Recent conversations on the forum have gotten me thinking. In general we talk about ‘theatres’ and what is available in them, and if we differentiate at all we call out arthouse theatres and megaplexes or commercial theatres. But there’s obviously more to it than that and I think the local selection of theatres themselves can color one’s judgment of ‘What is made available in theatres’ and ‘What ’they’ are making these days.’ In other words, if you live in a town where the only theatre there is shows solely commercial works, of course it looks like nothing good is being made anymore. But if you live in a place that has access to a wide variety of movies and film-related events, you are going to have a very different relationship to the theatres, including the mainstream ones.
Let me explain.
Where I live are two ‘megaplexes’ (I would roughly define these as multi-story commercial houses meant to attract in terms of size and commercial quality), a few scattered ‘commercial’ theatres (theatres that aren’t meant to attract just because they’re huge and have stadium seating, but nevertheless focus on commercial quality), two single-screen arthouse theatres, a single screen IMAX theatre, and a student union building theatre. There is a playhouse theatre that gets converted into a movie theatre once a week specifically for Central and South American films, a hanging screen at the zoo for outdoor projections that happen about once a month, and two second run theatres. There used to be a multi-screen arthouse theatre like the commercial theatres, but it was shut down — right now some guys I know are trying to buy up that space and convert it into a boutique theatre like the famous Alamo Drafthouse.
I bring this up because of course, conventional wisdom sez that arthouse theatres are in decline and megaplexes are boxing in consumer ‘choice’ to prerequisite franchise films. But I’m actually finding the opposite to be true in my specific locale, and am wondering if maybe other places aren’t experiencing the same trend:
-The second single-screen arthouse theatre I mention had been decommissioned for a while due to nobody going. Now it’s reopened because of local demand for arthouse cinema.
-The other single-screen arthouse theatre is doing better business now than it used to, from my own perspective. I remember going to see movies there and only four or five people showed up. I haven’t been to a screening there in a while, no matter the time or content, that has had less than twenty people show up.
-Some of the commercial theatres have one screen devoted to an ‘indie’ or ‘foreign’ film. Now the problem there is that movies like Slumdog Millionaire count, so oftentimes people don’t even notice the difference, and that’s fair because there pretty much isn’t one. But nevertheless, there’s that.
-For some reason I don’t really understand, one of the biggest megaplexes devotes an auditorium every other Wednesday to a showing of a classic film like Clockwork Orange or Citizen Kane. I don’t know when they started doing that and I don’t know how much success it’s getting. It strikes me as significant, though, that they even do that. The other multiplex, that is located in the only area of the city we could call ‘downtown’ (it’s not that big of a city), occasionally shows independent films like The Sound of My Voice for a week. The original idea behind a multiplex of course was that it was to be so big, that all sorts of different films would be made available. Predictably, it only meant that five screens are devoted to The Dark Knight Rises enabling a 2hr40min movie to make more money quicker with more screens. I do not believe that multiplexes were ever meant to put the little indies next to the commercial films and let the black hand of the market work itself out, nor that it is going to happen. Nevertheless, I observe more selection in multiplexes today than yesteryear.
-The multi-screen arthouse cinema did not go out of business due to lack of sales. The franchise owner was charged with embezzlement. It was a very sad and frustrating situation. Nevertheless, the fact that that space is being sought out to be reopened in ‘boutique’ form I also find is significant, and I’m very curious to see how that works out.
I am also an hour away from another city that has a community movie theatre and another arthouse theatre. The community theatre plays mostly classic films and local films, and was created by the state specifically to have a place to promote local cinema.
Last week’s listings for movies playing in my area include
OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie
I Wish (Kore’eda)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Shut up and Play the Hits: LCD Soundsystem
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Dark Knight Rises
Ice Age: Continental Drift
Step Up Revolution
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
For Greater Glory
Men in Black 3
People like Us
Pirates! Band of Misfits
Rock of Ages
Snow White and the Huntsman.
