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Public speaking is hard. Public speaking is even harder when discussing last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner 12 Years A Slave. It’s been very difficult talking about the movie, and even some people who like or support it can't help but put their foot in their mouths in discussing one of the year’s most-acclaimed films. And joining that group of people who end up saying dopey things about 12 Years A Slave is National Association Of Theater Owners CEO John Fithian.
Making his annual speech at Cinemacon (via THR), Fithian bumblingly praised the year in movies by essentially saying he didn’t even see the best one in theaters:
"Earlier, I mentioned human emotion and diversity of product. One movie that brought both of those qualities to the market was 12 Years a Slave, winner of the Best Picture Oscar. Yet it was the only movie of the nine nominated for best picture that I didn't watch on the big screen... It's not that I didn't consider the movie worthy of watching. Quite the contrary. '12 Years A Slave' constitutes one of the most important movies of our generation. It's simply that, for me, the movie was too unequivocally intense to watch in a cinema, so I waited and watched it home."
Hey, that’s some kooky logic there. Trying to please the theater owners as well as the producers of the film just insults both. This explanation was couched in an approval of the intensity and performance of modern theaters, the state-of-the-art technology creating a you-are-there feeling that the home market cannot beat. And in this case, it’s perfect for taking you to Asgard in Thor: The Dark World. But the slave-era South? No, the theater cannot contain that. Keep it fantastical guys. The theater just can’t pull that off.
And the movie that the Oscars deemed the best of the year, the four-time MTV Award nominee and $172 million box office hit, simply can’t be seen in theaters by the head of the theaters organization. It’s too much… uh… intensity and… uh… hard-to-watch… and, uh… so history, much cruelty. Is this movie great? Yes, says Fithian. But in a different way, a way the isolates its "intensity." It’s a way of praising the film while also keeping your distance from the product.
If anything, this is another point against the theater system, one that has left audience members staying home and enjoying films through their own personal entertainment systems, and avoiding the poor tech screw-ups, the substandard presentations, ill-tempered behavior of other theater-goers and poor performance from management and staff, On top of all that, now you’ve got the guy who runs the theaters himself admitting he watched the Best Picture winner at home. And admitting it to a crowd, a crowd in front of him to hear about the greatness of theater projection and the communal experience of the movies. Maybe sit the next couple of plays out, John Fithian, come back when you’ve figured this whole "movies in the theaters" thing out.