WHEN MOVIES BECAME VIDEO PROGRAMS

For those that are regular readers of this news service, this writer tends to write about feature films, both the current crop as well as an occasional vintage title. However, the previous year didn’t give me much of an opportunity to write about new movies for the reason that most movies released in the 2020 calendar year never arrived in a theater. It was pretty much an all online affair where one would watch the movie on a video device, be it a TV set, a cell phone, an electronic pad, or wherever video content can be obtained.

There’s been a load of talk within the industry lately that traditional movies theater may be on the chopping block, if not presumed as “dead”. Yes, a lot of feature titles that were scheduled to play in a movie house had been moved through video streaming means. In other words, these theatrical movies turned into movies first seen on television and its related applications.

Yes, movies and television were for a long time, separate elements. A theatrical movie has a different feel and vibe, from its overall look to the way the story was told. If featured performers that were “bigger than life” (i.e. “movie stars”) that were only limited to appear in said movies. Television, on the other hand, were made for smaller (and less expensive) means. Sets and scenes were not as lavish, the actors appearing may not be as well known, the music score was somewhat limited, (many times, using “stock” music cures between scenes), and of course, were closely catered to more of a general audience. While movies, especially of titles created and released from the latter part of the 1960’s and onward, could be a bit graphic, TV shows, especially the TV movie a.k.a. a “movie of the week” a.k.a. a “MOW” also showed its differences. There was no cussing heard or spoken, no nudity seen, no graphic violence depicted, and no outrageous behavior portrayed. If somebody in an MOW was taking drugs, those uses either had wind up in changing their ways, or to suffer some form of demise from their excessive usage.

Theatrical movies on the other hand, didn’t have to apply to those rules. However, those same movies did have to warn those of what they may experience in the movie through the Motional Picture Association of America’s movie rating code using the letters “G”, “M” (later “GP” changed to “PG”), “PG-13”, “R”, and “NC-17”. (The term “X” was later abandon by the MPAA, and is now associated with porn titles–a genre in its own right!)

On December 21st of ’20, an article was written by Robyn Bahr of The Hollywood Reporter that spoke about the mash-up of theatrical movies seen in a theater and movies experienced or television entitled Movies Have Always Had Their Place on the Small Screen. She noted, among other elements, that many movies were first seen by many on television, both the new titles as well as the classic collections.

Although I rarely write such “letters to the editors” letters, I did take part in placing my two cents over the notion of how movies are experienced.

I have taken the liberty to reprint my commentary to the writer. I can’t state if THR ever reprinted by commentary online or otherwise, so I’ll let you readers out there take a gander to what I wrote.

Of course, these are my own opinions, so take them for what they’re worth…!

Robyn Bahr
The Hollywood Reporter

I was rather amused with the commentary you wrote about on discovering movies that aired on television rather that first seeing them in a movie theater. I myself, was also the one that got weened on old movies thanks to television. Although I have attended movies seen in a theater since the 1960’s (my first theatrical film was Disney’s The Incredible Journey–the original 1963 release), I started to get hip to older and more eclectic movie titles in the 1970’s. My local TV station, WGN Chicago, would at one time air a minimum of four movies a day! On weekends, they would air as many of six movies, unless a Cub game would air in the movie’s TV place during the Spring and Summer months! Their timeline ranged from the sound movies of the 1920’s through the 1960’s. From all of these movies I’ve seen, I developed followings of old stars from the golden years. I even had a crush on actress Joan Leslie at age 14! (Some of my elders thought this was cute, while a few thought I was nuts!)

I also embraced home video when I bought my first VCR in 1980. After paying $950.00 for the device, I started to record old movies on TV to watch them when it was a better time for me to look at them. Later in the decade, cable TV came to town, and so did the pay channels (HBO, Showtime, The Movie Channel, etc.) running “newer” titles released from the previous year. The same went for movies on videotape where I would head on over to my local tape rental house–an independent place at first, later moving to a franchised joint, to view titles I’ve seen before, as well as watching movies recommended to me by other people. I was still attending movies in a theater, and started to attend advance screenings of movies to write film reviews. I really did enjoy seeing a movie in a theater thanks to the emotional appeal that went with seeing movies in a darken room full of strangers that laugh, cry, yell, and applaud with the action that’s taking place on the screen. However, Television bought movies to me that I would never see on the big screen again, unless I attended some special screening of an older title somewhere.

