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Ihnatko: The Golden Age for moviegoing is now

From Andy Ihnatko, Boston, MA:

To the Prof who bemoaned the lack of theatergoing experience in the current generation of kids:

Hog and wash. I think the most disinterested young theatergoer has, at worst, the same opportunities at seeing great movies when I was that age in the 80's. I had a longer window for seeing a particular movie, but there were only 7 screens within a half-hour bike ride and certainly fewer than 16 within a twenty-minute drive.

We had video rental, but even there you're talking about the same junky movies, plus a handful of classics that every store had to stock.

But let's say that a current 16-year-old had the same love of movies that I did. He or she has access to:

- Multiplexes. Maybe they're no help with a third-place Sundance finisher but it does increase your odds of getting to see a Coen Brothers movie.

- Turner Classic Movies, IFC, Sundance, and other brave desert outposts of amazing movies on the 500-channel cable dial. And DVRs that let me leave a standing order for anything directed by John Ford.

- Netflix. For less than the price of two movie tickets per month, I get any movie ever released on DVD. Someone recommends movies made by some dude named "Max Ophus" to me during dinner...huh. Thanks to my iPhone, by the time I get back to my car I've realized it's "Olphüs" and have added "La Ronde" to the top of my queue; it arrives two days later.

And why is he so bothered by the iPods and the laptops? The Internet expands Young Andy's access beyond just what's in print. In the Eighties, a movie had no "right" to be put before the public unless it was popular enough to support a commercial video release. Today, all it needs is _one_ 16mm print or _one_ VHS copy in the hands of _one_ cinemaphile who loves the flick enough to share it with the world.

Oh, yes...the piracy. True. Many of the younger generation have no reservations against obtaining first-run movies via (shall we say) paralegal means. Noted. But we're talking about the opportunities for interested kids to get their hands on great movies. And here, a torrent site means that the distance between "I'd really like to see 'Encounters At The End Of The World' but it only played for a week, at a theater 900 miles away" and _seeing_ that movie is roughly one hour.

My iPhone and other pocket media players let me watch movies wherever and whenever I want. Hell, while I was waiting in line to see "Star Wars Episode III," I was watching Episode II to refresh myself on the background.

(It didn't really help.)

Thousands of pages of film history, criticism and commentary are online and instantly accessible. Message boards surround me with people who like talking about movies as much as I do. DVDs have commentary tracks.

Best of all, I'm not Young Andy any more. I have a career and a house and I can have a 60" high-def movie screen in my living room, hooked up to Dolby Digital stereo and a home media server that can crank up any of 120 ripped DVDs with just a few presses of a remote.

I think there are some constants. In the Eighties as in the Aughties as in every other era, there will always be a huge wedge of the audience pie that doesn't care about movies a whole lot. These are the people who talk during the movie and ensure that a screenwriter who can keep coming up with ways for a middle-aged comedian to get hit in the nuts will always have a job.

But there's never been a better time to be a lover of movies than today. Regardless of your age.

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