"What activity, other than a shooter-drinking contest, is a better first date than going to the movies?"
-- Guy Maddin, writer-director
That quote comes from a fairly recent article about the future of movie theaters from MovieMaker magazine, and after reading it this week, I just had to answer the question. A lot of activities are better first dates than going to the movies, actually. In fact, despite my regular championing of the movie theater in this column, I have to say going to the movies is a terrible first date. One of the worst.
The main reason for this is that it's two hours or so of not talking. That's not a lot in the grand scheme of a relationship, but during a first date it's an eon. After all, a first date should be a time to get to know someone. And this isn't going to happen while sitting silent in the dark for the length of a feature film. I can only hope that nobody ever went on a first date to see Gods and Generals -- that is, unless the couple already knew beforehand that they shared an obsession for civil war reenactments.
Of course, there are a lot of first daters that do talk during the movie. When I went to see The Darjeeling Limited recently there was a couple behind me who tried to get to know each other during the trailers. Basically, the discussion involved him asking if she liked trailers, she admitting that she did like the trailers, and then he claiming the trailers are one of the best things about going to the movies. It's a conversation I'm sure we've all heard countless times before. But then later, during the actual film, he continued to point out things he discovered, as he discovered them. "Oh, this must take place before," he stated to his date halfway through the flashback sequence.
My first official date ever was to the movies. I was a late bloomer, it was Forrest Gump, and it was also the only date I had with the girl. It turned out she already had a boyfriend, and I would have loved to learn this before shelling out for two tickets to one of the lamest movies I'd ever seen. Maybe if we'd done something else, somewhere we could actually talk and find out about one another, I might have discovered that important bit of information. Instead I was probably scarred for the next few years, preferring to attend midnight shows by my lonesome.
Now, I have to admit that after awhile I did think going to the movies was a perfect first date. This was, of course, back when I was more of a wannabe movie geek/snob and figured it was important to have a good movie discussion following a show, in order to determine whether or not the girl was right for me. But I've long since gotten over that idea, realizing that I can't base my attraction solely on what movies the other person is into. But once in a relationship, going to the movies is an excellent date. There's no longer the need to get to know someone, no awkward elbow jerks (or is that just me?), no worries that I'm pigging out too much on popcorn and most importantly no concern that I'll be judged as being too much of a film cynic.
Back in the day, first dates at the movies were probably more about necking, or whatever those old people called making out. The darkness of the auditorium certainly provided a private location when you had no other place to go. And unless it was a drive-in, there was probably enough sense of being in a public place that nobody would try to go too far. Now, though, we have more access to empty homes, while both parents are at work, to have first make-out sessions. Meanwhile, from what I've been able to tell from working in a movie theater, people are doing a heck of a lot more than making out at the movies. And yes, this includes the teens. Any usher can tell you he or she has found at least one pair of undies during his career at the cinema.
As much as I disagree that going to the movies is a perfect first date, I have to say I understand Maddin's sentiment. I also have to acknowledge that for a lot of young people, there isn't much else in the way of going out. Regardless, too, I do love the movies as a date in general, if not a first date then another one early on in the dating sequence, and I'd really hate to see cinemas die out for this reason. I mean, it's not like you can invite a girl out for a first date to your creepy basement screening room. No matter how state-of-the-art it is.
So, what will happen if theaters go away? What will you do for a first date instead? Will everyone just meet through an online dating service and then simultaneously download a movie that they watch while chatting on instant messenger? Or maybe participate in something more tech-geeky like WeTalkDuringMovies.com? The future sounds great for people who don't want to go out in the real world, but I bet most people in the dating scene hope the movie theater never disappears.