Last Sunday, I went to a children’s screening of the 1933 classic King Kong to celebrate its 80th anniversary, and I had so much fun watching the movie with kids and their parents that it made me think of my favorite experiences seeing a movie on the big screen in a darkened theater – the way we were meant to see them.
I used to take seeing movies on the big screen for granted; after all, every movie came out in theaters. It’s only as my interest in independent, foreign, and classic film developed that I came to crave theater showings.
There’s something special about seeing a film on the big screen with an audience. You can see the every detail of every frame right in front of you. With the right audience, the mood can be electric. There can be cheering and clapping and gasps. The audience can make you notice things you’d never seen in your favorite movie.
That said, here are some of my favorite experiences seeing movies on the big screen. I decided not to include any my experiences at last year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, which I’ve already written about at length.
Gone with the Wind at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, February 2012
I had been on the lookout for screenings of Gone with the Wind for a few years, and I seemed to always miss screenings of it on the big screen – until this one rolled around. My anticipation was running high, and I remember getting chills as soon as the overture started. The audience cheered and laughed at all right moments and made me appreciate just how funny the movie could be. They loved Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel. I’d never seen the film look as beautiful as it looked at that screening, and those reddish orange skies were breathtaking in pristine DCP projection. Simply put, it was magical.
Avatar, December 2009
I had been anticipating Avatar’s release since I heard that a whole language had been created for the film. I went with some friends to a midnight showing, and although we only saw it in 2D (I thought that 3D + three hours + midnight ≠ good idea), I still found myself caught up in the spectacle. While my opinion of the film has changed with subsequent viewings, nothing can take away that feeling of wonder at seeing the world of Pandora come alive for the first time.
Where Do We Go Now?, May 2012
I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m half Middle Eastern, and I love watching films from the region. My mom and I went to go see the Lebanese film Where Do We Go Now? last year, and I can safely say that no movie was more poignantly hilarious than it was. We were in stitches throughout most of the movie, my mom particularly so. After the movie, a woman came up to her and asked her if it was her who’d been laughing the whole time; she said that she loved hearing her laugh because it meant that someone else was enjoying it just as much as she was: more proof that sharing the movie experience with others is just that much better.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at UGC Cinemas, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, July 2007
I had to put one of the Harry Potter movies here, and this was probably my most unique experience. I was spending the summer in Belgium and other parts of Europe, and I decided to see I could go to a midnight showing. Instead, the theater was having an advance screening. The catch? It would be dubbed in French. While I normally don’t like dubbing, I loved the thrill of seeing the movie before its official release. And then I got to see it again a few days later in English – and it was like seeing it for the first time again.
Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D at Film Forum in New York City, October 2012
Without a doubt, this is my favorite 3D screening to date. It’s funny how the 1950s 3D blows the modern stuff out of the water. Creature from the Black Lagoon is the good kind of cheesy scifi. This was my first time seeing the film, and I haven’t seen it since. I’m curious to know how much of my enjoyment came from seeing it on the big screen in 3D. I laughed along with the audience at some of the funnier bits, and the experience was an all-around good time. The best part? The 3D underpinned those hilarious shots of the creature’s hand coming at the audience coupled with the dramatic score.
It Happened One Night and His Girl Friday at the Million Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles, January 2012
I was able to convince three friends to go with me to see a double feature of these two movies that were more than 70 years old in one of the old Los Angeles movie palaces. That makes this experience special in itself. I’d seen both before, one had seen the latter, one the former, and one neither – so we were quite a mix of perspectives. My friend who’d seen neither was laughing practically the entire time: proof that these are two timeless comedies if ever there were some. I love both of these movies, and I was thrilled to have successfully shared them with others.
Ponyo, August 2009
Ever since we graduated high school, my friends and I try to all get together if we’re all home, and one summer, about eight of us went to see Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film (dubbed in English). The movie was, well, interesting, but we all went along with the plot. But as soon as this end credit song started, we couldn’t believe what we were hearing. And by the end, we were singing along (the few other people in the theater had left by the time), and it was one of the most fun times I’ve had sitting in a movie theater.
Lawrence of Arabia at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, December 2011
Lawrence of Arabia is a movie that both of my parents love, and I remember seeing bits and pieces of it growing up but never the full movie. We went as a family to this 70mm screening of the movie, and as far as I remember, it was the first time we’d gone to a a classic screening all together. It was a packed house full of people of all ages. Like with Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia begs to be seen on the big screen; reducing it to television does it a profound disservice. On the big screen, you can see every detail – it makes sand look more beautiful than it has ever looked before.
Hold Back the Dawn at LACMA, April 2012
The Freshman with live piano by Steve Sterner at Film Forum, New York City, October 2012
Habibi Rasak Kharban with Q&A with director Susan Youssef at the Film Society Lincoln Center, August 2012