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March 17, 2006

Moviegoing Memories

I'm still working through Charles Acland's incredibly rich and deeply researched Screen Traffic: Movies, Multiplexes, and Global Culture, published originally in 2003. For my own purposes, I've found most productive Acland's discussion of the cinema as "an assemblage of practices, people, technologies, times, locations, and ideas" (43). Such an approach allows Acland to explore the specificity of film exhibition in a variety of forms. Interestingly, Acland is writing after the movie theater has lost its centrality as the primary site for encountering motion pictures, but the book itself bears traces of the moment when it was written in that most of the information tracking movie attendance was gleaned before the most recent decline in moviegoing. Still the book illustrates the degree to which screen cultures are determined by far more than the technologies by which they are distributed and more resiliant than the home theater systems that ostensibly threaten to keep everyone at home.

The book offers a number of important observations about moviegoing and the movie theater, including the reminder that movie theaters are not only places of leisure but they are also workplaces and the reminder that no two screenings are absolutely identical (a point that is implicit in much of what follows).

But what has surprised me about the book has been the degree to which it has sparked me to think about my own moviegoing experiences and my participation in a certain kind of screen culture both online and beyond. In particular, his discussion of the relationship between time and moviegoing reminds of my own aversion to matinees and my strong preference for late night films, a predilection that sometimes conflicts with the subway schedule. Acland also offers useful data on frequency of moviegoing, and I think it's no surprise that I qualify as a frequent moviegoer (the US average frequency is five movies per year) or that movie attendance is significantly higher in urban areas, which is probably true for me (it's certainly the case that I see different kinds of movies when living in cities).

This discussion of Acland is perhaps an excuse to point to someone else's cinematic narrative. As I was doing my evening blog surfing, I came across Flickhead's compelling narrative about a triple feature he watched back in 1974 at the Uniondale Mini Cinema. Flickhead's description of walking out into a cold windter's night after watching a midnight screening of Magical Mystery Tour under the influence evokes layers of nostalgia for a form of moviegoing that is all but lost.

I'm still working through many of Acland's arguments and had planned to write a much different blog entry, one focusing on some of my own screen experiences, but a long day of reading and writing is catching up with me.

Posted by chuck at March 17, 2006 12:03 AM

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Interesting analysis ... Can't say much myself yet, as I'm only about 25 pages into the book .. great blog ... feel free to check out mine if you're interested in the musings of a wannabe film critic

Posted by: Keith Demko at March 19, 2006 3:41 PM

I'm close to finishing the book now (I wrote that entry relatively early), and it's quite good as a recent history of distribution and exhibition, especially in its analysis of the oversaturation of megaplexes, which is probably one of the major problems the industry is facing, IMHO.

Enjoyed your review of "V for Vendtta," which I haven't yet seen.

Posted by: Chuck at March 19, 2006 4:45 PM

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