For many, the winter months—beginning with the holiday season and extending through to warmer months—have traditionally been a time to see the latest releases in movie theaters.
However, with restrictions put in place across the nation in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic—along with the closure, some temporary and some permanent, of movie theaters nationwide, including Regal Hamilton Commons in Mays Landing—there has been a paradigm shift in the way that people are enjoying motion pictures.
For Hammonton residents like Dan Bachalis, there is definitely something lost by not taking in a film on the big screen.
“It’s just the whole experience of sitting in a large theater, hopefully with nice, comfortable seats and a good cup holder, and a giant screen, and an all-encompassing, all-surrounding soundtrack, and, of course, an engaging story and, also, the previews. I like the previews to see what’s coming up next so we can plan our next outing to the theater. To some degree, even though you don’t really interact with people in the theater, there’s that whole idea of a shared experience; lots of people in the community at the same event experiencing the same thing and being able to share that if they wanted to,” Bachalis said.
Dave Murphy agreed with Bachalis.
“I miss the community of theatre, the shared experience of watching a drama, a documentary, a comedy, a simple film of fun unfold before us in the community, the family of our fellows,” Murphy said.
For Murphy, being able to go to the movie theater is far more important than one may realize.
“What I miss most about going to the movies and what perhaps many of miss about going to the movies is being part of the spectacle of drama or comedy or entertainment that gets us not only out of the house or out of the apartment but get us up and out of ourselves,” he said.
Other residents, like Dave Reustle, miss the social aspects of going to the movies.
“Back when I was younger, going to the movies for the new The Fast & the Furious or one of those, when you got together with all your friends, it was a good time. Do I miss it? Yes. It gives you an option to do something else for date night,” Reustle said.
Myrna Santiago said that she, too, often equates a trip to the movies with date night.
“I might go to the movies three or four times a year, maybe. Maybe three times a year. I’m not a big movie person, for new movies. I go on dates. I’m a single widow, so what do you do on a date? Go to the movies. Dinner and a movie,” Santiago said.
Kelli Fallon, however, said that her date nights with her husband no longer include a trip to the cinema.
“My husband and I haven’t caught a movie in a theater since our kids were born. We would consider it a waste of babysitter time. Dinner? Sure. Dinner and a movie? Now we’re pushing our precious free time,” Fallon said.
However, Fallon said, they did enjoy taking their daughters.
“Our last movie in the theater was Frozen 2. We met the Silipino family at the theater and our girls had a wonderful time. We stayed until all the credits and post-movie songs were over and the girls danced and danced. It was a very special memory,” Fallon said.
Reustle noted that he, too, began to limit his moviegoing even before restrictions and closures took place, though there were notable exceptions.
“Sometimes I don’t go to the movies to see the new releases; I’ll wait for them to come out because, by the time you go to the movies, it’s a $50 night. If it’s one that I’m not dying to go see, we’ll wait until it comes out on HBO or if we can rent it On Demand or something like that. Then, we can sit home, have dinner and watch as we please; we don’t have to be on a timetable,” Reustle said.
Reustle said that his streaming service of choice is Vudu, which allows users to purchase digital copies of films through their account on various devices.
“I buy the movies on Vudu and I stream them on there, because swapping out Blu-rays, I have a whole wall of movies but I like having the digital copies, because when I travel—whether it be for work or for pleasure—I can catch up on movies and shows that way. What my fiancée and I have been doing is, we’ve been doing the things on Vudu and Comcast once or twice,” Reustle said.
Bachalis noted the virtues of taking in films, both old and new, from the comfort of one’s home.
“There have been so many good offerings on Netflix and Amazon and even plain old, regular TV. And, of course, the whole idea that you’re avoiding possibly contracting the virus, it hasn’t been all that bad ... Even some of the series, since you can binge-watch them episode after episode after episode, they really become just a movie with a few more breaks in it—which is great; you stop it and go to the concession stand in your kitchen a little more often,” Bachalis said.
Murphy said that streaming has allowed him and his wife, Joanne, to watch the classics.
