With most cinemas closed since March, intrepid fans are finding ways to keep the cinema alive, minus the “go”.
The easiest way is a Netflix watch party. The streaming service provides a link to start your chosen movie simultaneously on multiple computers and a chat function. (Note: When theaters are open again, remember not to chat.)
“It’s not really a temporary replacement for going to the theater – having snacks and being able to (sit) with your friends – but we can watch together and share reactions,” said Lucy Johnson, 16, of Minneapolis, who has hosted several movie nights with friends while isolating at home during the pandemic. “It’s a better experience than just renting a movie on your own.”
Dan Gardner, 68, of Belle Plaine, is one of nine men in a movie club who was born on a golf course four years ago when golfers realized they all wanted to watch movies their women did not want. Mostly retired and in their 60s and 60s, the members would meet for breakfast, then head to the multiplex as a group and kibitz afterwards.
Gardner says their experience deepened following a meeting via Zoom, which brings moviegoers to each other’s homes.
“It definitely brought us closer because some of us only knew each other through golf or maybe only because he was someone else’s friend,” Gardner said. “Now we get to know each other’s families. They’re an incredibly unique and really fun group.
While their prosaically named “Movie Club” is as much about socializing as it is about analyzing movies, some clubs swing wildly in the other direction.
Terry Serres, who is perhaps the local champion of the online cinema discussion, is involved in several groups, including his Esoteric Club Varda/Denis/Akerman, laser-focused on the films of three French-speaking female directors: Agnès Varda, Claire Denis and Chantal. Akerman.
“I’m exploring for myself and if someone else wants too, that’s great,” said Serres, 59, a restoration ecologist who lives in Minneapolis. A few moviegoers joined in to watch and browse related articles and films, and others commented on the group’s Facebook page.
The other companies in Serres are more accessible. Even before COVID-19, he often arranged virtual movie dates with foreign friends, which continued. Additionally, it gathered moviegoers for synchronous viewings of streaming titles such as “The Handmaiden” and “Bringing Up Baby,” with intermissions for refreshments and Facebook Messenger chat. And he’s part of the Long Island Online Cinema Public Group, whose members across the country operate like a book club: They watch the same title individually, then discuss it on Zoom on Saturday afternoons.
These chat sessions can be eye-opening, like when Serres discovered that his dislike of “You Can Count on Me” put him in the minority.
“I like the exchange of ideas within this group. People are smart and very respectful of different opinions and they’re not afraid to disagree,” he said.
After a 2019 where he vigilantly followed what turned out to be a banner year for movies, Serres said the clubs helped him stay involved in a fractured and bewildered 2020.
“Last year, when I was so into the movies, I was impatient for them to come here,” said Serres, who tracked down two pre-screenings of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and jokes that loving him is a prerequisite to being his friend. “I was aware of what was coming out and what their possible virtues and appeals might be. This year I haven’t taken the pulse of that at all.
Even as he pursues the socialization of films online, Serres said it inevitably reinforces a singular feeling: “I love the theatrical experience.”
Peter Schilling, a freelance writer who has done film advertising, tries to capture some of that experience. Just over a week ago, he hosted a private Facebook group to get closer to the social side of watching Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” the most highly genealogical movie to open since theaters closed.
“It was one of the few times there was a new streaming release that was exciting,” said Schilling, who also hosts Moon Palace Books’ Cinema Book Club. “Normally we can talk about it, but we’re all social distancing so I don’t meet anyone in cafes or obviously see anyone in theatres.”
Enter his “Da 5 Bloods” club, to which he has invited a few dozen moviegoers. Schilling said, “I wanted to replicate as best I could that charge you get right after a new movie comes out. It’s a lot of fun when you anticipate the opening and can’t wait to see it.
Schilling’s theater owner buddies invited him to physically distant screenings while their theaters were closed to the public. But, like others who have hosted events online, he said nothing can replace a good movie with a fan room.
As theaters begin to open and big hits like ‘Mulan’ and ‘Tenet’ are slated for July, fans say they can’t wait to get back to multiplexes once they feel safe. .