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Mr. Arkadin

Is the film medium in a slump?

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Eileen Jones: Why America's Great Film Making Tradition Went Down the Drain:

Unlike many European national cinemas that from the first displayed their propensity toward cinema-as-art and were embraced as such by their citizenry, early American cinema was regarded as a crude lower-class entertainment form, cranked out for profit, loved by the masses, despised by the elite. Early theaters for projected films were vaudeville houses running movie shorts between live acts catering to the hoi polloi, who liked to see dog acts and plate spinners and dance teams and slapstick comedy skits all mixed up together.

[snip]

The tendency of film critics and guardians of culture and the morality police to deplore the “lowness” of American film has always suggested that the problem with our cinema is the way it’s designed to appeal to the masses, because the masses are such uncouth morons. The various cures proposed for the “problem” of American film are inevitably the application of silly, snooty, secondhand notions about art, morality, and politics, shot through with a morbid loathing of the working class. There’s a small, elite, diehard crowd out there that’s never gotten over the idea that the peak cinematic experience worldwide was European political modernism of the 1960s - ‘70s, a la Michelangelo Antonioni and Jean Luc-Godard at their most debilitating and unwatchable.

FWIW, I don't really buy this line of argument wholesale. I do think that the strength of US cinema has always been its superlative trashiness. Kind of like US culture in general (and I'm absolutely sincere when I say it's a "strength"). The problem (beyond the fact that--as an excerpt from a book--the article doesn't really say why movies today suck so badly. Or so bad. I'll have to check Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) is that it seems like a lot of the movies Jones implicitly lambasts are precisely the sort of trashy mass entertainment that US cinema has always been accused of churning out. Unless the idea is "they assume the masses are stupid, so they make stupid movies"--but, again, that's kind of SOP, by Jones' reading (do we really think nickelodeons weren't trashy? So why celebrate their proletarian nature while lambasting the equally proletarian trash put out today?) .

In other words--isn't Jones being just as much of a snob as the snobs she snubs? If the "small, elite, diehard crowd" looks back to Antonioni as a Golden Age, it seems like Jones looks back to Chaplin in the same way. I'm temperamentally opposed to believing in Golden Ages of any description--elitist or proletarian. So she kind of leaves me flat, in the end [then again, I've not read the book].

Or am I misreading her?

Edited by NBooth

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Let me posit something: That's bad. We can all acknowledge that the world of American movies is an infinitely richer place because of Pixar and that the very best comic-book movies, from Iron Man to The Dark Knight, are pretty terrific, but the degree to which children's genres have colonized the entire movie industry goes beyond overkill. More often than not, these collectively infantilizing movies are breeding an audience—not to mention a generation of future filmmakers and studio executives—who will grow up believing that movies aimed at adults should be considered a peculiar and antique art. Like books. Or plays.

 

Agreement from a research article by UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) published August 2013. Emerging Markets And The Digitalization Of The Film Industry: An analysis of the 2012 UIS International Survey of Feature Film Statistics PDF of article attached below.

 

"The majority of films produced today are oriented towards mass market consumption, in particular the youth market. Blockbusters, many based on comics and others being sequels, supported by powerful global mass marketing that bottleneck national and non-Hollywood cinema characterise the global cinema industry with few exceptions....As has been the case throughout the 2000s, in almost all countries feature films from the United States of America dominated the Top  30 in 2010 and 2011....Furthermore, the number of animated releases aimed at child-youth audiences was significant, in addition to sequels, prequels and adaptations."

 

After analysis of feature films from 2010 and 2011 the article goes on showing trends in film markets around the world, mostly focusing on theatrical released film. It compares the top 10 nations of film production worldwide: China, UK and Korea from 2005 to 2011 more than doubled film production. Germany Spain and Italy are up about 50% in the same time. USA, India and Japan show slow growth around 20% but have the highest total output ranking 1st, 2nd and 4th respectively in total output with the exception of China who ranks 3rd in total output. China has both massive growth and a large total output.

 

In 2011 USA produced 819 films to China's 584 but the USA outpaced China in box office sales by 5 times that same year. However, five years earlier the USA had outpaced China in box office sales by 29 times. A huge narrowing of the sales gap in only 5 years.

 

TABLE 9B. EVOLUTION OF BOX OFFICE REVENUE, 2006-2011

           Sales Growth 2006 to 2011      Yearly average growth     Share of World in 2011

USA               7.36%                               1.43%                         31.25%

Japan           58.51%                               9.65%                          8.48%

China          517.02%                             43.90%                          6.23%

France          20.68%                               3.83%                          5.46%

GBR             18.76%                                3.50%                          5.11%

India               7.22%                                1.40%                          4.51%

 

"BRIC countries: The emerging market

The  difference  between  box  office  and  admissions  is  even  clearer  when  analysing  BRIC countries (Brazil, the Russian Federation, India and China).  While BRIC countries accounted for 9% to 17% of world box office, the rate for admissions was impressive, between 49% and 56%: BRIC countries accounted for one-half of global admissions (mainly, because of India) between 2006 and 2011."

