The last picture show

There was a time when you had to go to a movie theater to see a film. The projectionist would mount a big reel of 35mm print, the house lights would go down, and the flickering magic would begin. Then along came television — a more convenient and decidedly less magical alternative.

The progression continues apace, as movies migrate to our portable devices. We seem to continually trade away magic for ever more convenience. I wonder whether there is some sort of universal constant, some formula like M = 1/C, a kind of inverse law between convenience and magic.

Soon there may come a time when the last movie theater is boarded up, relic of a bygone age, like the corset, or the family doctor who makes house calls. We will all stream our movies in real-time through our cellular networks, onto some portable device or other.

But what will happen after the electronic pulse that wipes out all electronic systems, signaling the start of World War III? What will happen when our civilization has collapsed, as civilizations inevitably do, and we find ourselves groping in the dark, our once vaunted cellphones now useless hunks of plastic and coltan derivatives?

There will no longer be any physical record of the movies that once were, merely the memories in peoples’ minds of films they still remember from childhood, magic images that used to flicker on the screens of the cellular devices of yesteryear. Even these memories will fade each year like a painting in the desert sun, until all that is left is legend, words that escape meaning, like Rhett and Scarlett, Chaplin, Kubrick, Dorothy and the Tin Man.

Of course in time, over the span of centuries, civilization will rebuild itself, as civilizations always do. Perhaps our distant progeny will learn from their forebears’ sad cultural collapse, or perhaps such cultural tragedies are destined to ever repeat themselves, like a Library of Alexandria burning through all eternity.

Ten thousand years from now, when someone finally green-lights a movie about that fabled thing of dreams and myth called “Hollywood”, that dimly remembered Shangri La of beautiful people who never grow old, perhaps they will tell the sad tale of how cellphone streaming spelled the death of our film legacy.

When they do, I have a great title for them, although I doubt the filmmakers of the future will understand. I think they should call it “Lost Verizon”.

2 thoughts on “The last picture show”

  1. Vaguely related: When silent movies first began to take off, the movie companies applied to the Library of Congress for copyright protection. The LOC, not knowing what to do with these newfangled movie things, insisted on positive paper prints of the movie frames, so they could be filed like photographs.

    Fast forward a few decades later. The nitrocellulose film stock the movies were recorded on decomposed, sometimes explosively. The LOC’s paper prints became the only surviving record of the movies.

  2. Yay paper! Let’s hear it for “old media”!

    Or, as they may call it some time in the far future, when it’s the only record we’ve managed to leave behind, “media”. 😉

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