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If the industry wonders why going to movies no longer seems to be very important to people, that would be because movies have become completely disposable. There was a time when movies held a status similar to the theater. The more quickly they raced to the bottom, the less reason audiences had to hold them in esteem.
There are no movies being made that you would dress up for. The very idea is ridiculous. Nor is the theater designed to be anything other than a place to be bombarded by massive amounts of sound and light. It’s an experience in the same way that riding a roller coaster is an experience. It just isn’t one that stays with you any longer than it takes for the coaster to stop.
The industry treats Americans like foreigners, shoveling out massive 300 million dollar spectacles while reserving its lower budgeted serious films for the subjects dearer to its heart. The spectacles help cover the cost of the smaller films and maintain a moviegoing culture, which mostly consists of a small crowd that shares the lifestyles and politics of the filmmakers.
This version of high and low culture speaks to the ghettoization of the industry, which, sighing deeply, shovels out 88 minutes of explosions for the peasantry, while speaking earnestly to the people who share its values. The Oscars are a time to reward the latter, which is why directors and producers of popular movies generally need not apply. This is a time for elites to pat each other on the back for being artistic, and yet this artistry is equally forgettable.
Few people can name the best picture winners from more than a year or two ago. And that even includes people in the industry. Naming the nominees is a laborious task. Watching them a year or two later is rarely done, because for all their “merit,” they are not very good movies. Having seen them once, there is no real reason to watch them again.
Twenty years from now, how many people will be watching Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? For that matter, how many people would watch them now? If you are wondering what that list is, it’s the Best Picture nominees from 2008. The nominees from this year will be equally obscure a few years from now.
The cultural division has devalued both high-brow and low-brow offerings, removing their substance and worth, and turning out a sub-par product that does not connect to audiences at either end.
The Oscars are another reminder that we don’t live the same way. Nor are we expected to. In a process that began early on and is quickly approaching its apex, the industry itself has become a free source of entertainment. Readers and viewers consume material about Jennifer Aniston, they just don’t spend the money to see her movie. The movie industry is just a subset of popular culture, which is about personalities, where ordinary people and stars both play their roles in an unreal reality.
Hollywood mass produced theatrical entertainment, using technology to distribute prints of the same edited together performance in theaters across the country. But the videotape made it possible to distribute copies of that same performance in the home. Now even a physical medium isn’t needed when a movie can be streamed directly to the viewer on a computer or a tablet.
All that’s missing is the theatrical experience and so theater owners have spent a fortune on everything from menu options to digital picture, audio and various forms of 3D. But the theatrical venue was an outgrowth of family entertainment. The decline of the family and of leisure time has meant a decline in a form of entertainment that has at any rate become disposable.
Families still go to the movies, and without them, the industry would be in far worse shape, but the meaning of the theatrical experience has fragmented on both ends of the culture. A changing nation that no longer lives the same way has less room in their schedules and wallets for the movie theater. The moviegoing experience once meant something; now it means nothing, and it is too late to even begin to reclaim that experience for a generation for whom the only appeal of the movie theater is its scale.
The movie theater isn’t dead, but it is increasingly irrelevant as a storytelling medium. After generations of chasing trends, the industry has been permanently left behind.
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