Last night my family and I went to The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood to see West Side Story. It was projected from a beautiful new 70mm print on a huge screen in one of the last of the great movie palaces. The music sounded amazing, the design and cinematography and lighting and editing are phenomenal - and the print was so good that you could pick out spots where the focus wasn't quite right or the lighting was a bit off. I love the dancing in this movie, and I love Natalie Wood.
My son the critic pointed out that some of the acting was rather wooden, and he's right. The movie doesn't really have the emotional impact that it ought to, because it just doesn't seem believable, at least watching it today. And there's a few changed lyrics that really gall me, that apparently were nods to the censors in 1961. I grew up with the LP of the stage play, and for me, that's the gold standard, but the movie is a wonderful experience. Seeing it in a big theatre full of fans, listening to their reactions, watching the dancers looming 30 feet high, there's nothing like it.
It's popular to dis movies - too expensive, audiences are rude, movies are lousy - all true, if you go to the local cineplex on a Friday night and watch most of the junk coming out of Hollywood today. Relatively recently I got a DVR and a high-def TV and for most movies that's a perfectly adequate way to watch them if they are worth watching at all. But I love the epic movie on the big screen - and I love the really good "small" movie, in the dark with others.
And I usually love the crowds in Hollywood and Burbank and Glendale. You're often sitting with members of the Hollywood working class, the gaffers and the transportation captains and the animators and the studio musicians and the special effects programmers, who sit 3 or 4 minutes into the credits so they can applaud their buddies. If the movie is good, or even decent, they sit in rapt attention. With the right movie and the right conditions, there's still something magic there.