The cinema is open for business again. and the film world is filled with new release dates, live festivals, fast-paced Oscar races, various Covid-19 protocols and anxious prognostication. Is this a cinematic death (again) or a glorious rebirth? Or has it turned into something completely new, a double-headed Disney-Netflix monster with art somewhere in its genome? Our lead film critics, Manohla Dargis and AO Scott, have some thoughts on this. They also asked some industry veterans to consider.
MANOHLA DARGIS Hello, man – it’s been a long time. I recently returned from a book holiday and after failing to win the lottery, I am back (happily!). I ignored most of the movie news as I went, despite being sad to learn about the closure of my favorite theater in Los Angeles, ArcLight Hollywood, which was brought down by the lockdown. It feels like the beginning of the end of something, but here we are in a new season that is more akin to 2019 than 2020 – even with a request to see our vax cards. What did I miss?
AO SCOTT You don’t miss much, except for a few episodes in an ongoing discourse – part soap opera, part séance, part technology seminar – about the Future of Film. Judging solely from a number of upcoming releases (some are delayed from 2020), the future is similar to the past. The fall will see new work from Andersons ’first two features, Wes and PT Jane Campion in more than a decade. The new James Bond. The excellence of well -known directors and stars along with newly printed auteurs (such as Chloé Zhao, following her best picture win for “Nomadland” with a Marvel viewing) created a convincing sense of continuity. Cinemas as we know them seem to still exist.
At the same time – though not for the first time – it is feared to be in mortal danger. Some of those concerns are specific to Covid. No one knows when or how this will end, and whether audiences will return to the cinema in sufficient numbers to revive the old business model. Pandemics are not the only factor, and the future of movies and film screenings may depend on viral mutations or consumer choice rather than corporate strategy.
If Covid continues, we will lose more art home theater, so that box office revenue is less. At some point, there will not be enough theater to generate enough revenue to allow for theatrical production of films. If you think about how the last 18 months have changed viewing habits, it looks even worse: art house audiences are more mature, and that demographic has so far been looking forward to returning to cinema.
– Richard Abramowitz, founder and chief executive of Abramorama distributors
DARGIS That we are social animals is what makes me think that we are going back to the cinema, and there is too much money at stake. Movie screenings have gone up and down forever. But for decades, major studios have scraped the show – the habit of watching the film itself – with business models using a handful of young poles and a few giant weekends. Their audience flocked to the theater for a while, and everyone waited for the home video (or not). I saw the numbers for the last “Avengers” movie: it opened in American cinemas in April 2019 and played until September, but it has sucked more than 90 percent of its domestic transportation in 30 days.
I imagine that a lot of people are waiting to see it, just like previous generations waiting to air TV, cable, video – all once seen as a threat to watch a movie. For a while, these different paths seemed to complement each other. But the habit of on -demand, anytime, anywhere watching has proven outrageous, which is bad for exhibitions but good for multinational companies that own studios because they also own companies that deliver goods to homes. So, maybe this multinational company will switch exclusively to streaming. Maybe they’ll re -embrace the theater or buy it all. In the end, I was more concerned about non -industrial cinema and if its audience would return to cinema.
Sure, there are those in the blink of an eye who might want to see it as an Imax experience and want to have an experience with the community, but like all things in the world, with so many options available and given the time, effort and expense to watch a movie, most choose to watch a movie in the comfort of their residence.
– Marcus Hu, co -founder of Strand Releasing distributor
SCOTT Small screens are definitely getting bigger, whether we like it or not. Subscription revenue may not match blockbuster box-office numbers, but for many independent-minded filmmakers, streaming offers money for projects not produced by big studios yet. For a long time, large studios have focused their resources on franchise, IP-driven entertainment at the expense of stand-alone features aimed at an adult audience. Streaming has taken up some of that shortcoming.
