In the legal dispute between the motion picture industry and the video tape industry, may I submit as evidence the MacArthur Theatre, which was once a wonderful movie house with many seats and an actual lobby and in which, in its refurbished and much-reduced state, I recently saw The Verdict from a position pretty close to flat on my back. It was then that I decided to get a video tape recorder.
The exact moment of the decision is lost in a welter of pain and discomfort, not to mention anxiety. The latter was produced by the realization that too many tickets had been sold. This induced a state of panic among those in the theater who were naive enough to think that just because they had a ticket they would also have a seat. They ran up and down the aisles in the manner of chickens, looking for seats that were not, alas and alack, there.
Some people ran up to the balcony only to find no seats available there, either, and then they descended to the main floor where the lucky ones had to settle for sitting almost under an elevated screen. This meant that the people in the front had to virtually lie down or scrunch themselves in their seats to gain a novel perspective of Paul Newman--specifically, what he looks like when you look up his nose. At the same time, I, for one, got to know in almost a Biblical sense the woman sitting to my right since she contorted herself in my direction while I did the same in hers.
I know none of this is really germane to the suit brought by the movie industry against the makers of video tape machines. But I do know that once the MacArthur was a real theater with a real lobby and with seats that were not so close to the screen that you had to risk traction to see the movie. It had 800 seats and a high ceiling and when you went there to see a movie, it was something like an event. The theater itself said that what you were doing was something special.
But no more. The MacArthur has been carved into three little theaters. Like many of these theater-ettes, its main purpose seems to be to sell popcorn, which it does very slowly and at outrageous prices. It is the movie theater version of steerage, with seats packed closely together and almost no leg room--a place designed with Toulouse-Lautrec in mind. It has no lobby anymore so ticket-holders, of which I was one, have to wait outside, either in the cold or in the heat, depending of course on the season. For this, the price of admittance has been raised to $5, meaning that for a couple to see a movie and buy two boxes of popcorn costs at least $12--or $6 more than it costs to rent a tape of a movie.
All this brings me back to the suit brought by the movie industry against Sony et al. I leave the legal issues to the lawyers, of which both sides have literally hundreds. But whatever the merits of the movie industry's case, it evaporates when you consider that this is a business that treats its audience with contempt--charging outrageous prices for lousy movies and showing them in Styrofoam theaters, some of which now show commercials, or, worse yet, appeals from the Will Rogers home.
There is something sad about this. Going to the movies used to be an event. It was wonderful to see a film as part of an audience. The laughs were better and so, for that matter, was the terror. None of that--the sense of sharing, the sense of going out--can be duplicated in your living room, especially if the telephone should ring.
But the phone is a minor inconvenience compared to those awaiting you at the theater. At home you don't have to stand in line, you don't have to rush around for seats, you don't have to see the movie on your back, you don't have to look for parking, you don't have to drive the babysitter home and you don't have to get intimate with someone who's not of your religion.
When it comes to off-the-air taping, the movie industry has a point. But it's hard to feel sorry for a movie industry that yells it's being ripped off after it has been ripping off the public for years. Its lawyers have a case to make. In all fairness, though, they ought to make it on their backs.