The sort of cinema I am referring to is not the study of film, but rather the bricks and mortar of the place we
sometimes venture to. I know this essay is going to be woefully under researched when it comes to cinema facts, like declining sales or plans for future development, but like always, I am going to write from my point of view and what I’ve been privy to.
Possibly the earliest memory I have of going to the cinema is with my Dad, who always took me to see the latest Bond flick (thankfully we didn’t bother with the recent Spectre). The seats were uncomfortable, plastic and sticky, the screen was dark and dirt flickered across the screen (this is when they still played 35mm film… Yes, I can remember that!), but it always felt like an ‘event’. As technology heads more and more towards systems that encourages us to stay at home, going to the cinema now demands what seems like an increasing amount of effort. Films have become widely available online, whether through platforms like iTunes or more illegal means such as streaming and torrents, so the internet has made it possible to watch films at home with relative ease and little expense.
It’s something that plays on my mind quite frequently, as it is part of the industry I am hoping to be a part of – therefore it’s important I stay in touch with what’s happening. I know that our human mind tends to think of the worse case scenario, especially when it comes to predicting the future, but I have faith and reject the notion the world is getting worse (every generation feels the same way, and it’s about time we realised that it just isn’t so – it’s getting better!). I digress, but the same attitude can be applied to thinking about where the act of going to the cinema is heading. I would find it heartbreaking if cinemas did eventually die out completely – but who wouldn’t? It’s the same way vinyl almost disappeared as CDs become popular and easy (the same is happening now with CDs to Mp3 players) – interestingly no one seems that bothered that CDs are being replaced. So perhaps it’s all about our relationship to the thing that is being replaced. Are we becoming more ambivalent as a species because things are so widely available to us?
The truth is that if cinema does die out, then basically it means not enough people are interested in going. That’s common sense, right? If people were interested, then cinema would be booming. But hold on, the sales figures from whatever recent Marvel/Disney blockbuster that has been hastily assembled for maximum profit, will probably tell us that they just broke another sales record. So how is this possible if cinema attendances are declining? My guess is that tickets, whilst they aren’t selling as many, have become more expensive. And perhaps more importantly, Disney/Marvel are cornering a very small market, and not leaving much else for others to succeed. So the people going to the cinema are a more ‘restricted’ audience who are only willing to pay to see certain movies, i.e. superhero films. My taste lies in the more offbeat independent cinema, and I am excited by things I have never seen before (note Green Room by Jeremy Soulnier). But when you’re a 9-5er who rarely has the time to sit down and experiment with your viewing habits, you want something reliable (and ultimately unchallenging) to make sure your time is not wasted, nor money, and this is why Marvel films are doing so well at the moment – people know what to expect, and are rarely disappointed. But where does this leave the rest of the industry? What it seems I am trying to say is, if people do go the cinema, it’s only to see a regurgitated copy of the film they saw last time that has been financed and produced by the very same company. Yes, they may have broken their sales record, but it’s a sales record they set with the last film they released. So why wouldn’t I stay at home and download films that are probably going to be more interesting and more to my taste?
I am lucky that I do have a varying degree of options when it comes to the cinema I choose to go to. There are two ‘chain’ cinemas, and two ‘independents’ within easy access. The independents still show the big tentpole films (they too need to make money), but they are more likely to risk showing a less well known or foreign film. But I have been tricked, against my own better judgement, into subscribing to an ‘unlimited’ cinema card at a (very) local chain cinema. For £17.99 a month, I can watch whatever film they show as often as I want to – but baring in mind that I quickly move through the films I want to watch, it’s not as appealing as the unlimited-ness makes it (how many times am I going to see Captain American: Civil War?). What this means is that I am likely to forego the independent cinemas in favour of seeing some meddling twoddle at the chain cinema – I disappoint myself writing that, but it’s the truth. Brighton is a very art orientated city, so I have full confidence that my neighbours won’t make the same mistake I have, and actual support for the independent cinemas will sustain, but I justify it by suggesting that at least I am going to the cinema rather than just downloading the film – albeit a chain cinema. It comes down to cost. A showing at the independent cinema can vary, but let’s say for arguments sake it’s £10, if I see two films in a month (which I do), then it becomes considerably more expensive than paying for the Unlimited card at the chain cinema. But should I be consciously varying where my money is going? Yes, because it is important to support local and independent business, regardless. And giving your money over to the big corporations will further increase the market gap (I don’t know much about business, but that’s common sense right?). If we all varied our spending a bit more, perhaps the industry could better support and increase more independent cinema.
