Thomas Patterson: First Row Problems
Cannes 2014 was notable for many things – Nicole Kidman’s turn as Princess Grace in the risible ‘Grace of Monaco’; Timothy Spall’s Best Actor win for his role in Mike Leigh’s triumphant biopic ‘Mr Turner’; Abel Ferrara’s upstaging of the whole shebang with ‘Welcome to New York’, his thinly veiled satire about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, which screened out of competition and garnered headlines galore. But the most important moment came when Quentin Tarantino announced at the 20th anniversary celebration of his now classic ‘Pulp Fiction’ that cinema was officially finished.
‘As far as I’m concerned, digital projection is the death of cinema as I know it,” said the large fore-headed film fanatic. “The fact that most films now are not presented in 35 millimetre means that the war is lost. Digital projection? That’s just television in public. And apparently the whole world is OK with television in public. But what I knew as cinema is dead.’
And you know, he’s right. Just as an MP3 doesn’t sound as good as a slab of vinyl, digital just doesn’t look the same as celluloid, with its grain and tone and beautiful imperfections. Tarantino’s digital gripe, however, is symptomatic of a larger malaise in the world of film, especially Hollywood. Film, you see, has been dying a slow death for an aeon, for myriad reasons, from craven film studios pumping out lowest common denominator sequels to illegal websites offering bootleg versions of current releases for free, and, of course, increasingly high-quality TV productions that poach big name actors and directors from the cinema. At their absolute apex, they can arguably match anything made during the golden age of cinema.
Yet for me, the most crucial contributor to the death of cinema is the fact that going to the movies is often such an intensely disagreeable experience. Multiplexes are the worst offenders in making a visit the cinema such an unedifying event, from their expensive snack bars to the fact that they never turn the lights down low enough, so most of time you feel like you’re sitting in a solarium rather than a darkened temple of cinematic delight. The biggest problem, however, are the other cinema-goers themselves.
Gone is the sense of cinema as a shared pleasure, a moment of magic that strikes our collective consciousness as so beautifully depicted in Giuseppe Tornatore’s ‘Cinema Paradiso’. Instead a feral ‘every man for themselves’ mentality has emerged, one that sees people constantly checking their mobile phones throughout a movie, or conducting conversations at decibel levels that can be heard in the next auditorium, or in one extreme case I witnessed, saw one poor bugger getting kicked in the head by a teenage gang for politely asking that they stop throwing popcorn at Tom Cruise’s head.
There is obviously an alternative in the form of the art house cinema, with its comfy sofas and diamond-encrusted carrot cake as an antidote to the stale popcorn palaces. Many of them are absolutely terrific and make a night out at the picture house a potentially enjoyable treat rather than an experience only slightly less appealing than Chinese water torture. The downside of course is that tickets to such places are brutally expensive, and you’ll need to remortgage your house if you want some of the hummus and pita on offer in the café. And even art houses aren’t immune to the phone checkers and incessant chatterers. Sure, you’ll get a better class of annoying blather but I still don’t want to hear about Perdita’s cello recital when Godzilla is about to stomp a city into the ground, no matter how talented her cello teacher says she could be IF ONLY SHE PRACTISED!
Maybe, it’s because deep down, most people aren’t really cinephiles. Those that are need to demand better. The Platonic ideal is the Los Angeles Arclight chain. Arclight straddles the world of the multiplex and the boutique cinema, offering comfy seats at reasonable prices, but most importantly also offering an usher who introduces each film, reminds patrons to turn off their phones and will then throw out any offenders during the course of the movie.
Movie theatres in LA are being closed down at a rate of knots (ironic for a city built on cinema) yet it can surely be no coincidence that Arclight has bucked the trend and has expanded into numerous new locations beyond its original Hollywood home. Until such a chain is introduced to Britain, however, I’ll stick with my carrot cake-flogging art houses, or I’ll just stay at home instead. Frankly, my box sets of ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Breaking Bad’ and on-demand services offering movies currently on at the cinema at a fraction of the price are the superior alternative when hell is other movie goers.
Sure, I’ll miss that sense of wonderment, that tingle I used to get as a kid when I went to the flicks and the curtain came up. I’d watch in rapture as a Hollywood logo sparked to life in the darkness of the auditorium. However, at least when I’m at home, I won’t have that primordial feeling of my hackles rising, ready to pounce, as some 20 year olds chat at full volume 10 minutes into the film. I certainly don’t want to get my head kicked in.
Also, I can throw popcorn at my own telly when Tom Cruise appears. Well, it’s one way to feed the cat.
Thomas Patterson is a Journalist and Screenwriter. This month, Thomas has been producing the spoken word versions of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘Ford Ka Owners Manual 1.3L 2011’ and ‘The 50 Shades of Grey One-handed Companion’.