For the next twenty or so years, this method of movies in a theater vs. TV remained stable. This form of viewing really started to change in the 2010’s. In this decade, people started to play with their phones as the movie was running! Many people also talked to one another during the film where I can hear them when I didn’t want to. And to make things worse, when I would attend screenings of movies released from October through December, there were a lot of titles I used to call “Gimmie an Oscar” movies since they were loaded with heavy drama (sometimes too much drama for me to take), complex characters, and other factors that perhaps made this movie as a “good” movie that would only appeal to voting members to the Motion Picture Academy or any other movie voting peer group! (Disclaimer: I am a member of what used to be called the Broadcast Film Critics Association, so I fall into those voting members.)

From these movies, some of them are so boring and dull for what they are, I am at times tempted to walk out of them. Not because they are “bad” or painful to watch, but they would just made me lose my interest. It even seems that these kind of titles were meant to be viewed on a smaller (video) screen rather than a big movie theater sized screen. Some of these movies move in a slower pace in the way a TV drama would, and there are a lot of close-ups. A close-up works well seen on a 52” and smaller sized screen. But on a movie house screen? It becomes a bit overwhelming!!

I haven’t received a load of screener copies of films sent to me “FYC” this year as I used to, but I have received more online screener links to so many titles, I can’t keep track of them all, let alone even viewed them!

So will I miss seeing movies in a theater on the big screen? In a way, yes, but only because of its nostalgia. But if I never set foot in a movie theater that only runs first run titles released in the same calendar year, then so be it! I know that the days when I would attend my local neighborhood theater to see a second run title, or a bigger movie where its admission price was set “at popular prices” where I would sneak in snacks in my pockets and stay all day seeing the movie twice or perhaps three times in a row are long gone! Ditto for the days when seeing a movie in a theater was a lot better than waiting for its home video release and to later having it air on cable TV. However, watching a new(er) movie on a video screen is just as good as seeing the same title in a theater. If I watch new movies at home, I can view any title whenever I can (even at 3:00 AM), and snack on anything I damn well please! I can stop the film in the middle of a scene to jot down a note or two, only to resume the film where it left off. And if the phone rings or if I have to “see a man about a dog”, then I can stop the action, resume my business, and continue from there!

I humbly apologize to all of the movie theater chains giving them this big snuff! But this change falls within the same method where a new medium is introduced and a threat is given to the medium it’s suppose to replace! When radio came around in the 1920’s, newspapers were given a threat with the belief that people would get their news on the radio and not in print. When TV made its mark in the 1940’s, radio was threatened. The same goes for over the air broadcast TV to cable in the 1980’s, and even when cable TV was seeing its “death” thanks to streaming. But newspapers still remain. Radio is still around. Over-the-air TV still exists, and cable TV hasn’t gone away. All of these mediums adapted themselves. Now it’s time where movie theaters should take heed as well as well as to the studios that churn out these movies themselves.

And a P.S. to all of this! Movie theaters made its most drastic change in the 1970’s and 1980’s when one time single screen houses converted themselves as twin screens or even triple screens. And the multiplex came to light with six screens each, later to eight, twelve, sixteen, and even more! Don’t get me started in those movie houses where you sit in a Lay-Z-Boy-esque lounge chair, and have waitstaff take your order for foods found in an upscale restaurant, washing it all down with a glass of white wine!! If I wanted to watch a flick seated on a lounge chair noshing on beef wellington and the booze of my choice, I would have stayed home! It’s a lot cheaper (and safer) besides!

Rich Borowy
Editorial Manager
Accessibly Live Off-Line
North Hills, CA

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ACCESSIBLY LIVE OFF-LINE (C) 2021 Linear Cycle Productions. All rights reserved. The views and opinions are those of the writers, and not necessarily of the staff and management. ‘Nuff said!

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