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Friday, Mar 24, 2023

I Cover the Waterfront: On the Movies

If I walk at a brisk pace and have the right song playing on Spotify, I can get there in eight minutes. I take one left, one right, and cross the street. I go there when I am stressed and in need of a break, when I want to temporarily trade our world for a new one. I could only be talking about one place: the movies. More specifically, our very own Marquis Theater in the heart of downtown Middlebury. 

For those who have yet to visit, the Marquis has two theaters; one downstairs and one upstairs. The upstairs theater is smaller and more intimate, with a few dozen seats and a slanted wooden floor that brings you to the front row, which is so close to the screen you can almost reach out and touch it. The downstairs theater is larger, with more seats and a hodgepodge of couches and armchairs spread throughout for moviegoers to enjoy a film in complete comfort. The snacks are good too. There is popcorn, candy, soda, a bar, and a small restaurant serving Mexican cuisine.  

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how important the movies are, not only to those of us who study and write about film, but to our society. In a time where we all are on our devices nonstop, always able to be contacted by our employers, family and friends, the movies may be our final refuge from the responsibilities and stresses of everyday life. (Unless, of course, you’re a professional film critic.) 

I was thinking about this a couple of weeks ago, as I attended a screening (not at the Marquis) of Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game. Prior to the screening, I had worked at my job, ate a quick dinner, and co-led this paper’s editorial meeting. As I made my way to the screening, I was thinking about the homework I had yet to start, of the applications that had yet to be completed, and of the interview I had the following day. But, as the lights dimmed and Renoir’s masterpiece began to play, the mental to-do list faded away, and as it did, I thought to myself, “Man, how lucky am I to be at the movies?” 

There are many places folks often go to temporarily seek refuge from the responsibilities of everyday life: the gym, a restaurant, a sports game, the park, a drive around town, the pages of a novel. But even at those places, the cell phone’s allure is difficult to resist; the ping of a push notification is constant, CNN is always on one of the TVs behind the bar, and the sight of everybody else on their phone/tablet/computer serves as a constant reminder of all you have yet to do. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the movies are our final refuge from the aforementioned reminders of daily life. Sure, one could see a play or ballet, or go camping or hiking if you’re in a rural area, but those are not as accessible to the masses as the movies. For the most part, they are not places one can go on a whim and budget.  

And that is why I love the Marquis. On a rainy day, or in between studying, I will often walk down there and forget my responsibilities for a couple of hours. It is there where I saw most of this year’s Oscar nominees, where I skipped class to attend a screening of I Am Not Your Negro, cohosted by a local racial justice organization, and where I saw a group of friends race to see the new Star Wars as soon as they were able. What makes the Marquis even more therapeutic than a corporate theater chain is not just the couches, armchairs, and throwback décor, but the sense of community it embodies. When you walk into a movie theater, you’re walking into a new world with a group of people, all of whom have willingly signed up to go on this mission and leave society and their technology (hopefully) behind for a couple hours. Where else does this happen today? 

A couple weeks ago, Steven Spielberg made headlines when he said that Netflix movies should not be eligible for Academy awards. His comments came at the same time the Cannes Film Festival barred Netflix films from competition. I agree with both decisions. 

Each year, the old and better ways of filmmaking and exhibition occur less and less. The rise of streaming and digital formats have made the movies less exciting, and give moviegoers even less of an incentive to leave the house. Why drive to the movies and pay money when you could sit on your couch and watch almost anything for a fraction of the price? The answer: the experience. 

In 2018, the movies are more than just a place where cows go when it rains, they are our final refuge from the obligations of existence. We should visit them more.

Will DiGravio is the managing editor of this paper.