On a moderately cold winter's morning, a medium-sized group of people found themselves huddled together outside of the Clearview Chelsea Movie Theater in New York City. The facial reactions of people passing by said one simple thing: "Why are they waiting outside of a movie theatre at 9:45 on a Tuesday morning?"
The answer is that the inauguration of Barack Obama was scheduled to begin a live broadcast at 11 a.m. inside. After months of anticipation, and an incredibly heated election, an assorted group of political junkies (present company included) gathered together to watch history on a much larger screen than our living rooms would allow.
After the doors swung open, we were greeted by the familiar smell of movie theatre popcorn as the Clearview staff hustled to prepare their place of business slightly ahead of its normal opening time. Yet given the time of day and the current weather conditions it came as no surprise that many in attendance opted for coffee instead of the usual buttered confection. The early arrivals conversed over their daily caffeine fix, while more patrons began to crowd the theatre lobby.
The event at hand was the result of a partnering between MSNBC and Screenvision, and the response seemed to exceed even their highest expectations. Last Friday, tickets for the free screenings were sold out, which meant that due to high demand the organizations were temporarily forced to stop accepting requests via MSNBC's website. As a result, they contacted the 27 participating theatres to see which of them would be able to provide multiple screens. The Clearview was one of those theatres, and they presented the inauguration on two of their screens.
As movie theatres are forced to compete with increasingly diverse media options, alternative content, such as the Obama Inauguration, is becoming a vital part of their business. Now, thanks to this heavily publicized event, more moviegoers will be aware of the often diverse options at their local theatre.
"I think more and more people will begin to regard their movie theatre not just as a place where they can see one major part of national culture, which is the movies, but they'll see it as a gathering place to enjoy a whole range of televised or video-stalled events," Matthew Kearney, President and CEO of Screenvision told B OXOFFICE right before the beginning of the inauguration.
As for the event itself, the audience reacted no differently than they would have during a traditional moviegoing experience.
The obviously Democratic bunch burst into applause when MSNBC's cameras showed moving trucks hauling away the belongings of the Bush family. When George W. Bush was introduced to an extremely unenthusiastic response from the Washington audience, the New York crowd began to wave "Goodbye" to the screen in front of them. Those in attendance also reacted with enthusiasm to the off-screen bantering of two unabashedly liberal commentators, Chris Matthews and Keith Olberman.
The entrances of Michelle Obama and Joe Biden received heavy applause, and the emergence of Sasha and Malia Obama was met with a collective "Awwww." When the new President of the United States stumbled during the oath of office, the audience laughed as though a serious leading man had just slipped on a banana peel.
MSNBC did what it could to make the event feel slightly cinematic. During Aretha Franklin's stirring rendition of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" the sweeping shots of the massive crowd and the static shots of a billowing American flag looked amazing on the bigscreen.
It was also fitting that famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma led a group of musicians in the performance of an original composition by John Williams titled “Air and Simple Gifts.” Williams, after all, is arguably the most influential film composer of all time.
While movie theatres have always been the home to recreations of history from
W., this time around they were a vital part of history in the making. It was an experience that those in attendance won't soon forget.