If I opt against writing a review because I simply don’t know what to write but would like to help promote the film, will interview opportunities available? In all honestly, not knowing what to write is not because I don’t like a film but because my focus is terrible during the pandemic.
There is a lot to think about. Many of us made a pivot this year in coverage. The pandemic really left us no choice. With studios delaying their films, it meant turning to classics or physical media. Or maybe there is a film streaming that went under the radar. This is where I say thank G-d for the likes of TCM, Warner Archive, and Kino Lorber Studio Classics to name a few. After reading The Brothers Warner earlier this year, I devoted an entire week to celebrating the founding of Warner Brothers Pictures in 1923. Even while watching these films, I wonder what it would be like to see them on the big screen. While Fathom Events makes it possible to watch classics on the big screen, I’m not going back to theaters just yet.
One thing I miss about going to the movie theaters is the mid-budget drama. More often than not, it seems like films go to a streaming service rather than big screen. This is one thing I love about Netflix, Amazon Prime, and others. The streamers are willing to take a chance! Netflix is releasing The Dig in late January. The film stars Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, and Lily James. In any other year, it would be up for so many Oscar nominations. But not this year. Former Disney CEO Bob Iger loves the “adult dramas” but Touchstone and Miramax “returned the lowest profits, with average margins in the low single digits.” Will Disney make risks in the future by releasing a film along the lines of Tomorrowland? Or will the studio stick to what works with Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm?
I miss going to AMC. I miss going to the Music Box Theatre and the Gene Siskel Film Center. The Lake Street Screening Room ought to be recognized as Chicago landmark. With so many screenings now at AMC, I don’t know what it’s going to mean after things get back to whatever the new normal is. Hell, I even miss going to Showcase ICON despite the fact that the bathrooms are so far away from press screenings. There’s nothing like the taste and smell of warm popcorn while you’re waiting for the film to begin.
All this is to say that I love going to the movies and will be more than happy to return as soon as I’m vaccinated and it’s safe to do so. But for now, I’m listening to medical experts and staying home. I miss being a traveling film critic. There’s no fun in being a stay-at-home-all-the-damn-time film critic. I miss the conversations that come while waiting for a film to start. Or the conversations during a film festival when you’re waiting in line. I’m happy that virtual film festivals are allowing us to take part in the festival but it isn’t the same. Sundance won’t be the same–that’s for damn sure.