With piecemeal re-openings around the country, businesses are limping out of this housebound period, if they still exist to emerge at all.
The landscape has changed, and in days to come, it will shift more as the waters of consumer behavior find a new level. Many restaurants are gone, or will not long survive low-density dining. Nevertheless, we will still eat out, carry out or order in.
Though Amazon is on fire with more than 100,000 new workers, there will continue to be retail bricks-and-mortar, even if more shopping is online and department stores fall like dominoes. We will eventually fly the less-friendly skies on whatever airlines survive. We will ride unpacked subways. America will slowly restart as we venture out.
We will not, however, rush back to the cinema. The virus will deal a death-blow to already-beleaguered movie screens. America’s 10 largest theatre chains went dark for months, and health experts recommend against returning to them yet.
Universal Pictures released its films to streaming services without a typical 90-day holdback, and streaming and theatrical windows will remain tight or even simultaneous. After months of discovering the delights of home theaters, will we come back to a masked movie experience that tempts fate? Not so much.
In 1975, Bob Dylan sang hauntingly of “shelter from the storm.” With the urgency of sheltering in place, necessity reinforced home and mobile viewing over attendance at a cinema, speeding a downhill slide for the movies. Last year, nearly 500 original scripted series premiered on American television, leaving the silver screen far behind. The comforts of home and streaming subscriptions have been steadily cancelling out a century-old habit. No more audience’s shared sigh at the big-screen kiss, an echo slipping into silence with the dust motes caught in the projector’s light.
We can each name seminal moments in our movie going life. For my parents, “Casablanca” and other now-classics illuminated the war years. In the ‘60s, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Easy Rider” shook up the film experience. I would, and did, walk many miles to see anything by Francois Truffaut. In the ‘70s came a whole new generation: Scorsese, Coppola, Lucas and more.
The 1994 film “Il Postino” (The Postman) memorialized the hypnotic and elegiac images ghosting over our heads from the projectionist’s booth. We were pulled into the screen, a magical world we shared with dates, friends and roomfuls of strangers. TV is many things; an audience’s communal experience isn’t one of them.
With everything that changes, something is lost and something is gained. A new golden age that rivals the narrative power of movies, despite a smaller screen, has been taking place on television since “The Sopranos” kicked it off. Out of the hundreds of scripted series that followed, some were stunning. We got “Mad Men,” “Justified” and “Breaking Bad.”
I know there are more important things to mourn. The decline and fall of movie palaces isn’t life or death at a time when these are very much the story. Those surviving theaters will still offer the occasional excursion. But by and large, no more Saturday night at the movies.
It was once a community experience and a dating ritual. The ticket booth. The buttered popcorn. The faces of stars looming larger than life. I will miss it, even as I settle in for another evening at home by the blue light of the TV. If only we still had drive-in movies, with their natural social distancing.
The plague is a boon for broadcast, cable and streaming platforms, with the exception of those that rely less on subscribers and more on advertisers, gun-shy in times of crisis.
The TV’s glow is today’s sunshine. Pull your recliner up close and pretend it’s the movies. Hold your honey’s hand the way you used to do. Let’s make lemonade and celebrate what remains. It may be microwaved, but pass the popcorn. We’ll always have Paris.