Monday, August 08, 2005

The Pictures Business

I read this article at and it seems to me that people have begun to prophesize the doom of movie theatres.

I have to say that I think theatres are in a downward spiral, but not for the sorts of reasons cited in this article. Well, the one major reason is cited in the article, but aside from that there are others. The major reason is that six companies essentially run Hollywood. Why? I can't tell you, but it's forcing the quality of movies into the toilet.

I'll tell you my two biggest reasons theatre attendance is more sparse than it was last year:

1) NO GOOD MOVIES. Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 got peoples asses into the theatres. And not just the regular movie-going public. These are quality films. Of course people don't want to go to the movies if all they have the option to go see is some lame-ass remake of a shitty '70s TV show. They can watch the re-runs at home that are almost always, arguably, better anyway.

2) The theatres themselves. They've lost the know-how. They've lost the magic. They've stopped caring. When a company starts to think only in numbers (box office, concessions sales, per capita popcorn sales, bottom line, etc.) that means they've stopped caring about the experience. How many of these multiplexes have a qualified projectionist? Not many. They hire some punk 16 year old kid and show him how to thread a movie because it's cheaper than hiring someone who will do the right work and maintain the equipment. It boggles my mind how often I have to complain about sound and picture quality to theatre managers. One time I complained about a bad splice during the trailers to the point the picture was maybe 1/8th of a sprocket out of frame. That drives me nuts, so I let them know and the kid starts telling me about how there's nothing they can do about it.

I tore that kid a new asshole (I felt terrible about yelling at him, it wasn't his fault, he wasn't trained to care, I apologized to him later). They don't care about maintaining their equipment. The theatre I go to most often, The Wynnsong 12 in Provo, opened in 1997. It had beautiful 35mm projection equipment. I can't think of a single time I've been there in the last year, watching a movie on any of their screens when there wasn't a significant problem with the picture (out of focus, scratches, burns on the film, yellow splice tape in the middle of the picture, reels not properly spliced, sound too low, sound in mono, house lights 1/2 on through the whole picture, commercials on the movie, etc). There is always something wrong. I find that this is common to all multi-plexes.

The art houses are the ones with the antiquated equipment kept together with rubber bands and they always seem to have a projectionist that cares enough to keep it running at 110% and make the pictures look like they're supposed to.

All of these companies miss the mark with film. Film is an experience. I love watching a movie with a 500+ audience that's as in to the movie as you are, when you all gasp or chuckle or cry at the same time. There's a palpable feeling in the air when you watch a movie like that. But it's also great to go to a matinee in the middle of the week and have that giant auditorium all to yourself and your thoughts. But when I go to a movie, I want to see a movie, not all the commercials and the bad splices and the scratches and the what not. Care about the movie. Show it some respect.

I'm rambling. Sorry. But I think it's important. We need newsreels in the movies. We need cartoons before the features. We need one-reel movies back again, played in groups of 2 hours at a time. We need saturday afternoon serials. We need all of the culture that movies used to provide back in them again. People will come back to the movies if you give them that experience. We need double-features. We need revivals. I want to go see Casablanca on the big screen.

I got to see Bridge on the River Kwai on one of the largest screens in Utah and it took my breath away and blew my mind.

Take movies back to that, and movie theatres will stay around a whole lot longer.

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