The Wider Angle 10-30-07
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The Wider Angle: Ruminations of a hardcore cineast
by Celluloid Dreams correspondent Ken Karn


Monday, October 30, 2007

"The Overstuffed Cinema Buffet"

Fall is the time of year when the studios aim to show us that they are not all about big, noisy, mindless movies.  Most Oscar nominees are released this time of year, presumably because the academy members have short memories and can’t recall films that came out way back in the Spring.  Whatever the reason, it’s a full buffet for the discerning filmgoer who is emerging from the Summer season with a hunger for more meaty fare.

And boy, am I pissed!  You think we’d be dining like kings and queens this time of year.  We do at first.  But when you go through the buffet line to sample a few items you missed the first time through, you discover that they have been replaced with other tasty offerings.  That little dish you were waiting all year to sample is long gone.

The total number of films released to movie theaters continues to climb but the number of movie screens remains the same (or even lower in some parts).  During the Summer you have a 12 screen cineplex showing Transformers on 4 screens, Harry Potter on 3 and Spider-Man on another 4.  That leaves one screen for what Hollywood likes to call counter-programming, which is what many moviegoers refer to as decent films.  So, when Fall comes around and we’re ass deep in decent films that have little or no chance to build an audience because new films are bombarding the same number of screens every Friday.  The bottom line is that it is virtually impossible to see all of the good stuff in theaters unless you are extremely devoted and have no life outside of movies.

I realize that I may have eliminated half of my readership with that last remark, but the normal among us have pesky little things like jobs, children, a personal life and sleep that make living at the theater a non-option.  Sure, you can wait for DVD, but all the talk, buzz and analysis of films happens right when it opens in theaters.  Most cineastes I know like to be in on those discussions and saying that you have it in your Netflix queue just doesn’t cut it.

Let me also eliminate one solution that you may be thinking about:  building more movie theaters.  Just ask the current theater owners how things are going. They’ll tell you that owning a movie theater is a good business if your intent is to earn little or no money.

Hollywood could do something about this problem by freeing up a few screens in the Summer. Instead of Pirates of the Caribbean every 15 minutes all day long, how about letting some prestige drama have a go of it for those who don’t need to see Shrek 3 for the 8th time?  Instead, in the Fall, Universal releases its prestige drama at the same time as those from UA, Sony, Fox et al.  The result is lower box office for all films, the message to the studios that these types of films don’t make any money and yet another big dumb Summer movie gets the green light.  Unless a film lights up the box office cash register the first week, it’s pulled to make room for dozens of newcomers

What can we, as discriminating moviegoers, do about it?  Not a damn thing, unless you’re in line to be a studio executive. And a radical attitude towards letting all movies get a chance to reach their audience will certainly land you on the unemployment line, albeit with a generous golden parachute to ease your bruised psyche.

I wish I had answers for this vexing problem because I don’t expect the studios to change in our lifetime.  We have a better chance of ending the Iraq war than seeing radical changes in film distribution.  I just wanted you to know that I am suffering right along with you.  If I ever get a chance to drive an explosives-laden van into the executive offices of a studio when they are the only ones at work (a remote, but still-possible scenario) I will sacrifice my life to make things better for you.  Binge on movies from now until Spring, when food will once again be scarce.  Don’t worry about seeing too many films because that’s impossible.  Besides, the Summer fare will allow you to do plenty of purging. 

2007 Ken Karn/Celluloid Dreams

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of Ken Karn, and do not necessarily reflect those of Celluloid Dreams staff or other contributors.


NEXT COLUMN 12-20-07



Respond to this column! Email Ken: ken@celluloiddreams.net.  Your message and/or Ken's response may appear on this page. You've been warned.

1-26-08 "Oscar Films to See, Films to Wait for DVD"
12-20-07 "What's Up With the Weird Holiday Movies?"
10-30-07 "The Overstuffed Cinema Buffet"
8-27-07 "Superbad"
7-7-07 "Oh, the horror... the horror..."
6-19-07 Ruminations on the Movie-going Experience
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