“For me, I have watched some contemporary series on cable, but nothing has really connected as well as revisiting old films. Those films may be anything from classics like Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Bergman’s Seventh Seal, Lina Wertmüller’s Seven Beauties, Martin Ritt’s Sounder with Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield, the short ‘The Boy Who Painted Christ Black,’ go-to films my wife and I enjoy like Notting Hill, The Godfather, The Body Guard, Moonstruck, and so many more,” Murphy said.
Santiago said that her tastes often run toward Hollywood’s golden age.
“I’m a big Turner Classic Movies person. I love my old movies, and I record them. When I want to watch a movie, I watch them that way. I love Bette Davis, Joan Crawford; I’m a big 1940s buff,” she said.
Santiago said that she has several streaming services, but has spent the majority of the last two months watching Christmas films.
“Now that Christmas is done I’ll go back and I watch a lot of PBS, also. I love British movies and British shows. They’re very good actors ... I have them recorded but I haven’t watched them yet. I do a lot of work from home, and I sit down and always have the TV on in the background. I’m not necessarily watching it in full, but I always have something on,” Santiago said.
For Reustle, some of his go-to film choices are influenced by the craft behind them.
“One of my favorite movies is 500 Days of Summer, and I think it’s more of the way that it’s shot, because there’s this one scene where they’re on a train, and the sun is hitting their faces; it’s a beautiful shot with a 50-millimeter lens. That’s one of my favorites. I like Requiem for a Dream, the way that that’s shot. I went to school for film, so I like watching that,” Reustle said.
Murphy said that the escapism offered through film is perhaps more important than ever.
“During these extraordinarily difficult months, during this unbelievably difficult year—or possibly year or so—we still need catharsis. We need the spectacle of a film. We need to get up and out of ourselves even if we cannot get up and out of our homes and apartments or, in some cases, our rooms,” he said.
Bachalis noted that the socially distant method of taking in film can be augmented by more recent modes of socialization.
“We have some regular get-togethers with friends on Zoom and on FaceTime, and one thing I have found, invariably, every time we get together, there’s a discussion about what you’re watching. Whether it’s a movie or a series or whether it’s on one of the premium things like Hulu or Netflix or whether it’s on regular TV, what are you watching? What are you reading? We share those titles and, invariably, one or more of us haven’t seen what somebody else is watching. So, you jot it down, and, next chance you get, you watch it. We’ve been turned on to some pretty cool stuff. Then, the next time you get together with the group, you share your reaction to it, and you have that shared experience,” Bachalis said.
Reustle said that he believes that people will continue to adapt, no matter the state of movie theaters themselves.
“I think this pandemic has made people into more homebodies. We’ll definitely lose something, but believe that people will make movie screens in their backyard. You can get a projector for $100. A movie screen you can get for $30, or you can even get a white sheet, hang it up and go on that. Then, you have everybody come over and chip in for a $30 movie; you’ll have it for $2 apiece,” he said.
Fallon said that she and her family await the day when they can once again sit in a darkened theater, but they are in no great hurry.
“We look forward to taking our girls to a movie again and making memories with them once again. But snuggling on the couch as a family in our pajamas and eating homemade popcorn with real butter is also just as memorable, for me at least,” Fallon said.
For Murphy, the return to the movie theater is an important one.
“I miss going out for dinner and a movie, mingling, even silently, in darkness with our fellows watching and hearing a world not our own unfold before us in a theatre. We cannot—we should not—gather as we did pre-COVID-19. Be we still need escape, entertainment, education, the spectacle of film to help us get through, or laugh, cry and maybe even learn—if we are lucky enough to be well. We need the company of each other though films; even in our own home, it can help keep us, emotionally, through this difficult time as we hope and pray for the health of our loved ones and ourselves. And we need to go somewhere, to have an adventure, however vicariously,” Murphy said.
Bachalis concurred with Murphy, noting another vital aspect of the experience that is not quite the same at home.
“Of course, the popcorn and the soda is always good, too,” Bachalis said.