Thursday, April 23, 2009

Notes from a "crank": on the demise of the moviegoing experience.

(By way of explanation: this was a post I made on Slashdot about why I have largely stopped going to movie theatres. It's not all about being broke and unemployed. It's about a very degraded experience. This is why whenever we have a podcast recording I hem and haw about not seeing the movie yet. It's just not WORTH IT in most cases to see the movie in theatres anymore for me. And here's why...)

OK, I'm one of those "cranks" who remembers how moviegoing USED to be, and considers the current "experience" extremely inferior.

It used to be, you'd go to a big, beautiful PALACE with thousands of seats and a gorgeous environment. Even if you lived in a small town, the local movie theatre was a glamorous, special place.

This was before mobile phones. And there would be a special room for mothers to take squalling babies or toddlers having a tantrum, called the "women's lounge."

In the 1960s, theatre owners, in an industry maybe didn't DIE because of TV but took a big, big hit, came up with the concept of the "cinemaplex." More choice! More people can go see movies suiting THEIR taste, not the programmer at the local movie palace. I live near where one of the first American multiplex theatres, The Americana 5 in Panorama City, CA, was built in 1964. It had one "big room" for what was then known as "road show" releases, the big movie expected to be the blockbuster of the moment. It also had four smaller rooms...and I really mean smaller. 200 seat shoeboxes as opposed to the 1,000 seat "big room." People went anyway, and the theatre chains realized they could make more money because they'd go to the movies regardless of the amenities or lack of them. They didn't really have a choice in the pre-home video and pre-HBO/Showtime days. You either saw the movie in the theatre or you waited for it to come on TV, and that wait would be literally years.

Eventually the "big room" was subdivided in two in the mid '70s, and the Americana 5 became, for a time, the Americana 6. It was only due to the decline of the neighborhood and the competition of cable and home video that the Pacific Theatres knocked down the thin subdivision barrier and turned the two theatres back into "the big room" again. Amazingly enough, the Pacific Americana underwent a bit of a renaissance for a while. They would have events, geared towards the local predominantly Latino populace, where Spanish-language movies, free concerts after the movie and appearances by local Spanish-language radio personalities would be part of the fun. Selena did one event and the immediate area surrounding the Americana was mobbed. The LAPD had to be called in to do crowd control.

Eventually the Mann Theatres chain put in the Mann's Plant 16 a couple of miles down the road at the big-box mall that replaced the long shuttered GM assembly plant. This was what killed the Americana. The Pacific Theatre Group unloaded it on a couple of locals who went indie. It got more and more run down, started playing second-run movies in both English and Spanish for bargain prices, and when things broke, they stayed broke. The last movie I saw in the "big room" there was Prince of Egypt. The movie theatre that every year around Easter would play "The Ten Commandments" had its swan-song with another retelling of the Moses myth. It was sad to see the place go. The area where the four small theatres stood is now a school of cosmetology. The old "big room" was once an indoor futbol arena where people would play pickup soccer games, and is now a banquet hall which, ironically, boasts a nice big movie screen. It is also more ornate than the "big room" at the Americana ever was.

Anyway, huge digression. The multiplex movie theatre encouraged a degradation of movie theatre etiquette. Going to a little shoebox theatre was less special than going to the community movie palace. People didn't have the same sense of "occasion" going to the movies. In a lot of respects, the experience of going to one of these theatres was like the drive-in experience. Often a theatre chain would knock down a drive-in and replace it with a mega multiplex. They could show more movies to more people and it was a more intelligent use of land. And with the competition of cable, home video, "sell-through" home video, and finally the DVD, there were now real choices about how to see a movie.

So yeah, theatres are not exactly rolling in the dough now. There has been a surge of moviegoing instead of other "family vacation" kinds of things to do, as people opt more for "staycations." But it will not and never will be the same.

Me? I just prefer to wait a little while, get the DVD, and enjoy it at my leisure. No assholes yakking on the mobile phone next to me, no crying babies or tantrumming toddlers whose moms haven't the decency to take outside to calm, no people doing their own, unfunny MST3K treatment of the movie. I don't have an awesome super-cool home theatre system here, but it's decent. Good size 4:3 CRT tube TV, 2.1 sound. And the popcorn is cheap and ungreasy. Go ahead and "enjoy" the current theatre-going experience. I'll just be an old crank and enjoy a more civilized experience right here at home. Oh yeah, get off my lawn, punk. ;-)

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

This is hawesome.

