There's something about seeing a movie on the big screen in a theater full of strangers that you just don’t get at home — and certainly not on a handheld device while you’re riding TRAX.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m delighted to live in an age when movies from all eras are so readily accessible. Despite my complaining from time to time about certain films I’d like to see that aren’t available, just knowing I can pull my favorite titles from a shelf and watch them whenever I want is a modern miracle.
When I was young, we were at the mercy of just a few TV stations that would show classic films in the middle of the night, and they often were missing scenes, and were squished into that square format on a 13-inch black-and-white screen, and the picture shifted from side to side as conversations were held with actors who were only half-visible on either end of the screen, and there were commercial interruptions every 10 minutes.
With today’s big-screen/widescreen, full-color, high-definition TVs, and DVDs/Blu-rays offering unedited, uninterrupted movies of every stripe, what’s not to love?
But even with all that, seeing a favorite old movie in a theater remains something special. And although to some it may seem a silly extravagance to pay admission to watch a movie you can see at home for much less, for dyed-in-the-wool fans, a movie theater provides an unsurpassed experience.
So when one of my favorites, Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” was playing for one day only at a few of the local Cinemarks last week, I couldn’t resist. My wife and I, along with a few kids and grandkids, took in the experience and enjoyed it immensely.
To my surprise, however, the theater was nearly empty — maybe 30 people at the 7 p.m. show in an auditorium with roughly 300 seats.
My surprise came mainly because a couple months earlier we took a larger group — 18 of us — to see another one-night event, “Singin’ in the Rain,” at the same theater, in the same auditorium, and it was packed to overflowing. Of course, that film had a lot more advertising support since it was sponsored by Turner Classic Movies, with commercials running day and night on that cable channel as well as newspaper and online stories touting the event. It did so well that, a week ago, TCM held an encore screening.
For “Jaws,” however, if you didn’t notice a small line item in the local papers’ calendars or happen to see a poster in one of the Cinemark theaters, you probably didn’t know about it, or about the other films in the series that are forthcoming — each to be shown just one day in several Cinemark theaters around the state and around the country.
Many more classics are slated to be shown in those and other local theaters over the next few weeks, so get ready to mark your calendars.
“Doctor Zhivago” (1965). David Lean’s epic adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel is a visually stunning, supremely romantic adventure with a first-rate cast led by Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. (Sept. 6, Cinemark Theatres, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., www.cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-series)
“The Mark of Zorro” (1920). The silent classic starring the first great swashbuckler, Douglas Fairbanks (the prototype for the character in “The Artist”), is still thrilling, especially when accompanied by live organ music. (Sept. 6-7, The Organ Loft, 7:30 p.m., www.edisonstreetevents.com/silent-movies)
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981, PG). Steven Spielberg’s salute to movie serials remains an unparalleled big-screen adventure. Newly remastered for IMAX, it’s even bigger. (Sept. 7-13, Megaplex/IMAX Theatres, several shows daily, www.megaplextheatres.com)
“Chinatown” (1974, R). Roman Polanski’s meticulous period mystery about a private eye (Jack Nicholson) entangled in Southern California politics and murder is one of the great 1970's pictures. (Sept. 13, Cinemark Theatres, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., www.cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-series)
“Sabrina” (1954). Billy Wilder’s charming comedy has effervescent Audrey Hepburn (hot off her Oscar win for “Roman Holiday”) as a chauffeur’s daughter romanced by two wealthy brothers (Humphrey Bogart, William Holden). (Preceded by a chapter of the 1939 serial “Dick Tracy’s G-Men.”) (Sept. 14, BYU, Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium, Provo, 7 p.m., free)
“The Birds” (1963). Alfred Hitchcock’s pitch-perfect, slow-to-build, terrifying tale of birds going on the attack in Northern California remains a first-rate chiller (hosted by TCM’s Robert Osborne). (Sept. 19, Cinemark Theatres, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., www.cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-series)
“Seven Chances” (1925). In this silent classic, Buster Keaton will inherit a fortune if he’s married by a specific date and time, which leads to his being pursued by hundreds of prospective brides, at one point hilariously trying to outrun a formidable landslide. (Preceded by an eight-minute Thomas Edison 1904 short with a similar storyline and a lengthy title: “How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the ‘New York Herald’ Personal Columns.”) (Sept. 20-21, The Organ Loft, 7:30 p.m., www.edisonstreetevents.com/silent-movies)
“The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957). David Lean’s wartime drama, a battle of wits in a Japanese POW camp, is a thrilling adventure with fine-tuned performances by William Holden, Alec Guinness and company. (Sept. 20, Cinemark Theatres, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., www.cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-series)
“The African Queen” (1951). John Huston directed this tense World War I melodrama, primarily a two-character piece with two perfectly cast stars, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. (Sept. 27, Cinemark Theatres, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., www.cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-series)
“The Conqueror” (1956). John Wayne as Genghis Khan? Tumbleweeds on the Gobi Desert? If you’re looking for a campy, goofy, unintentionally hilarious movie experience, you can’t do better than this weird epic filmed in southern Utah. (Preceded by a chapter of the 1939 serial “Dick Tracy’s G-Men.”) (Sept. 28, BYU, Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium, Provo, 7 p.m., free)
More vintage classics — including “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Bride of Frankenstein” — are being scheduled for local theaters in the coming months. Stay tuned.