Next week the student union building theatre reopens and will be showing Burton’s Batman and a video projection/VJ showcase. The cultural center theatre has been quiet recently, I think they’re organizing their next showings after a festival they’ve just had.
Part of the reason I bother listing all of this is because its 33 movies ranging from $1-15. Predictably the majority of them are mainstream which is what most people consider, but if you start breaking them down, in the mainstream theatres are included 16 movies some of which are nominally ‘independent’ (if you want to make that argument for Beasts of the Southern Wild and stuff like Moonrise Kingdom ) and strictly speaking are split 6:10 between ‘original screenplays’ and otherwise. As in, Brave counts as an original screenplay even though it’s a princess movie and The Watch counts even though it’s a mook comedy. If we want to discuss originality that’s a different topic. I find the second-run also in its own way significant merely because commercial films are a lot more palatable at $1-2 apiece. I wouldn’t watch Battleship or Snow White and the Huntsman for any price but suddenly For Greater Glory and Prometheus get consideration they didn’t have otherwise (in fact I went yesterday to see Prometheus and spent precisely $1. WORTH IT. If I had seen it for $10, I’d be less enthusiastic about the experience. A downtown weekday matinee price of $6 is worth consideration but not nearly as worth it as $1. Is the point I’m making here).
From a personal perspective, then, I have an astounding amount of choice and mostly going to the movie theatre is worth it to me. I can pretty much choose my price and any given week have at least a couple few movies I’d be willing to see if I find the time and feel I can spare the cash. I can certainly see, however, how this wouldn’t be the case other places, and so I’m wondering if it’s a feature of limited movies or limited theatres, which are connected but not necessarily the same thing. When you have a choice between, for instance, the downtown megaplex and the second run theatre, you are limited in content but not price. Now you can choose whether you’d rather see The Amazing Spider-Man now at $6-10, $15 for 3D, or later at $1-2, $4 for 3D. I consider the fact that I have arthouse theatres at all where I can get opportunities to see I Wish by Kore’eda to be outright lucky (and if I had caught that opportunity, which I didn’t because it ended two days ago, it would have been $5, not $10-15).
There’s also a choice of audience you sit with. The downtown cineplex has a different audience then the other one. The other one attracts suburbanites, the downtown one attracts clubbers. You can see how that makes a different experience. The second run theatres attract some very distasteful people, but the equally as cheap arthouse theatres obviously don’t. The non cineplex theatres are more likely to kick out people who text and make noise because they’re smaller and easier to manage. The cineplex theatres can’t possibly manage all of them, so cellphones ring pretty much uninhibited. So there’s also that discussion we’re always having about how ‘people’ act in movie theatres ‘these days’ are also similarly affected by whether or not you have a choice.
I’m wondering what other people’s theatre experiences are like, not from the viewpoint of, “Ugh the movies are just getting worse and worse and the people stupider and stupider”, which is only one part of it, but also in terms of what different theatres (if there are multiple ones) offer in terms of quality, content, price, and audience.
Where I live, the city in Sweden with the fifth highest number of population there is only one cinema. The most “underground” non blockbuster mainstream films that are shown there are The Skin I Live In and Moonrise Kingdom. Otherwise it’s just Spiderman, Batman, some shitty Swedish comedy to attract some middle age people and stuff like Men in Black and Ice Age.
When I was in the United Arab Emirates, basically there were only two types of theatres:
1) Cineplexes, which showed Hollywood, Bollywood, and really bad b-movies (those ‘foreign sales’ they’re always talking about ‘independent filmmakers’ taking advantage of roughly translates to Dubai is how Uwe Boll makes his cash, not the US).
2) Tiny little movie houses operated by Indians showing Bollywood movies.
Truly ‘independent’ movies and basically any non-Arab, Indian, or English language films don’t get shown. And despite the fact that the Abu Dhabi International Film Festival and Dubai International Film Festival both clearly show that lots of Arab movies are being made, they don’t get shown there outside of a festival context either, which is bothersome to me but I didn’t bother to investigate too far into it.
