— George Segal as Henry Fine from The Mirror Has Two Faces, 1996
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January 4, 2013
Guest Post: Is there a future for the ‘Brick and Mortar’ cinema?
— Posted by Liam Fisher
Are we nearing the end of cinema? Not the concept of movies and ‘watching things on screens’, but the act of going out into town, finding a venue and sitting down for two hours in the dark with total strangers. It doesn’t seem possible, does it? Cheap dates, Twilight-loving teens and morons who stick chewing gum to seat-rests would have nowhere to go and indulge their various passions, but cinemas have been struggling for years. Profits at best stay level; a remarkable failure considering skyrocketing ticket prices and the advent of 3D. Could there be a time when cinemas vanish altogether? Here we take a quick look at the decline of cinema, and the factors that are making it obsolete.
Hands up anyone who illegally downloads films. If we’re being honest, about 99% of you just raised your arms. It stands to reason; tickets are expensive, films are mediocre and the cinema is out there in the freezing cold. Piracy has been eating into cinema earnings since someone first thought to drag a clunky 80’s video camera into their local flea pit; but since the advent of the internet its gone supernova. Moral arguments aside, the fact is the world is moving in an integrated direction. Our lives are lived more and more in virtual space; and distributors have been slow to capitalize on this, leaving a great big pirate shaped hole in the market. The chains may finally be turning to pay-to-download as compromise, but the fact remains that more people watching at home = less money to the cinemas.
Let’s not mince words: ticket prices are a joke. Where not so long ago you could expect two features, newsreels, a short or two and a snoring hobo for the price of a café breakfast; nowadays cinemas offer a shorter, sanitized experience for the cost of a night out. Cinema boomed because it was the ‘common mans’ art form. Immediate, visceral and dirt cheap, it swept in everyone too damn poor to afford the theater Around the time Star Wars came out, this origin was lost in a haze of dollar signs. Big chains smashed down the old picture houses, stuck a new sound system in and sold disgusting food at hysteria-inducing prices; and we gobbled it up because we could afford it. Now, as a recession grips and ticket prices slip out of reach for those on minimum wage, a quiet revolution might be stirring. Odeon, Vue, Apollo and others are raising a generation excluded from the cinema, for whom watching films at home is de-rigueur. Perhaps their habits will change as they get older, but you can’t help think the chains have shot themselves in the foot.
What Happens Next?
Say this trend continues. Ticket prices grow, wages fall and distributors continue hyping every little innovation in an attempt to secure their fortunes. A couple of outcomes seem likely: first, people fall out of love with the big screen and retreat to the comfort of their homes. The studios don’t care as they get their revenue from downloads now and the cinemas are left to go bust. Eventually only a fraction remain, catering to firmly middle class clients. (Alternatively, the chains blink first and start slashing prices until people come flooding back, at which point the cycle starts all over). Secondly, the dwindling sales hit the studios themselves, who look for new, innovative ways to rope the punters back in. Expect 4D, smell-o-vision and other gimmicks to make a comeback, along with maybe a whole new wave of film-making Once profits drop to a critical point, studios may start taking bigger risks on tiny projects, funding 10 low budget masterpieces instead of one bloated behemoth. Such an outcome can only be good for the film-fanatic; last time it gave us such classics as The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde, Night of the Living Dead, M*A*S*H and Easy Rider. With a bit of luck, the death of cinema may just herald a whole new ‘new wave’.
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