The Moviegoing Experience, 1968-2001

By Erhardt, Erwin F., III | Film & History, July 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Moviegoing Experience, 1968-2001


Erhardt, Erwin F., III, Film & History


Richard W. Haines. The Moviegoing Experience, 1968-2001. McFarland, 2OO3. 270 pages; $32.00 paper.

Decline and Fall

According to filmmaker Richard Haines, the motion picture industry has gone through a radical transformation-and deformation over the last third of the twentieth century. In his book, The Moviegoing Experience, 1968-2001, he takes the reader through a detailed, yet world wind tour, of the events that he argues led to the decline and fall of the American Motion Picture Industry (film and movie house). Indeed, it is his stated intention to provide both a historical and analytical chronology of the events, which led to cinema's demise as a focal point of American entertainment.

During the period 1934 to 1968, Hollywood filmmaking operated under the auspices of the Production Code that marked films with a Seal of Approval. According to Haines, the Code, although it restricted certain subject matter, nonetheless did not prevent producers and directors from exercising creative freedom. Haines points to David O. Selznick as a prime example of such a director who took advantage of this climate to create the great American film classic, Gone With the Wind.

Following World War II, the author claims that the middle class wanted a conformity that "was necessary for the economic stability and a civil society" (19). For the time being then, the cinema would remain mainstream in its appeal. However, Haines states that while the more conservative elements of society had won this round of the cultural wars, their victory would soon be upended in the late 1960s.

By 1968, the author argues that the counterculture movement won their greatest victory when Valenti dismantled the Production Code and Seal. According to Haines, Jack Valenti, who became president of the MPAA in 1966, took the position that "any form of industrial self-regulation was censorship" (32). This was to send shock waves throughout the entire industry. Restrictions of film production were out, but the ratings system was in. Mainstream cinema was eroding fast as Sexploitation, Blacksploitation, and general exploitation films now came into full-scale production. Finally, the film palaces were suddenly in financial trouble; they no longer saw families coming to the theatre as they did prior to the end of the Code and Seal. It was now a cinema of segmented audiences, divided along the new ratings system.

The palaces were now transforming themselves. While they tried to target certain audiences for a while, twinning and multiplexes soon replaced them. Haines argues forcefully that the new multiplexes were "the cinematic equivalent of fast food restaurants in suburban malls" (92).

The book then shifts the focus to discuss the technical changes that paralleled the decline in cinema attendance and in film quality. Reel to reel projectors, operated by union technicians, were replaced by the platter system, which did not even require a qualified projectionist. From this point onward, Haines states that machines were no longer cleaned nor maintained and presentation of the films on the platter projectors became poor, and the overall moviegoing experience declined rapidly.

There was yet, waiting in the wings, another set of developments that would further undermine the commercial cinema-those of the home entertainment revolution. During the late seventies and early eighties, the video revolution, cable TV, and later satellite technology would all serve to snuff the life out of many cinemas still trying to survive. …

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