In Defense of Going to the Movies

The popcorn. The posters. The previews. The audience camaraderie. What's not to love?

According to an article published by Amy Kaufman and Richard Verrier on 31 December in the Los Angeles Times, 2012 was a pretty good year to go see a movie. Ticket sales were projected to land somewhere around the $10.8 billion mark by the time the year's totals were calculated, and when compared with a relatively abysmal 12 months at the box office in 2011, attendance numbers were on track to finish at a little more than 1.3 billion ticket-buyers. ("Movie box-office totals for 2012 projected to set record".) High-definition televisions, Internet-based streaming services and absurdly expensive ticket prices be damned -- statistics show that yes, going to the movies is still fun. 

I was reminded of as much last weekend when I found myself confronting a couple days filled with nothing to do for the first time in a long time. Having become a fan of cinema only relatively recently (say, the last five years or so), I did something I've never done in my life: On Friday night, I pulled up Yahoo's search engine, looked at the listings for the theater I typically frequent, headed over to YouTube, and simply began watching various trailers for films. The next morning, I woke up, drove to the theater, and watched the first showing of The Company You Keep, the Robert Redford-led pseudo chase thriller that features an outlandish number of acclaimed actors and actresses who keep popping up even as you begin to think the cast can't become anymore ensemble. 

The movie was good, not great -- something was lacking from either the story or the performances, though I can't quite pinpoint what it was -- but whether or not I was inspired to leave the building and immediately call 63 people to babble about how unforgettable it may or may not have been wasn't really the point, anyway. Simply going to a movie theater to buy a ticket, get some popcorn and sit down in a dark room to watch a big screen project a story to a faction of people who were all presumably interested in the same thing, however, was. All I really wanted to do was take part in the movie-going experience, regardless of if The Company You Keep was either award-worthy or more bland than butter-less popcorn. And much to my delight, that's exactly what I did.

Turns out, what I was feeling wasn't particularly novel. As Daniel Bergamini of the movie blog The Deleted Scene wrote in August 2010, there is nothing quite like taking the time to venture out and see a film in a movie theater. 

"I have heard over and over on film blogs and podcasts, that going to the theatre is no longer worthwhile and viewing a film on a big screen TV is easier and with less likelihood of annoyance," he wrote. "This has always bothered me; the idea that the real film fans, the ones whose main passions are film, are no longer going to the cinema, yet the average film goers are still going en masse. As much as the insensitivity and general ignorance of other people which sometimes bubbles to the surface during movies bothers me, I could never pass up seeing a great film in a theatre ... I do not believe that going to the theaters is only for tradition. ... We go because we love film and nothing is as enjoyable as sharing a great piece of cinema with your fellow film lovers." ("Why Going To The Movies Doesn’t Suck".)

It's hard to imagine a fan of film who can't at least appreciate the romance of watching a movie at an actual movie theater. Sure, the practice has become increasingly hard to stomach in recent years due to inconsiderate texters or obnoxiously loud cellphone-users, but even the most jaded or cynical enthusiast can't deny how the spectacle of the movie theater ritual played at least some type of role in his or her initial infatuation. 

Such is a communal experience, the way crowds laugh together during a comedy, scream together during a moment of horror, cry together during a dramatic turn or think together during the confusing parts of a plot-heavy thriller. Audiences can make or break one's own interpretation of a film, and while some may consider that aspect detrimental, it would be unfair to discount the theater-going tradition merely because of two or three bad experiences -- experiences, remember, that anyone who has ever claimed to enjoy watching movies has undoubtedly had. Much like everything else in life, procedures are defined by perceptions, not the external factors that color our own personal realities. The minute we allow those outside elements to overtly control our choices and actions is the minute optimism and acceptance becomes an impossibility. 

Actually, the shade of those external factors is part of what makes the whole thing so magical, anyway. Take, for example, the preview portion of the practice: Sneak peaks of movies you know you'll never actually see hold almost as much clout as previews of movies you can't wait to watch. Why is that? Because as anyone who has ever ventured into a theater can attest, viewing an extended theatrical trailer for a film on a big screen is a completely different animal than a 30-second spot that shows up on cable television during prime-time hours.