 

Total film production in all formats such as video format, which includes places like Nigeria, is discussed:

 

TABLE 7. TOTAL NUMBER OF FILMS IN ALL FORMATS, 2005-2011 Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, July 2013.

                                 2005      2006     2007      2008      2009     2010       2011

Video format             917                     951         988    1,060     1,156      1,079

Theatrical release   4,818     5,214     5,760     6,454     6,475     6,548      6,573

 

Total                       5,735                  6,711     7,442     7,535     7,704      7,652

 

 

So what to do about it? Gold nugget American films have thinned ranks but there is more ore to sift than ever before as long as I am willing to read subtitles. (But I secretly wish English dubbing became commonplace)

Emerging-markets-digitalization-film-industry-culture_UNESCO-Institute-for-Statistics-2013.pdf

Edited by Mike_tn

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I would like to add something to the thread, as a new member of the Arts & Faith group.

I wonder why no one mentioned more specific films like Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, The Ten Commandments (arguably the greatest epics of the Golden Age and three of the greatest films of all time), and how they compare to modern epics like Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, and Gladiator (the LoTR films being some of the greatest films of all time as well, with Braveheart coming close, IMO) and how the classic Golden age epic films and modern epic films compare in terms of artistry, box office success and cultural relevance.

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Do you all actually enjoy going to the movie theater anymore?

I know many of you get invited to advance screenings. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about paying to go to your local multiplex and see a movie.

I'm wondering, because I've fallen out of love with the experience. You get theaters with stale air and too many previews (20-25 minutes of awful trailers and commercials), all for the steep price of $15 a ticket.

Even when I see something I enjoy, like Love & Friendship (the last movie I saw in theaters), I find myself thinking that I probably should have waited for it to hit home release.

Edited by Ryan H.

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I find myself going to theater chains less and less for many of the same reasons.  However, I do have quite a few retrospective movie theaters to go to near me. 

I mention The New Beverly Cinema quite a bit here.  That's the theater that Quentin Tarantino operates.  Best pricing ($8 for a double feature) - $6.50 for a large popcorn and large drink.  Maybe not the most comfortable of seats.  5- 10 minutes of previews (some of which only cater to the theme of the night, which can be fun), a cartoon before the first film, and about 10 minutes of old style concession stand reels and previews between films.

Other favorite theaters to go to are the Nuart, Aero and Egyptian.  All reasonably priced.  The one chain I make an exception for (I think it's only a local L.A. chain) are the Laemmle theatres, where I can catch a lot of current foreign films and documentaries.
 

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I envy you LA folks (as far as movie theaters are concerned, that is; I kinda hate the city itself).

We have nothing like those theaters out here in Philadelphia.

Edited by Ryan H.

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My moviegoing has been in steep decline for a couple of years now. I used to go out 50-60 times a year; I'm currently on pace for about 20-30. As John mentioned, the retrospective scene in L.A. is very good, and the prospect of seeing a cherished classic in 35mm outstrips the desire to watch a new release digitally projected. The best part about seeing a movie at the Billy Wilder or the Samuel Goldwyn: no popcorn. 

I had an epiphany earlier this year. I was at the Laemmle Playhouse watching Cemetery of Splendor and the film began to freeze and skip. That's odd, I thought. Then, the theater manager came out, apologized, and explained that we were watching a Blu-ray. Until then, I was under the impression that we were watching a DCP! If I couldn't tell the difference, I thought, why shouldn't I wait to see it on Blu-ray, in the comfort of my own home, for a fraction of the cost? 

The social experience of going out to a movie is still important to me. My best friend dragged me to see Jason Bourne recently. My wife and I saw Love & Friendship on a date. Barring a few "event" situations, these are the only scenarios in which seeing a movie on its first run seems desirable to me.

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I love the experience of going to the movies as much as ever. The frequency varies with the spare time and money available to me, but during times when I have plenty of both, I average between once and twice a week.

Since I moved to a large metropolitan area (St. Louis) last year, though, I do find much more variance in the quality of theaters. I used to always go to the same AMC multiplex for wide releases and a Landmark Theater in a nearby city for limited ones, and I was very happy with both. I haven't yet found a wide-release multiplex I'm quite happy with here, but there are some wonderful smaller theaters, some of which have retrospective screenings regularly.

(Overpricing, excessive previews, etc., are real issues, as are those digital sound systems that somehow make a loud crackling noise every few minutes. The worst thing I've found, though, is an AMC theater that doesn't admit anyone under 18 after 5 PM. I got asked for ID while buying a ticket to The BFG. I found that so depressing I never intend to go to that theater again.)

Edited by Rushmore

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I live in a small college town and the viewing-before-last I was down the row from an undergrad loudly munching a salad. So, um...I don't really enjoy going to the movies, no. Most of the time, it isn't too bad, but I generally prefer the relative comfort and cheapness of my own home.

