Basically, I think 1972 shows us the importance of single-screen cinemas. Because multiplexes didn’t really exist, each movie in this massive movie slate played in its own individual theater. The marquee would be covered in promotional material for that specific film. At that time, there were dozens and dozens of theaters all over New York City, and the vast majority of them have since closed, either taken over by office buildings and stores, or demolished entirely. . Single-screen movie theaters, in their own way, really made the movie you go to see an event. The whole building you entered was used to show a film (or sometimes two, if it was a double poster). You might walk down the street and see buildings dedicated to a bunch of different movies. Now, there is only one single-screen cinema in New York: the Paris Theater (now operated by Netflix). That level of focus on an image is now entirely gone. If you go to see a movie in a multiplex or on streaming, any movie you watch will be sandwiched between several other movies. It looks more like an icon on a screen at this point, rather than something unique that you’re about to experience.
Single-screen theaters also encourage a diversification of the types of films made. You would think a multiplex would do that, because you have six, ten or twenty different screens in one place to show various films. That may have been true when they were first created, but now multiplexes are increasingly filled with the same kind of movies, where everyone just has a different colored spandex suit. If you wanted to go see a romantic comedy, you would go to only one theater. If you wanted to see an action movie, you would go to another. Each theater needed something of its own to stay alive, and if you showed just a slight variation of something in another theater, you wouldn’t be able to forge your own identity as a theater.
But March 24, 1972 also shows the importance of variety. Go back to all the titles I mentioned in this article. Any mood you’re in could be accommodated by one of the dozens of movies available to you. This day had an unusually high amount of classics, but even though they were just decent pictures, the genres, tones, and styles vary wildly between them. Open your Fandango or other movie app and see how many straight-up comedies are available to go see in a theater right now. In my local theater there is not a single one. Basically, there are action and horror movies. That’s it. Streaming certainly opens up the playing field, but it’s so easy to scroll through so many of these movies without a second thought. In 1972, the playing field for the different genres was pretty even. Now, some kinds of movies “deserve” a big screen, and some don’t.