There is something so familiar, yet, at
the same time, so mysterious about the sights, sounds and smells of
a movie theater — the ornate lobbies, the flicker of the
screen, the aroma of fresh popcorn (please don’t actually eat
the stuff; one handful is guaranteed to shave years off your life).
At its purest, seeing a movie is a religious experience, and a good
movie theater can come to resemble a church. See a great movie in a
great theater, and you can see the face of God Himself.
But, in recent years, the quality of the experience has declined
severely. A variety of problems perpetuated by both the industry
itself and suburban multiplexes are destroying the once-holy
ritual. What was once as transcendent as finding God is now about
as awe-inspiring as shopping at Wal-Mart.
Take, for example, last Saturday when I went to see Quentin
Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” at the Quality 16 on
Jackson Road. Arriving at the theater, I was greeted by an
undertrained and underpaid staff of 15-year-olds — a typical
pimple-faced bunch wearing fake smiles and thanking me for my
patronage with feigned sincerity. Entering the theater well early,
the usual slideshow of movie trivia and ads for cosmetology schools
and local car dealerships was up and running. Two punk teenagers
played hacky sack in the aisle as the sounds of a film in progress
in a neighboring theater bled through the paper-thin walls. At the
scheduled start time, as is the trend, a 20-minute segment of TV
commercials and trailers played. After that, as is also the trend,
the theater’s shameless self-promotion reel ran, instructing
me to buy refreshments and gift certificates, all in the guise of a
public service announcement asking people to turn off their cell
phones and refrain from talking.
Like most other moviegoers, I’ve grown accustomed to these
incompetent staffs, irritating audience members and pre-show ads.
On the whole, I’ve given up hope that I can go to a multiplex
and have the magical experiences I did in years past. I hoped that
“Kill Bill” would restore my faith in our
nation’s multi-screen theaters. Quentin Tarantino
hasn’t let me down in the past, so I trusted that if anyone
could do it, it’s him.
Sadly, it wasn’t the moving experience I had hoped for.
But it was no fault of Tarantino — “Kill Bill” is
a film of instant-classic caliber. There was something else that
tainted the experience for me. Throughout the film, at regular
intervals, a pattern of red dots would momentarily flash on the
screen. But these dots were not splatterings of blood from the
ultra-violent movie hitting the camera — a reasonable yet
ultimately false conclusion. Nor were they a mistake by the
projectionist. And nor were they subliminal messages covertly
inserted by the devious Weinsteins.
The dots I saw are part of the film industry’s new
anti-piracy campaign. Each print of the film is marked with a
unique pattern of red spots so that if the film should be illegally
copied, it can be traced to its original source.
The technology, known as Cap Code, was actually developed 20
years ago by Kodak. In its original form, the patterns on each
print were so small that the average moviegoer never knew they
existed. But recent problems with digital copies of films being
distributed on the Internet have caused film distributors to
increase their anti-piracy efforts. A new form of the Cap Code has
been instated, and in its latest incarnation, the patterns are much
larger and are conspicuously flashed in light-colored areas of the
screen. The new system has become so invasive that in some
cinephile circles it is referred to as “Crap Code.”
I won’t go so far as to suggest that the Cap Code ruined
the film for me, but it interfered with an otherwise uplifting
experience. I’m not usually one to complain about the
consumerism rampant in America. I take no issue with most
corporations, and I’ll never complain about Jimmy
John’s and Starbucks taking over State Street, but when the
problems become so extensive that works of art are being tarnished,
I take issue.
But even in these sad times, there are still some glimmers of
hope. It is with joy that I turn to local venues such as the
Michigan and State theaters, places where one can still go to
experience a movie like in the days of yore. Still, on that perfect
occasion, with the right film, in the right theater, one can catch
a glimpse of God.
— Joel can be reached at