I would figure European cities would have better selection and it’s a shame that yours doesn’t have more to offer, though I’m not sure what ‘fifth highest population’ really means in Sweden. At least you get the shitty Swedish comedy to attract some middle age people and Moonrise Kingdom. That’s more than some large-population cities in the US.
That’s kind of a positive sign, imo. If moviegoers stop lumping all non-English language films as “arthouse” films that’s a sign of discrimination, albeit not hugely significant, but significant nevertheless.
Some comments about O’ahu:
>We used to have a second run theater, but it closed down a few years ago. The conditions were pretty bad, though (kinda gross) and the people there could be unruly or difficult to deal with.
>Prior to that, the mini-multiplex used to be a very good arthouse theater, but that closed. Still, another small multi-plex took it’s place (not as good, but still).
>One of the bigger multi-plexes shows TCM special features and that has been doing fairly well. (I understand they’re doing a second screening of Singin’ in the Rain.) That is very encouraging news, imo. They also show operas from the Met and live concert documentaries.
Things are actually pretty good, but I still have trouble finding films that I find satisfying (but more my problem).
Several multiplexes within a reasonable distance; one two (sometimes three) screen indy/arthouse deal that’s part of a public arts venue that receives public funds; a stand-alone, 6 screen indy/arthouse deal that’s specializes in catering to the local Indian population in addition to the standard indy/arthouse stuff; a couple of other indy/arthouse places that are less practical to get to but still do-able in a pinch (one has kind of a reformed porn theater vibe, so it’s not a favorite). We also have a local art museum that has some worthwhile screenings—generally of classic Hollywood or classical foreign (Bergman, Antonioni, etc); and the screen society at Duke University, which almost always has pretty strong Asian cinema programming, in addition to a variety of other series.
The only complaint I have is that we’re third tier for distribution of prints in this market, so by the time a print of, say, the latest Godard film gets here, it’s likely already been released on DVD/BD.
I’ve got about a dozen multiplexes, three semi-arthouse cinemas, three multi-screen art house cinemas, the Boston MFA (Which has a single screen), the Brattle Theater (Which shows mostly older American films) and the Harvard Film Archive (Which has a single screen) inside a ten mile radius from me.
It’s true the Harvard Loews just closed, and it was in the semi-arthouse group which shows a combination of big blockbusters and big indie films. The Kendall and Coolidge theaters always seem pretty busy though.
Boston, New York and San Francisco are probably the best cinephile towns in the US.
Where in Sweden do you live? I’m trying to move to Sweden in 2-3 years just to try something different. Plus are you just a film fan or are you actually involved in production. I’m trying to figure out how hard it will be to get a film job as a foreigner.
Back on topic:
I currently live in Wimington, NC. A little while back it was the second fastest growing city in the United States behind Vegas. On top of that the film industry is taking off right now. They are currently filming Iron Man 3, Meet The Millers as well as TV shows like Revolution. Its a beach town with a young population, and seems like the perfect scene for a successful art house theater but we don’t have one. We get some non-mainstream type films at the Lumina Theater which is part of my campus’s (University of North Carolina Wilmington) student center. Thats mostly because the Film program (which I’m currently in) at the school is pretty involved.
You can also drop in any of the classes and watch what they’re showing that day (Classes like Experimental Film, World Cinema, Etc.) I also have started an experimental film club with a professor at the school and we’re working with the Cameron Art Center to bring Experimental Films, as well as the filmmakers to Wilmington for screenings and lectures but thats not happened yet.
We have a Regal Theater that pretty much covers all the mainstream bases (3D, Imax, etc.) Theres a few other commercial theaters around, that aren’t quite as nice but still available. Also I’m about an hour from Myrtle Beach which has one of the largest Imax screens in the United States but its currently closed for renovations. Hoping for something cool like a different Imax screen (Dome or what not).
Someone needs to open a cool art house theater.
I’m within a few miles of two Regals and an AMC, so that covers my mainstream bases. They also occasionally show one of the big “independent” films. Right now the AMC is playing Beasts of the Southern Wild.
