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[Article] – Casual Cinema

 

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Posted July 30, 2017 by

 
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The era of the multiplex has brought many changes to cinema-going, what used to be a grand affair, matinee screenings with thousands of seats, has been swapped for smaller screens and smaller audiences. Recent changes like adding children’s play areas may outrage many, but is a world of reclining-seat, auditorium dining, more casual style of cinema a good thing?

Anyone would baulk at the notion of dressing up to go the cinema now, but that used to be the norm, screenings used to be events, but the advent of multiplex cinema meant that type of cinema was no longer profitable. In order to bring in enough money to survive, cinemas had to cram in as many screenings in as many screens as possible. But even these changes have begun to fail, the evolution of the global cinematic economy may have allowed films to accrue bigger and bigger worldwide box-office figures, but the domestic box-office has suffered as a result.

Cinema has been forced to change again, what was once a formal affair, with certain rules of etiquette, grows ever more casual as cinema chains must find a way to stay afloat, now looking towards the concessions rather than number of seats. Though of course cinemas have always relied on the accompanying food and beverages to make a profit, popcorn has one of the largest mark-ups compared to self-buying, but recent times have seen their involvement with the cinema-going process taken to new levels.

If it has never dawned on you that food and drink is intrinsically important to cinemas survival, consider now how many cinemas have combined their concession stands with their ticket counters, they may cite this as a means of convenience, but really their combination is the cinematic equivalent of “would you like fries with that?” Tickets used to be artful and often accompanied by a program, but now they are reduced to flimsy receipts with only the promise of a sated appetite.

Another addition to cinemas lobbies is the presence of alcohol, and again this may not be a new addition, is has mainly been limited to indie cinemas, recent years has seen it become much more mainstream. Most people enjoy a drink to accompany something, but is cinema-going a good idea? While having your fellow cinema-goers drinking from a glass is preferable over straw-slurping plastic cups full of (insert famous brand-name here) it will lead to them having to get up and knock knees with everyone more often.

Alcohol and the human bladder famously do not get on well; they want to spend as little time in each other’s company as possible, adding alcohol into a situation where people have to sit still for 2-3 hours, and factoring in the death of the intermission, is only a cause for disruption. The Wolf Of Wall Street ran for 2 hours 59 minutes, add 30 minutes plus of adverts and that’s a challenge for anyone’s bladder, imbibed or not.

Along with the admission of alcohol into auditoriums comes the option of fine dining. Hot dogs and plates of nachos have always been available, but have never constituted a full meal, rather just a large snack, now you can a full course meal to accompany your film of choice, of course at an increased price. The noise of people chewing and crunching away has always been many people’s cinematic bugbears, adding full-on dining is likely to not alleviate there suffering.

If chewing is the choral section of the audience, it will now have accompaniment from the percussion section, the sound of cutlery. It is hard to find a positive to trying to watch a film while someone next to you struggles to cut their steak. Though you have to wonder why cinemas have stuck to food that doesn’t require cutlery for so long, it is of course though because cinema is a darkened medium, if you try to eat your dinner at home in the dark, the likelihood of it staying on the plate is much slimmer.

This leaves two options, first let audiences eat in the dark, resulting in even more mess and clean up, or brighten the auditorium, which would be detrimental to the viewing experience. Cinemas are dark for a reason, films are designed be viewed in a darkened environment, their frame-rate and the brightness they are viewed at are key to keeping their illusion of ‘reality.’ There are easier solutions such as adding table lamps or selective lighting, rather than brightening the whole auditorium, but still undeniably distracting.

Eating is also an olfactory experience; having fully cooked meals may lead to an out of sync Smell-O-Vision effect for viewers, sights on screen met with contrasting smells. Some audience may get lucky in certain Brad Pitt films, but cinematic dining looks to be a an unwelcome assault on the senses, and that’s even without considering the staff who will have to come in and out, bringing steaming plates out to the audience.

Auditoriums are also getting a makeover more comfortable seats being favoured over volume of seats, with reclining seats with plentiful legroom and armrest space becoming more prominent, this may be an area where casualness is welcome. Cinema seating over the years can hardly boast comfort, for something that is going to host the viewer for several hours it can often be painfully lacking, an added level of comfort will be a welcome change to those with back or neck problems.

Though does this risk people getting too comfy, a nice meal, a few drinks and getting to put their feet up, there is serious risk of widespread nodding-off. It is doubtful this is the kind of environment that filmmakers want audiences to receive their work, directors often have to fight to get their work shown as they intended, to get it projected in the right format, so would they welcome such a laid back affair? Hitchcock would notoriously not let anyone enter Psycho late; you would not expect him to be a fan of more casual viewing.

But is the move away from formal affairs really so bad, new changes may have their problems, but perhaps they are only problematic for those who yearn for the ways of old and are used to days gone by. Paraphernalia such as tickets and programmes are arguably a waste of paper and can easily be seen as overindulgence, and as for changes in the auditorium, you have to remember the age we now live in. The multiplex era was brought about by the blockbuster, which continues to dominate screens worldwide, having evolved into franchise and sequel domination, and whose quality is debatable.

It is hard to talk about changes to the cinematic viewing experience without considering the films that on offer to prospective audiences. Formal events of the past had the grandest of films to offer, Gone With The Wind, Ben-Hur and Lawrence of Arabia, the new wave of cinema in the 70’s brought more demanding films like The Godfather, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Taxi Driver that required the viewers full attention. Today’s cinematic landscape is much different.

Marketability is cinemas latest trend, films are unlikely to be greenlit unless they can guarantee a successful box-office performance, and of course the films with the biggest change of success are the franchises and sequels. This is a genre that is beginning to stretch thin, latest entries in franchises such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers have been met with critical lambasting.

If the quality of films in offer is decreasing, shouldn’t conditions to watch them increase? Cinemas do not have the luxury of choosing films to screen on quality alone, they must show the films that will make them enough money to get by.

New changes may challenge cinema etiquette, but are they not more suitable for an era of cinema that is less challenging to the audience.

By less challenging, meaning mentally, themes are less complex, morals more black and white and question less probing, but films such a Transformers can pose a physical challenge to the audience. Sitting bolt upright, knocking elbows with the surrounding seats with little legroom for nigh-on three hours, all whilst having to endure the bayhem on offer, seems like quite the endurance test.

For audiences who have to sit through a decreasing quality of cinema, relaxed seating accompanied by a stiff drink is surely a more preferable means of comsumption.

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Written by:

Sam May
@Sjmay92
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