Cinematic Death Wish

Some people couldn’t bear to live in a place without easy access to ski trails down a mountainside or rodeo or whatever special interest floats their boat. I require a movie-house that offers frequent helpings of oddball indie films and foreign movies of note in addition to the usual Hollywood dreck like “Bad Moms.”

Luckily the Podunk that I’ve called home for the last decade and for an earlier stretch of the same length in the ‘70s and 80’s has always had such an amenity. It was first called The Janus, then in a new locale The Carousel and recently, under new management, Red Cinemas.

Alas, Red has begun to make me blue. Its prices have begun to creep up, probably because it is no longer a movie theater but a cinema. It still shows a fair number of indie films on tiny screens in tiny theaters, but it is less than generous to seniors, though they make up a sizable portion of its matinee audience. Its senior price is twenty-five cents off the full price of $7.50, which is, frankly, insulting. It’s like throwing a meatless bone to an old dog you no longer like.

But injury was added to insult recently when I requested two senior tickets to a show, handed over my card which was swiped with alacrity, and was then told it would cost me $21.00.

“Since when,” I asked, “Did the senior ticket price escalate by 40 percent?”

I was told this was the price for movies when shown in the luxury theaters at matinees for all persons, no senior discount. At night the luxury seats cost a brutal $13.82, but senior could pay the same rapacious $10.62 as at matinees. I asked what made certain of the dozen or more theaters worth a 40 percent premium all of a sudden. I was told they had new, luxury, reclining seats.

About time, since I’ve been sitting in creaky, squeaking, beat-up seats with sprung cushions for ten years. But since when is a movie theater an airline with first class and steerage? Isn’t doing the sort of deferred maintenance required in any space that caters to the public a cost of doing business? Replacing rotten old seats hardly seems to justify such a whooping price gouge. Would a restaurant think it could jack up prices on the same menu just because it replaced the wobbly tables and spavined chairs? Not if it wanted to stay in business.

Red has just annoyed a loyal customer of many years. When I heard the $21 price I refused to pay and demanded my money back which, necessitated a call to the manager. Then I betook myself across town to a competitor that happened to be playing the same film for 40 percent less — comfortable seats at no extra charge.

Maybe Red is counting on me having no other choice when the “luxury” theaters are playing the kind of indie and foreign films that only Red Cinemas offer. But the times they are a-changing. Price gouging because you are the only game in town is short-sighted in an era that has begun to provide movie buffs with a huge smorgasbord of films on demand or pay-per-view or streaming to my giant flat screen at home. They cost at most $6.99, and that’s not just for me, but for as many people as I can jam into the living room.

Many of these films also become available the same day they appear in theaters. They include indie drama and comedy, documentaries, and foreign fare from around the world, and the luxury seating is really reliably comfortable because I bought it myself and sit in it every day. So far this year I’ve streamed these films at home, among others — “A Bigger Splash,” “Testament of Youth,” “The Family Fang,” “Zero Days,” “Don’t Think Twice,” and “In Order of Disappearance.”

Movie theaters are in the process of being disrupted by the internet as have so many businesses before them, from newspapers to retail to cab drivers. They can either entice the public on price or amenities or both or face extinction. What they surely can’t expect to do is charge me an extra $3 for a nicer seat, $8 for popcorn and $6 for a Coke when I can watch the same movies and eat superior snacks in my own screening room for a fraction of the cost.

So long, Red, been good to know you, but the disruptin’ old internet’s blowin’ you away.

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