For art houses in Atlanta, there are three. The first one is about two miles from my house (I’m more or less in a suburb that’s immediately outside the city), but is really more like a commercial theater that reserves one or two screens for “independent” films. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has played there continuously for what feels like years. It’s also where I saw Tinker, Tailor, Carnage, and A Serious Man. They’ll get the biggest “art-house” films like A Separation and The Artist. There’s a fairly well-to-do older population where I live, so just think about the type of art-house films well-to-do older people would like to see and you can imagine what this theater plays.
The next two are actually in the city. First is the Plaza, which doesn’t seem to show that many movies, and they usually get the bigger-name indie features later than everyone else. They also seem to be the only theater that shows local films. And they do Rocky Horror every Friday and the Room once a month. Basically, other than that it’s kind of a second-run arthouse theater with first-run prices. BUT they do a lot of fun events (that I usually don’t end up going to). Whoever runs it must really like horror movies, because there are two different horror series that they do. One is for classic horror movies (usually campy pre-1960’s stuff), and the other is called Splatter Cinema and focuses on more gory stuff. They show a fair amount of Fulci films as well as things like Pumpkinhead and Halloween (playing this Saturday).
The last one is a Landmark chain, which I think a lot of you have in your city. They show a lot more stuff, although things usually have to be moderately big to get there. But that’s where I saw Whores’ Glory and Melancholia. The biggest problem I have with them is that they program their showtimes so that if I want to see something there I either have to drive 45 minutes in traffic or stay up way past my bedtime (or just go on the weekend, but whatever).
I’m moving further into the city next month, so I’ll be excited to be closer to the latter two. I think I’ll see a lot more movies there when I don’t have to drive through a lot of traffic to get there. I need to look into the University theaters around here… any Atlantans know if they show anything good?
EDIT: Oh, and I’m close to one second-run theater that usually shows every kids’ and superhero movie.
i would describe it as very poor. we do have a 4 plex here in town but it shows only the blockbusters so i rarely go there. there’s also a drive in that’s in major disrepair, used to be fun but they mostly show kid’s films now. to get a wider selection i have to drive about one hour and to see an art house type film i would estimate around two hours. i have done this but not much since broadband internet has made everything more accessible. i don’t like the city much so it’s just part of the price one pays to be away from all that. of course 20 years ago it would have been impossible to see any decent films here but i have enough to keep me busy
dog daystotal recallthe watchthe dark knight rises
the bourne legacy is coming next week
at the drive-in:
ice age 4katy perry: part of me
Polaris said: " I find the second-run also in its own way significant merely because commercial films are a lot more palatable at $1-2 apiece"
Haha, very, very true. Hollywood rubbish can be quite enjoyable when you pay $1 for a ticket, avoid the snack counter, and smuggle in a few beers/flask. Though even then I am usually only tempted to go in late summer/fall (second run for the summer blockbusters) and winter (second run for a lot of the Oscar hopefuls). Right now our second run hasn’t even gotten to Prometheus (hopefully they will!!!) And even alcohol doesn’t make me want to spend $1 and an hour and a half of my time to sit through Men in Black 3, Snow White, or What to Expect When You’re Expecting. And though I love the idea of Battleship as a movie, I get the feeling that the reality of it might not be so satisfying.
As far as local theaters, sounds like we’re set up pretty much the same as Polaris, except we have a lot of multiplexes/commercial theatres, and some various festivals, ranging from a summer film festival (comedies, musicals, Hitchcock), “cult” series (everything from The Big Lebowski, to Troll 2, to stuff that I don’t want to know about), university sponsored “local/student films” festival, and a minor “real” film festival (aside from the competing films, they played Solaris this year, which I am kicking myself for missing).