Wil Wheaton voices a gaming geek named Kyle, who falls in love with a goth chick named Rosemary. No, this is not "MTV's Downtown: The Next Generation." This is something really special. Enjoy. And if ASIFA-Hollywood doesn't give this short some Annie love next year it would be a crying shame.

Find more videos like this on Channel Frederator RAW

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Friday, April 03, 2009

The cartoon series that will never be...

In honor of the show's twentieth anniversary, a person did this wallpaper in honor of a spectacular comedy show from the last two decades. Click on this sentence to go to the original web page where the full size wallpaper is located.

A couple of observations were triggered from this beautiful picture. This is perhaps the first time all the characters have been on stage together. Joel Hodgson and Michael J. Nelson never appeared as their characters together. (Mike did subsidiary characters during Joel's time, such as The Amazing Colossal Man and a pianist playing the "Gamera" theme song. I think this is also the first time anyone has drawn the lower parts of Crow T. Robot's body.

Like all passed TV series, it's sad to contemplate the fates of some of these people. J. Elvis Weinstein (the dark-haired guy who played Dr. Forrester's assistant in early shows) wound up working with his "boss" Trace Beaulieu on the earliest and lamest of the "reality" shows, America's So-Called Funniest Home Videos. Each week, they have to find witty things to put in the mouth of plasticized human Tom Bergeron. In other words, the mad scientist and his assistant are the same hellish employment trap into which they inserted Joel and Mike.

And the saddest is Joel Hodgson, the shy comedian who created the show for local TV after dropping out of the stand-up comedy circuit. He hated the pressure of performing his act across the country, and although I have never heard him admit to it, I think he was afraid of all those people. I believe he quit MST3K because it was bringing him precisely the kind of fame he was trying to avoid.

After he left MST3K he was "creative consultant" for The Paula Poundstone Show. That show was ABC's attempt to produce a comedy variety show, and unfortunately based it on an alcoholic comedienne who preferred to speak in non-sequiturs than actually do humor. If you never saw this show, it's not your fault; it lasted one episode. Peaks of its humor were an "ecology expert" that spoke from inside a crummy-looking space pod, and actual economists who had to deliver their explanations of economics while riding a carnival whip ride.

Then Hodgson attempted to do a TV show that seemed to be based on his "invention exchange." At great expense, he set up a studio with a camera in a 360-degree blind, with curtains, so he could have live performers appear in short blackout sketches in a circle around a camera. It was called The TV Wheel, after it was dumped by HBO I think the pilot aired a few times on Comedy Central, and then the whole mess was forgotten.

Currently, Hodgson has gone back home, sort of. With some of the MST3K alumni he's doing Cinematic Titanic, where he and his companions play themselves for a change, making fun of movies like The Oozing Skull and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Problem is, he's not only competing against his past (his original parody of Santa Claus was hiliarious) but against Mike Nelson's video version, Rifftrax, which sells low-cost MP3's you play in sync with current movies. And against Nelson's own imitation of MST3K called The Film Crew. And against my friends Luke Ski, Carrie Dahlby and a few others, who do an affectionate fan-tribute called Mystery Spatula Theater 11.

What saddens me is that Hodgson , apparently driven by personal traumas, has fled from two careers - stand-up comedy and involved parody - that I and many others have been striving to achieve and probably never will. When God gives you talent and the fortune to achieve such things, you don't throw them away. He did, twice. But if he insists on sabotaging himself, he has established a good tradition, and we'll remember him fondly as he runs for the shadows to hide.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Peabody (without the Mister)

Scan down the list of the 2008 Peabody Awards on their web site.

See anything interesting?

I am not familiar with the Peabody's, but I'm pretty sure there are very few animated series that have won this coveted award. I also notice that this award is being tended after Nickelodeon completed the series, and abandoned it to odd-hour fill-in programming and their subsidiary channel. They didn't spend a dime on merchandising for this show, preferring to rake in the Spongebob Squarebucks. They won't even spend the nickel it would cost to slap a little "Peabody Award Winner" on their existing DVD's.

I can pretty much assure you that Saturday Night Live, Breaking Bad and even YouTube will not keep their Peabodys silent. I think Nickelodeon might do one promo mentioning it, but nothing more.