My friends find it ironic that, as someone who makes my living writing about movies, I actually go to very few theaters to see new releases. Unless a film motivates me enough to attend an advance screening, most of my movie-going experience is relegated to attending screenings of classic movies in art house venues where they are shown with proper reverence by a management that reveres the films. Why don't I enjoy seeing movies at my local neighborhood theater? For starters, while movie theaters have certainly become more grandiose and exotic, there has not necessarily been a corresponding respect for how movies themselves are shown. I've been to so many movies where films are shown out of focus or with the sound too low or too high, that it virtually guarantees I have to speak to management about making a correction. There's also an unwillingness to do something about audience members who blithely ignore those pre-screening ads begging them to turn off their cell phones and not talk during the showing. However, the main problem is inept presentation of the films themselves. Some years ago when the much-vaunted restoration of Gone With the Wind came to a state-of-the-art local theater in New Jersey, I brought my young daughter to see it for the first time. As the audience entered, the film was already playing because someone had started it at the wrong time. Despite complaints, management wouldn't start it again from the beginning. Thus, we were already into life at Tara before everyone had taken their seat. The film was murky and disappointing, and that probably wasn't the fault of the theater. However, the strand of hair that permeated every sequence of the movie certainly was. I went to management to complain and was told to see the "projectionist", who turned out to be a pimple-faced teenager who had to simultaneously run the popcorn stand. When I told him that there was a hair on the lens, he said that was the way the film was supposed to look because he had been told this was a very old movie. Ultimately, a small crowd of similarly disgusted audience members joined me and we convinced him to remove the hair from the lens, but in doing so, the film went out of focus and he wasn't quite sure how to fix it. At no time during this process, was the film actually stopped so God only knows how this looked from the standpoint of people who were still watching in the audience. After the problem was "fixed", the sound later fluctuated to the point you couldn't hear the dialogue well, which required another trip to the popcorn stand by angry movie fans who were now resembling the villagers who stormed Dr. Frankenstein's castle. Ultimately, everyone who complained received a complimentary pass to the theater, which was deemed the ultimate in wasted compensation. It's like complaining to the management of a restaurant that every menu item you tried was terrible and then getting a certificate for a free meal as compensation.
You might think that the digital age of film might alleviate such incidents. After all, digital projection guarantees a crisp, clear picture. However, as writer Will McKinley of the CineMentals web blog relates, a badly-run theater can still ruin the experience, as evidenced by his attending the recent TCM-sponsored digital restoration of Casablanca, coincidentally also shown in a New Jersey theater. (Hey, maybe it's just us residents of the Garden State who seem to be destined to suffer these fates.) Click here to read it and weep.