So, The Artist has cleaned up at yet another awards ceremony. It took seven BAFTAs without even breaking a sweat and looks set to do the same at the Oscars on the 26th. However, for all its buzz and praise, I have not yet seen it. This is not through a lack of interest or sheer laziness; it is through my geographical circumstances and the fact that my local ten screen Odeon cinema has not seen fit to show it until the end of the week, despite having a release date of December 30th. Now, this seems fine that it was just delayed for a while but this is not the first time a film has been delayed for months or even in many cases not shown at all (Downfall in 2004 being a memorable, prime example). Time and time again Britain’s biggest cinema chain has chosen not to show interesting, innovative film in favour of more mainstream productions. Many a time I, among many others, have been increasingly frustrated that Odeon has failed to even shift around a few showings of the latest generic Jennifer Aniston rom-com in favour of some of the most innovative and inspirational cinema in modern times.
This is the first time in a while that I have had to experience this frustration. However, that is because it is the first awards season for a few years in which I have been away from my University city of Bath which boasted the fantastic Little Theatre, a charming, independent cinema with a mere two screens which shows the greatest of both Hollywood and World Cinema. However, many independent cinemas around the U.K cannot compete with the chains sheer economies of scale, the increasing costs and overheads of running an establishment and the accessibility of films outside the cinematic sphere and therefore die out. It doesn’t help that the perspective of some moviegoers is that independent cinema is snobbish and boring, a stigma unfortunately given probably due to the idea of the old, often nonsensical art house films.
The bigger chains just don’t seem to be pulling their weight at the moment promoting new, original films, which is a shame, because it is the big cinemas that really need to be supportive of this so that cinema as a whole can survive financially. It’s all well and good putting five showings a day of the new Ghost Rider or a movie with Jonah Hill as a babysitter, no doubt they get huge audiences, but you can still show some independent, smaller films alongside. It’s not like a film that has swept up awards all across the board and has a huge buzz about it would fail to get an audience. People should not be fed on production line garbage that studios churn out. Sometimes there is no option for the cinema goer and they just go to see what is on at the available time. Such as back in December, when The Artist was doing the rounds in British independent cinemas Odeon customers were being treated to five showings of Alvin and the Chimpunks: Chipwrecked. Yes, really.
I’m no film snob; however, listening to customers at my workplace debate the new Adam Sandler “comedy” Jack and Jill as though it was Wilde is nothing short of frustrating, because that means more are likely to be produced. Most people see cinema as a form of entertainment and a way to spend a night, and that, is what studios provide, it is a business, a commodity; economically one must seek to make a profit and Hollywood is by no means different. But a bit of artistic integrity once in a while at mainstream cinemas is no problem. If a film is truly great and pure, what does it matter how much it cost. Sometimes, can’t we just enjoy Art for Art’s sake?
It is unfair to shovel all of the blame onto the cinemas. They see very little of the profits enjoyed by Hollywood. The cinemas themselves receive about 10% of the ticket price you pay, hence the source of the huge mark up in popcorn and why there is so much advertising before the main feature. They must pay their overheads, wages, etc with 10% of the box office proceedings, while the rest goes to the studios and producers. This makes it tough for the cinemas and therefore they must show films as a corporation that they know will get people through the door. Taking risks in this kind of business, especially in this economy can be truly damaging and therefore stick to what they know people will watch. It’s very sad as its leading to the shutdown of many smaller cinemas but it’s the harsh reality of the business.
I believe that if the more mainstream cinemas were to show more independent films or a variety of World cinema then people would go to see them. It is almost impossible to guess if a film is going to be the next Amelie or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in terms of its box office success. Therefore it looks like for the next few years that people are just going to have to try and find their independent gems elsewhere or take that longer journey to the nearest arthouse cinema, before it closes and all we are subjected to is twenty showings a day of Jack and Jill 2.