‘Downloading’ will likely be its own topic of discussion at some point, so I don’t want to go into much detail, but certainly the accessibility we now have to downloaded content online has signalled a massive dent in the appeal of cinema. Whilst lawfully illegal, downloading the newest film does not necessarily result in you going to prison (at least not straight away), hence why so many people do it. It’s like walking into a buffet restaurant and having every type of food lined out in front of you, and then your mate suggests going for an Italian somewhere else – you’d look at him with contempt, wouldn’t you?
One of my biggest issue when it comes to going to the cinema is the people you are surrounded by. It has become increasingly difficult to sit and enjoy a film uninterrupted either by someone eating, talking or illuminated by their phones – I often want to ask these people if they are even interested in seeing the film or would they be better suited at a restaurant or a nursery. But, this is the way it is. Occasionally I will have a good experience, but often it feels like I am just waiting for someone to start annoying me. It feels like their is no common curtesy when it comes to etiquette at the cinema – people literally give no fucks about you and your enjoyment. As long as they are stuffing their face, or having a conversation, that’s all that matters. So suddenly, me, who enjoys going to the cinema, rethinks about going just because he fears being annoyed or interrupted by some ignorant tw*t who doesn’t even care about the film they are seeing. In my opinion, cinemas need to police the screen a lot more carefully, and actually place an attendent in the screening. At the moment, we are a bunch of kids unsupervised. All hell could break lose at any moment and no one would know or do anything about. I am obviously exaggerating for dramatic affect, because perhaps you’re not the sort of person who is bothered by interruptions, but I am. Very much so. As it lessens my enjoyment of a film – they are not actual rollercoaster rides after all. I think the general attention span is depleting, and most teenagers are unable to sit through a two hour film without checking their phones to see if the person next to them has liked a tweet about them going to the cinema – or perhaps I am just being a cynical-technology-fearing-old-git who is repeating the exact same thing someone said about television in the 50s?
In an ideal world I’d love to see a more diverse selection of films across the board. I would prefer that the profits were shared more evenly and joe-public actually challenged himself with going to see something different. This would encourage cinema’s to feel safe about scheduling some different types of films, rather than just the next sequel or super-hero outing, because that’s how an industry prospers. I fear this goes for most art forms, and I talk from the point of view of someone who watches a lot of films, and is completely bored and underwhelmed by what the cinema offers. My enjoyment of film has primarily moved towards finding interesting work online. I go to the cinema because… Well, I just do. It’s something I’ve always done, and couldn’t imagine not having it as part of my week. Is it sad that it’s something I look forward to even if I know the film is going to send me to sleep? It is an activity, and it’s relatively cheap in comparison to some other hobbies, and doesn’t cause my health any issues (lack of vitamin C, perhaps?), so their are worse things I could do with my time. I like I said before, if cinema does disappear, which I am sure it won’t, then it is because the populace has decided it no longer wants or needs it. Times they are a-changing, and every industry has to change with it. What that change will be, no one knows. But it is up to the new generation to decide. Facebook exists for a reason, and until people stop using it the way they do, Facebook will continue being Facebook. If people stopped using it, Facebook wouldn’t stagnate and continue offering the same platform that people no longer want, they would have to adapt. Through trial and error they will either sink or swim. I just hope cinema continues to swim.
The more disheartening aspect of the standard of cinema at the moment is that recently I ventured to the cinema by myself on a thursday night to see the new film from a director whose previous film I admired greatly. I deliberately stay away from trailers (which is blasphemy in industry terms) if I know I would already take the time to go see the film and I also is much more enjoyable watching a film unsoiled by the plot or performance details you get in the trailer. If you’re daring enough to do what I do, then the experience is heightened as you’re seeing everything for the first time – and all those jokes in the trailer are still funny because it’s the first time you’ve seen them (we all know the studios put the best bits in the trailer anyway). What I saw was the best film I had seen at the cinema in a long, long time. I have to admit, that I wouldn’t have got round to watching it if the cinema hadn’t shown it, so I congratulate them for taking a gamble on it, because I appreciated it. However, the gamble surely did not have paid off from them. I walked into the smallest screen the cinema offers, and surrounded by no more than three other people (the film was so good that at the end of the film I almost said something to the room in order to engage with what we’d all just seen – I didn’t). But only four people? How can a cinema, as a business, justify showing films like this. The film is called Green Room, I highly recommend it. Compare that to how many people are going to see the latest Marvel film, and you can see why the cinema do what they do. There is a glimmer of hope however, as I recently saw the new X-Men film, and the screen, whilst a big room, had only about ten people in it. Now, is this the cornering of the market I mentioned earlier? But hold on, isn’t X-Men a superhero film? So it’s not as clear cut as saying ‘make a superhero film, and it will make money.’
Who knows where the industry lies or where it is going. All I can say is that it’d be disappointing to see cinema’s continue to show uninspiring or less challenging films because that’s what the market wants. Things will change, undoubtedly. And I hope people learn to love the less well known films a bit more often. Share the love people.