My biggest complaint may seem trivial and petty, but it’s actually very frustrating. We have a couple different theatres that will play indie/foreign stuff, but only a few years ago did a real arthouse theater open up. I was really excited, as they had a bunch of stuff lined up i wanted to check out. The first time I went was actually part of the “real” film festival i was talking about, to see Uncle Boonmee (haha, almost a year after it was at Cannes :) Anyways, I got there, and discovered that the seats were really uncomfortable. The second i sat down, I thought “uh-oh”, and by the halfway mark, it had become really, really distracting. Well that, plus the room had no slope, so even though the person in front of me was barely taller than myself, his head was partially in front of the screen. But the uncomfortable seats were the real disappointment. After I got home, I went online to see if it was just me, if I was just being a whiner, but noticed that a number of other people had had the exact same complaint. And I haven’t been back since. I mean, if something came through that I absolutely HAD to see, I would go, but in general it’s not worth it. Frustrating.
Ruby : While our drive-in doesn’t always show the best films, I’m really thankful there are two screens and a playground, which keeps all the children and the movies they want to see far away from me. If it only had one screen I’m almost sure it’d never show anything rated over PG.
Along with the drive-in, there are a gazillion theatres, most with Imax., booze, comfy seating, screens bigger than 70 elephants or something silly like that. Then there’s The Tivoli and Plaza Frontenac that show more limited release titles.
And of course the cheap show theatres.
But I still only go to the same two places 98% of the time, normally based on what restaurant we’re in the mood for.
My access to theaters is generally through the front door.
I live ten minutes walk from my local cinema. I catch a train to Southampton to see most of my films. Nuff said.
HOL : I just got an image of you opening a door and a land of candy and cinema awaits. Kind of like entering Wonka’s Chocolate Room or Oz :)
@Cody Tank, I live in Linköping which has a population of 104,232 inhabitants (2010). So it’s far from as big as any city of decent size in the US. But my city is also pretty “famous” for it has it to offer cinema wise, there has been complaints of an alternative to the only theater there is that basically only offers mainstream cinema. I’ve never been to one of those arthouse cinema in all my life and it’s almost an impossible thought. I’m just a film fan myself and I wouldn’t have any idea of what it would take to get into the industry. I’ve heard (maybe that was some time even decades ago though) that in Sweden it’s reasonably easy for younger people in the industry to reach fairly big heights as opposed to other countries like in Eastern Europe and Italy where it’s often some old fox that is in charge of things and gets the important jobs.
@Jakob I’ve spent a lot of time researching the Swedish film industry and I’m surprised by how accessible it seems. I’m learning Swedish right now, hoping that I can make myself as employable as possible so I can get my work visa. Looks like a beautiful country, and I’d love to move there.
I’ve never understood the locations of art-house theaters or lack there of. I lived in Huntington, WV for a year. The town was huge during it’s years as a steel town, but when the industry left the void was pretty much filled with ghetto type areas. That city had a theater that would pick up films like Tree Of Life and play old films like Barry Lyndon. The population was divided by a very small wealthy population (mostly older), impoverished heavy crime areas, and then the small amount of young people that attended Marshall University (where I went my freshman year). I don’t see why that city had an art-house type theater when Wilmington, NC doesn’t.
“Anyways, I got there, and discovered that the seats were really uncomfortable. The second i sat down, I thought “uh-oh”, and by the halfway mark, it had become really, really distracting.”
That used to be a major complaint for the arthouse theatre here but they recently renovated. I actually was never bothered by it but hey, renovated.
I live in Fairfield County, CT. We have a Bow Tie four-plex in town (a five-minute walk from where I live), two Bow Tie six-screens, an IMAX at an aquarium (which has started showing Hollywood stuff recently) and one four-screen art house within a fifteen minute drive. In a reasonable driving distance beyond that, there are two more art houses (one with four screens and one with two), three huge multiplexes, about six smaller cineplexes, and one single-screen second-run theater. The ones closest to me nearly always show different movies, and sometimes the picks are surprising: Last year, the theater in town was the only theater for miles showing Drive, and one of the six-screeners was the only theater showing Martha Marcy May Marlene. The art houses are the really frustrating ones, though. Certified Copy only played for one week last year, while Best Exotic Marigold Hotel only left last week (to be replaced by The Intouchables) after opening in May. The art house closest to me is more independent/foreign-film oriented than the one further away, which changed hands a few years back and now reserves at least one big screen for a Hollywood studio film to make ends meet, but the latter was also the only theater showing Melancholia last year.
