If you talk to the filmmakers who vote for the Academy Awards, you expect them to say:
"My choice, while difficult, was based on the director's masterful use of long, unedited takes that stripped away the artifice inherent in the genre and brought a raw naturalism to the picture that reminded one of Bergman's later work without weighing the scenes with excessive allegory."
What they actually say:
"I didn't vote for the one that won because they sent me all the pictures on DVD and my player wouldn't load them all. I think there's dust on the laser or something."
In short, I don't take the Oscars seriously. Oh, it's nice to see the beautiful people parade in their finery, waxed and buffed and sprayed, their heels sanded with ethically sourced Peruvian pumice. It's nice to see people who've worked hard all their lives stand on stage and thank their third-grade teacher while clutching the statue like they're strangling a cobra. But you'll forget it by noon today.
If the Oscars really wanted to connect with the moviegoing public, they'd make the ceremony more like the experience of going to a movie.
You never see a winner unable to reach the stage because a family of seven arrived late and is moving past him to get to the middle of the aisle. The ceremony isn't preceded by trailers for other awards shows that show all the highlights.
Small complaints. Moviegoing is better than ever. A few years ago I saw a "Star Wars" movie in Imax 3-D, and one of the enormous starships seemed to pass right over my head. It was stunning. The entire experience was a nonstop sensory overload, and it gave me a headache you could see on radar weather maps. But it was awesome.
I'm sure I'll see the next "Avengers" movie the same way, but if it's as long and exhausting as the last one, this time I'll be prepared: Make sure all the bills are paid, board the dog in a kennel, set the alarm system, bring the catheter and set my watch to remind me to jog up and down the aisle every hour or so, lest I get blood clots in my legs.
It's not the same, seeing a movie at home. The theater experience is more immersive — although some might say movies at home are easier, cheaper and more convenient. You want immersive, take a bath.
Still, you can't deny that the moviegoing experience is better and lacks only a claw mounted on the ceiling that picks up talkers and dumps them outside.
What's lacking these days is the glamour of the movie house itself.
The old movie palaces were glorious spaces. The Minnesota theater, long wrecked, made Versailles look like a Motel 6. The promotional material boasted of its extraordinary opulence: "Each chandelier has 100,000 bulbs, changed daily by an army of 100 ushers in red-velvet uniforms whose spotless silk gloves twist every bulb in unison while an orchestra plays the 'Edison Fox Trot,' specially composed for this theater!"
A multiplex with 12 theaters isn't the same as a single theater with a name. And a marquee.
When I grew up, the streets abounded with bright lights and proud names. The Fargo, the Princess, the Lark, the Safari, the Broadway.
The Towne was the one I remember the best. It ran most of the Disney movies. And it had a mystery: one single small light bulb on the ceiling, high above. A tiny point of light that never turned off. I couldn't figure out what that was supposed to be.
Twenty years later, sitting in the Suburban World, looking up at the night sky painted on the ceiling, I got it. The bulb was a star.
Some old theaters had ceilings full of lights to simulate the night sky, the roof above daubed with clouds and sunset hues. The Towne had been one of these places, once — perhaps like the Sub World, the interior was a fantasy of Spanish design, intended to make you think you were in the courtyard of some faraway romantic location. They'd stripped it all away, hacked off the decor, modernized it, made it a blank hall, because it was the '60s and the vandals were in charge of "modernizing" the horrid old past.
But that light never went out. One star, still burning. Someone had to change it when it went dark. That meant that someone remembered what the place used to be like.
I wonder, if years from now, little kids will remember today's theaters with wonder. Will they consider them a place where everything was amazing and nothing was real?
That light was not a star. Everyone knew it. But the light was real. Everyone knew that, too.