I can hardly imagine that there’s any argument with the notion that movies play an important part in the culture, in public attitudes, in the advancement of art, and truly in our lives. I got to thinking about that the other day, to the point where my small brain began to smoke. Bear with me for the next several posts as I describe what came to mind.
WITHIN MOST PEOPLE’S LIVES, especially here in the United States, movies are a primary cultural factor, with amazingly powerful influence. And when I say movies I include every aspect of visual communication, which would mean television, smart phones and all of the media that implement and lean on pictures of one sort or another. Where would newspapers be without photographs? Now, as always over the last century-plus, it all goes back to a fascination with pictures, notably the kind that move and simulate real life.
Growing up in a small town, the local movie house was my connection to the larger world, both in the stories I saw and the supplement of the newsreels. We were a reading family, to be sure, and constant patrons of the town’s library. There was never a time in those early days that my brothers and I did not have a book on the nightstand, and there more beside a recliner where mom spent two to three hours every day consuming books at an impressive pace. But the world of adventure really seemed to come to life in the darkness of the movie theater, with the sound of hooves, music and shouts, and it was available in those times for a quarter. And more, it was an invitation for delicious empathy: for a couple of hours you could ride along with your heroes and win the girl.
There is much that is arguable about value here; that goes without saying. And whether film truly reflects life as it happens, as it so often claims, is a matter of personal judgement. In telling the story, the movies more often augment facts, leaving reality far behind, but the drama is rarely missed, even when poorly told. Back in the day, Marshall McLuhan asserted that the medium was the message (curiously leaving out the phrase “in fact”), while Newton Minow declared that television was a vast wasteland. People smiled and agreed with the second observation, even as they turned on their television sets. But as a recurring look at who we are and what we are, “moving media” remains unsurpassed, even as the movies are modern manifestations of the stage plays of old, the key here being the availability to audiences, even in a small theater in a small town to a small boy.
For more times than I can count I was there, obediently sitting in the row next to the exit — at mom’s instructions — soaking in a world that was untold distance from the large house on Clinton Street. It was a love affair, of course, that has never vacated, and it remains one that is shared with people in the hundreds of millions. Because the experience is one that we can see, hear and feel.
So movies matter. They are a connection to romance — if only vicariously — to adventure, to history, and most importantly, to life as others live it. And they do count for aspirations and ambitions: Haven’t you at least once said to yourself, “Wow. I’d like to do that or be that,” and smiled? And this is to say nothing of sharing that experience in the company of maybe 500 or 600 other people.
And maybe that’s the whole experience at its best. For sure you can sit at home alone and watch a blockbuster in your home theater with 7.1 sound and a 40-inch flat-screen. But the shared movie house mode is best: you can cheer and laugh at the very same moment. You share life together.