From both an aesthetic and intellectual standpoint, previews become far more interesting whenever they have the time to spread out and explain themselves for a few minutes before the main attraction. Rom-coms seem more detailed. Action flicks seem more explosive. And blockbusters seem more unavoidable. Previews hold far more purpose than a simple grace period for late-comers who don't want to miss the opening credits, and without them, a significant portion of the exclusivity that goes into seeing a movie in a theater would feel incomplete. 

Then, there's the food. Try as we may, we all know how impossible it is to replicate movie theater popcorn. The butter (or butter-flavored stuff). The salt. The extra butter. The extra salt. It's like a bucket filled with kernels of how Heaven would taste if it was edible. The smell movie popcorn exudes only furthers the attraction. Sure, anyone can go out and buy a gigantic white sheet to project moving pictures for all in the back yard to watch ... but how many homeowners can duplicate the constant smell of freshly popped popcorn floating through the air like a strongly scented, buttery yummy candle?

And don't forget the posters. Taking one look around the walls of a movie theater's lobby is kind of like taking one look around a museum filled with artifacts that have yet to be determined valuable. The plethora of imaginative promotional materials crowd every corner of open space one could find and the result is always nothing short of visually fascinating. Some of them even rival the actual movies themselves (remember the Reese Witherspoon/Chris Pine/Tom Hardy-starring This Means War that utterly flopped at the beginning of last year? Those posters were absurdly massive and impossible to ignore). Merely walking around the hallways gives spectators the feeling of experiencing a fun-house for the first time as an adolescent. And, come on -- who above the age of 30 doesn't yearn for a feeling of adolescence every now and then?

"Moviegoing is, at its core, a social experience," Alexander Huls, of The New York Times, wrote in May 2012 while lamenting on his affection for midnight showings. "The moment those lights dim and the film reel rolls, you’re no longer an individual sitting in an auditorium; you’re part of a mass of people who are connected through a shared event and the desire to be entertained and transported. In that moment, when you turn from a solitary viewer into an audience, you form a trusting and reciprocal relationship not only with the movie but also with those around you... Every time we go to the movies, we need to be reminded again why we love to do so; otherwise we might stop bothering to go to the movies at all. A hushed theater reminds me why I love movies. But a midnight show reminds me why I love going to the movies. It’s an event I can’t recreate anywhere else. A great movie is a great movie whether you see it in a packed auditorium or on your own couch, but at the midnight show, a great movie is enhanced by the experience around it." ("How to Enjoy Going to the Movies Again".)

Indeed. Seeing a movie in a theater can make a good movie seem great or a bad movie seem good. It has become one of the very few healthy hobbies we can enjoy that hasn't fallen victim to technology advancements or big business apathy. The music industry still can't figure out what to do with the Internet, more than a decade after it first came around and completely turned the business on its head. Television is currently undergoing its own mini sea change as the notion of appointment viewing has increasingly become moot and practices such as binge viewing and DVRing have overtaken what was once the traditional way to consume the medium. And without the aide of a tablet or E-Reader, literature seems more and more archaic to some bookworms as collections and libraries have been labeled too impractical by readers and too costly by publishers. 

Movies, though -- movies will always have the theater. Unlike its entertainment brethren, cinema was built around offering a unique form of consumption that benefits from having a reputation akin to important events and intensified experiences. Watching movies in movie theaters is a time-honored tradition that can both bring families together for a few hours and provide an escape for those searching for some getaway moments of loneliness. "For me," the actor Will Smith once said, "there is nothing more valuable than how people feel in a movie theater about a movie." He was on to something, you know. The theater, remember, is the one venue dedicated solely to being the quintessential place for people to view film in its purest, most enriched form. If a film can't come to life in a theater, it can't come to life anywhere. 

For that, the movie theater should never be dismissed or devalued. For that, the movie theater should never be unappreciated or underrated. And for that, movies as bland as The Company You Keep will forever be worth seeing ... as long as we remind ourselves to be sure we see it in the right place. 

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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