Theo Kalomirakis: Keeping Movies Magic
I didn’t comment immediately on Andrew Robinson’s wonderful blog post about my work (“Home Theater—The Next Frontier in Theatrical Exhibition“) because I wanted to digest his right-on message and find the proper tone for my response. But my remarks on the Roxy Theater in my recent comment on his post “What’s in an Aspect Ratio?” spurred to me to finally write about the movies’ “new frontier.”
Not only did Andrew not “stab me in the heart,” as he wrote; he actually validated the essence of what I have been trying to do all these years—create an exciting environment that brings people together while they share a common experience. I avoid going to movie theaters because I often find it dehumanizing. When movies were the main form of entertainment, it was the theater that was the destination, not the movie. People didn’t say, “Let’s go see Avatar.” They said, “Let’s go to the Radio City Music Hall.” In the heyday of the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s, before TV killed going to the movies, the theaters competed with each other in inspired architecture, luxurious amenities, and a sense of ceremonial grandeur that compelled the audiences to leave home and turned movie-going into a semi-religious experience. They didn’t call these movie palaces “Cathedrals of the Motion Pictures” for nothing.
In the era of multiplexes, where movies have been commoditized, the uniqueness of the experience has gone out the window. Today, we squeeze a movie in while shopping at the mall. Those of us who respect and appreciate the effort that goes into making a movie have to endure cellphones ringing, people texting next to us, undisciplined moviegoers who feel compelled to chit-chat throughout the movie—not to mention the sterility of watching a movie in a shoebox that calls itself a theater, with a screen barely larger than that of a decent home theater. That’s why, like Andrew, I prefer to wait to see a movie at home when it comes out in Blu-ray. On a good system, the picture quality is vastly superior to what we see in the average multiplex. And if we’re lucky enough to own a home theater—I’m still trying to finish mine properly—the experience blows going to the movies out the window.
Unfortunately, I was born after the era of the movie palaces was over. I learned what I know by visiting the palaces that are still standing, by reading books, and by absorbing breathless accounts from people who grew up in that era. My entire career can be seen as an effort to capture the magic of watching movies in the proper environment, a thrill that only a great home theater can now give us.
A friend of mine, who passed away years ago, shared with me a story I never forgot. His mother took him to the—now sadly gone—Roxy in New York to see the first movie ever in CinemaScope, The Robe. “My heart started pounding the moment I crossed the 70-foot-high grand foyer,” he recalled. “Next, the 6,000-seat auditorium, with its incredible opulence, took my breath away. We got to our seats, and as I looked around, I found it hard to believe that I was not in a dream. I even forgot that there was a movie coming up! Then the house lights dimmed, and the majestic red curtain started parting to reveal the huge CinemaScope screen behind it. I will never forget that moment. The curtain kept going . . . and going . . . and going. I did not think it would ever stop. After that night, I was a slave to the movies for the rest of my life.”
No multiplex can ever give us that thrill, but thank God we have home theater. The past (the glorious architecture) and the present (the superb technology) are working hand in hand to restore the magic of going to the movies. I consider myself very lucky and blessed to have played a part in this evolution.