I’ve always been of the school of thought that motion pictures are meant to be a communal experience. Watch Buster Keaton’s The General at home on your computer screen, and it’s pretty funny. Watch it on a large screen surrounded by dozens of other people, and it’s absolutely hysterical, especially on a first-time viewing. As far as serious cinema is concerned, being able to laugh or cry with others is perhaps the best way for people to grow closer with a group.
The multiplex is a space governed by its own rules and unspoken declarations. Hormonal teenage couples with no intention of watching the movie should choose seats that are out of the way where their escapades can be more easily ignored. Talking in the theater is an offense punishable by condemnation to a special level of hell. Bring a laser pointer only if you wish to have it illuminating surfaces that have never seen the light of day.
For some, the multiplex is hallowed ground, where the progression of human culture is documented on celluloid and presented for all to view and judge. How philistine are they who believe that the Star Wars opening crawl is somehow equally epic on a 16-inch laptop screen as it is on a 40-inch television set or a 75-foot theater screen!
Of course, not all movies become better upon viewing in a public setting or on a larger screen in non-Grainy-Vision. I suspect that watching Ghost Rider again with a dozen of my friends as opposed to at home on television might not add to the experience as much as it subtracts from my pool of friends.
The same goes for any of a wide array of romantic comedies (like almost the entirety of Hugh Grant’s IMDB page), where expanding the image and adding surround sound would be like adding spoilers and racing stripes to a minivan. You could do it, and it would make for quite the spectacle, but you’d really only end up making it bigger rather than genuinely better. Even so, there’s something strangely appealing about the sticky floors — or, as has been the case more recently, shouting at the screen — that makes watching films alone and in private close to a non-option.
Adding to the enjoyment of communal film-watching is the shared language — film quotes. In spite of the fact that overuse can make even the pithiest film quote become trite and tiresome, used properly and in the appropriate context, their proper use allows for increasingly potent communication between those who understand them. Because each quote carries not only its superficial meaning but also an unspoken context, quotes have the potential to imply much more than they seem.
If your friend tells you more than you care to hear about their oh-so-fascinating venture into a public restroom, you could cover your ears and shout “TMI,” which could earn you a dirty look in exchange for the requested peace and quiet, or you could clench your fingers and exclaim, “Oh, GAWD!! I can’t know that!!”, and instead induce laughter. Perhaps you’re sitting in a delicatessen, and a lady at the next table are enjoying their meal a little too much or a little too loudly. When your server comes to you, you can either offer an overly-complicated order for apple pie a la mode (with liberal requests for things “on the side”), or you can simply tell him or her, “I’ll have what she’s having.” See? Easy as lyin’.
Using a quote tells the people around you something immediate and definite about something that you might have in common. And if nobody else understands it, you know something about them, and you have a new topic of conversation. Plus, using quotes doesn’t always have to be about conveying meaning - sometimes you can use one just to be funny. Just about anything can “go up to eleven,” if you really want it to.
There are few things in this ‘verse quite as special as a movie with an assemblage of strangers and friends. Maybe C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate, or the smell of napalm in the morning. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to track down some friends for my next movie night, perhaps for dinner as well. I could do with a Royale with cheese and a five dollar shake.