Yes, spending two-plus hours in a darkened room full of strangers has always had its share of risks and perturbations:
The overpriced refreshments.
Cellphone zombies who can’t spend one solitary second away from the seductive glow of their shiny objects.
The wise guy who attempts to hijack your reserved seat.
The talkers and the crunchers and the snorers.
As a great American philosopher once said, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”
But I sure do miss the movies.
As big and brilliant as flat-screen televisions are these days, there’s a decent case to be made for simply staying at home, even when we’re not quarantining. Still, I like to see some movies on screens that are measured in feet, not inches.
What’s more, the concept of binge-watching streamed movies and TV shows has both its pleasures and its limitations.
As many of us who are cocooned on the couch in COVID-19 lockdown are learning, for all of the gazillions of series and movies on streaming services, some are very good. Ava DuVernay’s powerful Netflix docudrama miniseries on the Central Park Five, “When They See Us,” comes to mind.
But frankly, there’s a lot of mediocrity— and downright awfulness —as well.
And despite all of the obnoxiousness that you might encounter on any given Saturday (yup, some people really were wolfing down buttered popcorn during some of the most disturbing scenes in “The Passion of the Christ”), there’s nothing like a good movie in a packed theater.
So, I look forward to the day when we can go to the movies again. If there are movies to go to.
Even before the pandemic forced most of the nation’s 41,000 movie screens to go dark this spring, theaters were in trouble. Now the Hollywood Reporter estimates that COVID-19 may cost the industry as much as $20 billion in worldwide revenue. The largest theater chain in the United States, AMC — with 634 venues in the U.S. and Canada, including one in Greensboro — is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
As for small, independent theaters, the Sedgefield Cinemas off Gate City Boulevard in Greensboro closed permanently last month. Now only one locally owned theater remains, the RED, a dubious name in these fiscally challenging times.
But the RED’s owner, Marty Kotis, says it’s only a matter of when, not if, his theater reopens. In the meantime, Kotis said, he has been preparing for life after the lockdown.
He added aisles to auditoriums, “deep-cleaned” them and gave them fresh coats of paint. He acquired ultraviolet, or UVC, scanners for sanitizing surfaces and installed UVC filters in his HVAC system. He installed foot poles to doors to all of his properties, so patrons can open them without using their hands.
He added sanitizer stations that are operated by foot. He bought thermometers to test employees.
According to a phased reopening of businesses announced last week by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, concert venues, sporting events and movie theaters could resume, with limited capacities, as early as May 22. But Kotis expects the RED to reopen in July.
And he predicts there will be a pent-up market for it.
“It’s a treat to go out,” he said. “It’s when you let someone else take care of you. And it’s the social environment. People like to be around others to feed off of the energy of others — in addition to a 30-foot screen and a massive sound system.”
As for what he would show when the lights go up again, Kotis isn’t sure: The supply chain has been interrupted. And some big summer releases already have been pushed back to the fall. Beyond that, studios will have to rethink how movies are made. For instance, how do you shoot love scenes in the age of the virus?
So that probably will mean encore showings of already-released movies, as well as art films. Kotis said he will reach out to UNC School of the Arts and the River Run Film Festival.
In the meantime, Kotis also is exploring an idea he had been considered before the coronavirus: a drive-in theater on property he owns downtown.
For now, the RED is quiet, its old-fashioned marquee still frozen in time with the movies that were playing when the lights went down.
And by itself, to the right, is the title of a faith-themed movie that fits the tenor of the times: “I Still Believe.”