I’m not one to spend much money when I go to the movies. I wait until they are on Netflix or go to discount matinees. I prefer the word thrifty to cheap, but if the shoe fits . . . . That’s why it was so remarkable that I chose to see Gravity (yep, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) in IMAX 3-D. I spent three or four times what I would normally pay for a movie ticket to do so. . . . And I would do it again.
This is not a movie review (although it was, to me, a great, scary, uplifting film). What prompts me to comment on it was something I realized about the evolution of movies. From silent to “talkies,” black and white to color, who knows what all trends in sound, 3-D (in its many iterations over the decades), “big screen” innovations to IMAX to IMAX 3-D, the movie industry has leapt upon technological innovation at every moment possible. Of course, they had to to remain viable. All their competitors were doing it.
There are, for me, two principal observations about this. First, these changes are presentation changes, not content innovations, although some of them were directly tied to content. It’s not been enough for the motion picture industry to simply produce new work. With each passing decade, the new work was paired with increasingly high production values. We have certainly seen presentation changes in the arts: supertitles, sound reproduction, grand new performance/museum venues to name a few. (It is instructive, though, to note that the first two had/have fierce critics and the grand places are creating serious financial difficulties.) However, the change in the arts experience from 1913 to 2013 is minor compared with the stunning transformation of movie experience over the same period of time. I in no way suggest that all change is improvement, but the contrast is incredibly stark.
That leads to the second observation. Movies are, despite what we might wish, one element of our competition. The further “behind” we fall in the capacity to astonish, the more difficult it will be to draw people to our doors. I’m not saying therefore turn up the volume or install more glittery lights. I am pointing out that if it is getting more difficult to compete on the level of “spectacular” we will need to work differently. My prescription is, as always, to connect more deeply with the community, to be understood as increasingly meaningful by being so.