I really wish there was a repertory house closer to me. And more art house screens. It’s always such a crapshoot as to what we’re going to get and when we’re going to get it (and for how long).
I went to college in Atlanta – GOD how I loved the Tara cinema (which I assume is one of the art houses you mention)! I think they showed pretty much every major foreign or independent release when I was down there. The film society at Emory (where I went to college) does show some good stuff every now and then, but when I was there the screen/projection quality wasn’t that great.
i live in vancouver. we have p good cinemas here. HERE ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THEM. maybe someone else from vancouver will jump in and disagree (and be wrong)
PACIFIC CINEMATHEQUE – best cinema in town. haven’t gone to another one in like a month and a half. generally see 10-15 movies a month here. currently nearing the end of dual fassbinder and hitchcock partial retrospectives (17 flicks, and 9 flicks + 22 tv episodes, respectively). coming up is some classic horror and classic b-movies and whatnot. GOOD STUFF
VANCITY THEATRE – more like VANITY THEATRE amirite. spent the whole budget on an atrium and fucking annoyingly plush seats so apparently no $$$ left to get 35mm prints. mostly just show shitty recent docs and shitty recent canadian flicks on dvd/blu-ray so pseudo-intellectuals have somewhere to feel artful without actually challenging themselves. occasionally will show a string of dope shit, BUT THIS IS RARE. for whatever reason they seem to show good stuff around christmastime
RIO THEATRE – hipsters go here and pay $6 for a can of pbr. they show cult classics late-night on fridays sometimes but lately their selections have sucked dick. last time i went there was for DAZED AND CONFUSED
THE NORM – out at ubc. hella cheap second-run movies. also sometimes they show cult classics. last time i went there was for DAZED AND CONFUSED
GRANVILLE 7 – a mix of first- and second-run movies. run-down but kinda warm and quaint, IF YOU ASK ME, ANYWAY. once on a month on friday they show a cult classic. last time i went there was for DAZED AND CONFUSED. (cinemas here often show DAZED AND CONFUSED as you can see)
SCOTIABANK THEATRE – big cineplex. hella easy to see multiple flicks on one entry. couple times a month they show classic flicks for $5 (recent stuff i’ve caught there includes THE GODFATHER, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, etc)
TINSELTOWN – another big cineplex. also hella easy to sneak in extra vies in this spot. mainstream flicks but less blockbustery than scotiabank (ex. MOONRISE KINGDOM, MELANCHOLIA, LE HAVRE, whereas scotiabank is all AVENGERS and TDKR, notwithstanding their once-a-month classics)
FIFTH AVENUE/THE PARK/THE RIDGE – all run by the same peeps. latter two are single-screen, the former has five screens. FIFTH shows oscar fodder, the other two show a mix of that and of more blockbustery stuff
DENMAN CINEMA – basically the best cinema ever. it’s in the basement of some shitty desolate mall, below an abandoned arcade. a married couple run the joint and do everything by themselves (like… one runs cash and one does concession, but when it’s movie time, the husband runs upstairs and puts the flick on). one time i went there and the movie was cancelled because the husband had accidentally knocked over the projector and it wasn’t working. it’s all second-run, sometimes like third-run even, and they show 5 movies a day, each once. that makes it a prime spot to perform covert double-bills, however, one time i did, but since it’s so small and there were literally like 3 people at each flick, the dude noticed. he didn’t say anything to me, but when i left he watched me and he looked, not angry or upset, but disappointed. ): i never did it there again…
DUNBAR THEATRE – never gone here, because it’s in fucking dunbar. it’s single-screen and they show mainstream stuff. maybe someone else from vancouver can describe this theatre??
i did not mention any theatres in the gvrd outside of vancouver proper because fuck that shit anyway