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Living in a small rural town that has a small theater makes going to the movies less and less for me. There are other theaters around some 20 miles away, or 2 hours away, but they're just as small, and Spokane is an hour and a half to 2 hours away and that's the largest city nearest me. So I see mostly big releases. Today I'll probably see Kubo And The Two Strings, the last two I saw before that were Pete's Dragon and Suicide Squad. Movies like Midnight Special or Green Room I have to wait for DVD/BluRay. It's annoying. But it does save some money.

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I still prefer the theatres.  We have a VIP theatre nearby where a guy can have something to eat and a beer or wine while watching the film.  I like to pop in there from time to time.

I was recently horrified that Sausage Party was playing at the VIP and not Kubo and the Two Strings.

 

Nearby we also have a small mall which has a nice bookstore with a restaurant, and a good new movie theatre.  My wife and I sometimes like to spend some time in the bookstore before and after a film.  It's a good vibe.

 

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I generally don't mind going to the theatre, since I like to sit near the front, and the front section is usually empty. (I was so, so happy when it turned out the front section was almost empty on the opening night of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It meant I could get away from the idiot behind my original assigned seat who felt the need to narrate the movie to his daughter.) I also like 3D when it's done well (which admittedly isn't often enough), and for that I need to go to the theatre.

Watching movies at home means either watching them with the kids (most of the movies I want to see wouldn't be appropriate for that), or watching them after the kids have gone to bed (when I am usually fairly tired; I frequently fall asleep when I'm watching stuff at home; earlier this month my wife was very amused that I managed to stretch out Ridley Scott's Alien over three nights).

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7 hours ago, Nathaniel said:

I had an epiphany earlier this year. I was at the Laemmle Playhouse watching Cemetery of Splendor and the film began to freeze and skip. That's odd, I thought. Then, the theater manager came out, apologized, and explained that we were watching a Blu-ray. Until then, I was under the impression that we were watching a DCP! If I couldn't tell the difference, I thought, why shouldn't I wait to see it on Blu-ray, in the comfort of my own home, for a fraction of the cost? 

Yes. So many of the retrospective film screenings near me seem to depend more and more on projecting Blu-rays. 

And even if you do get a film print, there's no guarantee that it will be protected properly.

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12 hours ago, Nathaniel said:

I had an epiphany earlier this year. I was at the Laemmle Playhouse watching Cemetery of Splendor and the film began to freeze and skip. That's odd, I thought. Then, the theater manager came out, apologized, and explained that we were watching a Blu-ray. Until then, I was under the impression that we were watching a DCP! If I couldn't tell the difference, I thought, why shouldn't I wait to see it on Blu-ray, in the comfort of my own home, for a fraction of the cost? 

This has happened to me twice in the past month, once at each the Aero and the Egyptian.  The Aero was supposed to present The Wild Bunch in 70mm, but the apparently the print was not up to snuff so they opted to pop in the Blu-ray.  It also happened at the recent showing of Heaven's Gate, which was advertised as DCP with an intermission.  Something went wrong there, and they popped in the Criterion Blu-ray (with no intermission). 

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How disappointing! I know I'd be miffed if I drove out to Santa Monica to watch a film in 70mm only to be greeted with a Blu-ray.

Good news, though: UCLA is going to start showing a lot more nitrate prints starting in January.

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I still enjoy going to the theater, but it depends entirely on the film and the theater. There are a few excellent theaters in the Portland area, and seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70 MM simply cannot be replaced by a home viewing experience. Matinees and second-run theaters keep the costs down. I saw a double bill of Green Room and Eye in the Sky for a total of $4 at an excellent independent theater in SE Portland a few months ago.

I can relate to Peter's experience with kids, only my children actively *hate* almost all movies (as in, when I even suggest watching a movie, it makes them burst into tears, almost like I've punished them somehow). So, I can either watch a movie at home after they've gone to bed and fallen asleep, which means staying up fairly late. I watched Cemetery of Splendor over the course of three days because I was starting it at 9:30 PM after a day of work and kids, and it's difficult to stay awake. So, for me, going to a movie theater is often a respite from my everyday life, one of the only places I can legitimately not be distracted by interruptions or cell phones. I think it's more than mere escapism; it's almost akin to Sabbath, a time for me to breathe and come back renewed (if the film is a good one).

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On 8/20/2016 at 0:36 PM, Peter T Chattaway said:

Watching movies at home means either watching them with the kids (most of the movies I want to see wouldn't be appropriate for that), or watching them after the kids have gone to bed (when I am usually fairly tired; I frequently fall asleep when I'm watching stuff at home; earlier this month my wife was very amused that I managed to stretch out Ridley Scott's Alien over three nights).

I have this same problem with my wife, she's made a personal conviction to not watch Rated R movies, so I usually have to watch them when she's not home or on the small screen of my computer, which I honestly don't mind and I respect her conviction, but I know this is going to be so much harder when we have kids, and I'm sorta not looking forward to that aspect, though there are nice trade offs

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5 hours ago, Nathaniel said:

Holy mackerel. The Cinefamily has outdone itself this time.

Whoa, they're also showing The Dekalog over two weekends in September.

 

Edited by John Drew

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