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A Screening Room Of One’s Own

July 6, 2014

The Lumière brothers first public screening of a steam locomotive pulling into a station purportedly astonished their audience. Those gathered were new, certainly naïve to the illusion of moving pictures. An urban legend sprung up that these people ran for the exits. Martin Scorcese celebrated the moment in his homage to film, Hugo. Actually, the Lumière’s didn’t even screen the train’s arrival until 1896. Ten other clips comprised the Lumière’s historic program for their first public screening in 1895.

Audiences viewed early films first on peepshow machines and then in converted storefronts called nickelodeons. Theater chains sprung up replacing vaudeville houses. And as the popularity of the movies grew, studio owned theater chains flourished. Ultimately, lavish architecturally themed movie palaces beckoned customers in cities across the country and around the globe. The movies boomed and grew.

After WW II, audiences began gathering in their own living rooms to be entertained by a new medium, television. After some shaky years, fraught with dire predictions, the movies survived even as television thrived. Network television gave way to cable, and approximately one hundred years in from the advent of motion pictures the digital age burst upon the scene.

Development accelerated. More personal screen options proliferated: laptops, tablets, smart phones, most recently Google Glass.

It certainly changed how we view movies. And it changed the way we perceive movies. But a funny thing happened on the way to the personalization of the viewing experience.

I’ve been watching the World Cup. In cities around the world huge crowds have been gathering in large public spaces to watch the beautiful game on gigantic screens. Of course, soccer is not a movie, but still and all large numbers of people have gathered to watch the compelling drama, operatic at times, that is the World Cup.

I can only look forward and muse; sometimes, the more things change the more they remain the same.

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  1. Bill Cronin permalink

    This sweeping narrative makes me think that, although we refer to creative destruction, it’s really quantum – it’s creative restructuring.


  2. barbara permalink

    I think this is one of my favorites. Fragrant with suggestion.


  3. Paul permalink

    A very nice summary of movies, technology, and the digital age. It is hard to tell where all these developments will bring us in the future; however, I do have one hope, and that is as we adopt newer and better technology, we don’t trade down the quality of the sound and image, nor the quality of the movies being produced by anyone with a digital camera.
    The recording industry has all but lost the digital battle where even the big labels are dropping well-known artists because there is little money to be made selling music these days. Let’s seek to protect the film industry from suffering the same fate. Remember, the future is not about how well technology uses us, but how well we use technology.


    • Thanks, Paul. As for technology using us, I think we’ve already gone down that path some. I’m reminded of the “feelies” in Huxley’s Brave New World.”


  4. jreesnc permalink

    The beautiful game is one of the few modern sports not ruined by television. The teams decide who they are going to play, and once they line up and the watch starts, they have to live with what cards the game deals them. No time-outs to re think strategy. No lengthy talks with the coach. No continuous interruptions from player changes. Life stops for no-one, and soccer(football) is like life.

    I have watched quite a few of the world cup matches. And all but one of them, I have seen in public places, full of partisan football fans. There is a more meaningful experience when we all gather together to experience the same spectacle. This gathering can never be reproduced at home (unless you have a really big home, I suppose). That need to share the experience is the essence of being human, and why – to me – the movie theatre has managed to survive.


    • Thanks, Johnny Danger. Besides being an avid fan of the World Cup, I’ve been taken by people gathering in public places across the globe, watching together on big screens, especially in this age of personal devices and ever smaller screens (laptops to Google Glass…).


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