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The Secret Best Movie Playing Last Weekend

Back to the Future awkward

by Gabriel Valdez

I have a secret. Most of you won’t know what the best movie playing this last weekend was. I’ll give you a hint: it features binoculars.

What do you see on a weekend where your choices at the movie theater are limited between Kinda Hunger Games: Divergasurgent, Sean Penn experiencing a three-quarter life crisis, and “the best horror movie in years” is only playing at a handful of select locations hours from where you live? You see something old.

The best movie in theaters this past weekend was Rear Window. No, they didn’t remake it. They re-featured it. Not so long ago, movie theaters had to possess the physical reels in order to play a movie, meaning a set of reels (often scratched and worn thin from use) could only be in one location at a time. Classic films “toured,” which made tracking down old films on the big screen nearly impossible.

Now, remastered and restored versions of old films can be digitally downloaded directly to individual projection booths, meaning a single, clean copy of a classic movie can be shown on thousands of screens at once. And if you think, “I can just watch that on my laptop,” trust me – seeing a classic movie on the big screen still feels special.

Rear Window

My two favorite experiences seeing classic movies on the big-screen are as different as can be. The epic to end all movie epics, Lawrence of Arabia, was meant to be watched on as large a screen as possible. It was meant to tower over you, lose you in its desert, capture you in the energy behind Peter O’Toole’s masterful performance. Watch it on TV or on the computer? Fine. Watch it 40 feet high? Something else entirely.

The other was a surprise: Back to the Future. It’s a film we’re used to watching and laughing at with a handful of friends in our own home, but when 200 others are laughing at all the classic lines as well, you don’t just appreciate the movie, you feel its magic all over again as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Movies change when you see them on the big screen. They become something more, not afternoon fodder when we can’t find anything better to do on a lazy weekend, but whole events that transport you into the past and re-introduce your favorite movie moments to you.

I hate to select out one company, but unless you live in a city with an Alamo Drafthouse or a very devoted independent movie theater scene (Portland, Oregon kills it on this front), you’re going to be relying on Fathom Events. If you recognize the name, it’s because they feature opera, stand-up, and fight nights in hundreds of movie theaters across the country every week.

What a lot of people forget is that their mainstay is a classic cinema series they’ve teamed up with Turner Classic Movies to select. That’s how Rear Window was shown on hundreds of screens across the country this past weekend. If you live within driving distance of two or more chain theaters, chances are you could have caught it. In fact, you still can – Rear Window plays again on the 25th. Most theaters play it twice – during the day and in the evening.

If that’s not your cup of tea, they’re featuring The Breakfast Club on March 26 and 31, and if Breakfast Club isn’t your cup of tea, then I don’t know if we can be friends.

The Breakfast Club movie image

Next month The Sound of Music and Friday go up. Previous features have included Gone With the Wind, Singin’ in the Rain, A Streetcar Named Desire, Frankenstein, and The Wizard of Oz, among many others.

Now, not every one of these features is equal. Fathom has gotten better about seeking out digital prints of film copies, but they’ve been guilty of screening 1080i copies in the past, which can look a little muddy when blown up. They’ve gotten much better about this as they’ve seen success, but I make no promises.

Seek out – especially if you live in a city – which smaller movie theaters show classics. Independent and smaller chain movie theaters often make bigger events of their classic screenings, and the unique nature of both theater and movie can draw larger, more energetic crowds. My Lawrence of Arabia and Back to the Future experiences were both at independent theaters (at the NW Film Center and McMenamins Bagdad Theatre, respectively – both are in Portland, Oregon). Keep an eye on Fathom Events, too, however. The experience may be more standardized, but it’s also more regular, easier to keep track of, and more accessible for most filmgoers, since they work with major, nationwide chains.

Best of all, on a weekend like this last, either option offers much better choices than what most moviegoers will have access to. So go check out an old movie on the big screen, and see how the experience compares.