Our night at the movies

My wife and I actually went to the movies Friday night! It’s a much better cinematic experience than what we’ve been having for more than a year. And yet, I was left worried about the survival of theatrical cinema.

The Shattuck Cinema is a multiplex in downtown Berkeley. It’s owned by Landmark Theatres, which means it focuses on independent films rather than the big blockbusters.

Just walking on Shattuck Ave. was depressing. We passed one boarded up storefront after another.

Friday was the first day the Shattuck had opened in months. There was a premature opening in November that lasted about four days. But with more people getting their shots, a night at the theater has become relatively safe.

We bought our tickets online as soon as we could. We knew that theaters were allowed to only fill 25% of their normal capacity, and we were worried about a sellout. We didn’t need to worry. There were only two or three other couples in one of the Shattuck’s biggest auditoriums. The lobby was nearly empty.

The Shattuck provided plenty of precautions, of course. Reserved seating ensured that people kept a safe disctance (we picked 3rd row, right down the middle). There were plenty of hand sanitizer stations. Everyone had to wear masks unless they were eating or drinking (and yes, they were selling popcorn and other snacks).

We picked a movie we’d already seen at home, and my favorite of the year: Nomadland.
I’ve written about it before, but this was an entirely different experience. The big screen pulled us into the story and into the landscape – and this film is very much about the landscape. When Fern (Frances McDormand) walks into a fallen redwood tree, you feel like you’re going into it. I’m pretty sure this is the Nomadland that director Chloé Zhao created; an intimate epic about an American subculture.

It was a thrilling experience. But I left the theater uneasy. I had assumed that when the theaters opened, people would rush to get back to the big screen. That didn’t happen. Are people scared? Or worse, have they gotten too much into the habit of watching movies at home?

I must admit that if I had not been fully vaccinated, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the movies, either. But if you’re protected, please, go out and experience the big screen again. It will do you good.