The result is that what you and I as well as others in our aging demographic understood by “going to the movies” may have been replaced by a menu of different options and practices. What I mean is the idea of cinema as a destination, not depending on the particular film that might be screened. Most of the time, you just go and see whatever is there, and there’s always something – art, trash or in between – worth the ticket price, which isn’t so much. Movie habits are pretty easy to acquire, and many of us succeed.
Children at this time have not developed it in the same way. They have more screens, more options and different reasons to buy tickets. I didn’t cry, just watched. What amazes me is the impact of this change on the art forms we still call by cinema and anachronistic film.
The studio stopped making the kind of movies I was making by the time we were done “Money Ball” – I remember an executive telling me that he would spread it if it came to him at that point. Over the years to make the film was made, the world for such films changed.
– Rachel Horovitz, producer
DARGIS Let’s take a look back in 50 years to see how streaming has affected cinemas, which have always been a moving target. Honestly, while it’s interesting to see how big companies deal with the latest, the work I tend to love has long had a separate ecology, by way of doing things, its own community and relationships. In 1991, Julie Dash’s “Daughter of the Dust” required slow release, critical love and word of mouth to make a dent, and the same goes for most of the films we’re interested in right now. As a friend asked one day, would Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” be a “Parasite” if it was just aired? We both think the answer is no – it’s still nice, but not a cultural sensation.
Movies, unlike branded entertainment, need to live in the world, not just on personal devices. It’s not about the potential romance of watching movies, but how people experience art and culture, because while we’re talking about infrastructure, we’re also talking about fun – the fun of cinematic objects, and the fun of your company and conversation. It’s frustrating that people keep writing lazy death news for the cinema, something they don’t like or interest. I don’t like everything that has happened in film history – the transition from film to digital, the loss of technical competence – but I remain convinced by the persistence of art and how its ecology adapts and survives.
Even so, and I think I’ve said this before, I’m increasingly seeing the segments of the film world that I’m most concerned about as similar to jazz. This is something that is usually appreciated by a specific audience but that requires new blood – the kids you mentioned – to really sustain it.
Movie theaters will have exclusive windows in the theater, but the windows will be shorter and more flexible. But the important film, which has a cultural impact, will once again be shown exclusively in cinemas for some time, maybe 45 days.
– Tom Rothman, chairman and chief executive of Sony’s Motion Picture Group
SCOTT I think I’m always optimistic about the artist’s perseverance and the audience’s curiosity, and realize that good work is most often done against whatever system is in place at a given time. But it remains important to critique the system, and it makes sense to wonder how its current iterations can hinder some types of authenticity while encouraging others.
Nothing will go back to the previous golden age, and gold will decline rapidly when you look closely. The old studios whose products earned the nickname “classic” were built on exploitation and predators, and ruled by autocratic moguls. Things didn’t get much better, from an ethical or political standpoint, in New Hollywood ’70s or 90s indie’.
Still, great and weird movies were made back then, as they are now. But I’m afraid many of them will be weak in streaming algorithms or on the fringes of micro -distribution, which is separate from even small publications that may have discovered it. One of the causes of the alarm – which has nothing to do with streaming per se – is the massive extinction of local newspapers and the weeks that nurtured the local film scene across the country. The health of film is related to the health of journalism.
[I worry] that economic challenges will force art cinemas away from small titles that add diversity and participation in our cinematic scene. Moreover, that reduction in press and media coverage for smaller films will force theater owners to take this decision.
– Dennis Doros, co -founder of Milestone Films
DARGIS This pandemic has raised certain issues-at the very least, better theater ventilation will probably stop watching multiplex double food in a mix of despair and stale popcorn. More to your last point, I think that most of the epidemics that have been done is to emphasize, once again, that we are all still navigating the world created by the internet, which is changing the way we work, play, read, watch, think, and think. The film industry has a history of different production-distribution-exhibition models that work until they don’t, yet throughout this transition, films continue to be made and people continue to watch them, and I imagine they will continue to be made and we will continue to watch and talk about all that.
SCOTT Let’s hope so! Otherwise, we will both probably get regular leave.