What’s happening in this image?
The leftmost light bulb is exploding.
Why would it do that?
Perhaps it wanted to? It’s the suicidal counterpart to Gravity’s Rainbow‘s Byron?
Well then it simply overheated?
No. Please note that it hasn’t blinked out.
“The Serpentine Dance,” the Lumière Brothers (c. 1899) (still).
[Update 30 Jan 11: I've since written a follow-up to this post: "Why Do You Need So Many Cinemas?"]
“The movies” used to mean one thing—or we acted like they did. “I’m going to the movies.” “I saw a great movie the other night.” “You really ought to watch this movie.” But even though we often talk about “the movies,” or “films,” or “cinema,” or “the cinema” as a single, homogeneous thing, there is not just one thing, and never has been—a fact that grows increasingly apparent every year.
When most people say “the movies,” they mean “feature-length films.” These have existed since the early 1910s, and can be considered cinema’s most successful form—they’re the stereotype of motion pictures. They run somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours, perhaps a bit longer, and they debut (most of the time) in movie theaters. Then they become available on DVD; later they broadcast on TV, with commercial interruptions. That said, even this familiar model is changing; the length of time between theatrical run and DVD release has been shrinking, and we can see how DVDs themselves are doomed, the way that CDs have long been doomed: you don’t need little plastic discs when you can stream a feature directly to your computer or your TV, via Netflix or Hulu.