The Numbers, UK 2015

Admittedly an event, but also a less familiar sight.

Admittedly an event, but also a less familiar sight.

Charles Gant provides a regular and interesting column in Sight & Sound on the UK / Eire box-office: the inclusion of Eire is one of those anomalies favoured by British capitalists. His latest piece in S&S February 2016 [another anomaly, published at the beginning of January 2016] provides information about the Box Office for 2015, up until December 13. It does however omit films labelled ‘Bollywood’: the best performing of the latter films were Diwale and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Both of which took over £1.5 million in the UK. The ‘good news’ is

“that admissions [which] dipped significantly [in 2014] bounced back, powered by major hits including SPECTRE (£41 million so far) . . . and Fifty Shades of Grey (over £13 million).”

To these could be added that

“home-grown titles aimed at the older demographic cleaned up at the box office. Maggie Smith featured in two of the year’s biggest – The Second Exotic Marigold Hotel (£16.01 million) and The Lady in the Van (£11.26 million).”

The bad news is that

“It’s in foreign-language film, however, that 2015 recorded the real crushing disappointment. Continuing and deepening the recent downward trend.”

Whereas The Great Beauty in 2013 took over a million pounds, with the exception of the two Hindi films, none did this in 2015. Gant provides a list of the Top-grossing Foreign-Language Films in 2015. Starting at just over £700,000 we have, Wild Tales, followed by Force Majeure, Timbuktu, The Salt of the Earth, The New Girlfriend, The Connection, Girlhood, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch, Marshland and at the end with just under £145,000 Mommy. He adds alongside a list of English-Language Indie/Crossover Titles. In front with over £21 million is The Theory of Everything followed by Legend, Suffragette, Far from the Madding Crowd, Birdman, Sicario, Amy, Brooklyn, Selma and at the end with nearly £3 million Ex Machina. There are so many depressing features here. That Suffragette, which has little notion of the actual movement, took nearly three times the box office of the highly intelligent Selma. That, in particular, the bland Brooklyn, the poorly scripted The Theory of Everything and the incoherent Birdman all took more than either Timbuktu or Girlhood (both in my top ten). The only salve is that the excellent documentary Amy did well. The Editor of S&S, Nick James, comments on this. However, his main thrust is directed towards critics, which I think is misdirected. Just look at IMDB’s numeration of reviews: much criticism is lost in the Tsunami of online reviews. More to the point Gant quotes Louisa Dent of Curzon Artificial Eye: Curzon is involved in both distribution and exhibition. She comments:

“For audiences, it has to be something special for them to go to the cinema.’

This parallels a comment made by a manager at Picturehouses. That appears to be the rationale for their programming. Our local Picturehouse [in Bradford at the National Media Museum] tends to show the sort of films in the foreign-language list once only: and along with what we call classics, these tend to be programmed on a Tuesday evening or on a Sunday afternoon. Though the cinema offers a wider range of programming with a greater number of special screenings and rare films like those of Vera Chtylova, there still seems to be a similar tendency at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. The latter cinema obtains its films through Picturehouses and another problem is that the Hyde Park tends to the same days and sessions, Tuesdays and Sundays for these films. Single screenings of a particular film [unless it is had extras, like musicians or Q&As] seem to me to be an anachronism. And in parallel fashion the two proper independent exhibitors sited only twelve miles apart competing at the same time is unhelpful. Once upon a time there was an exhibitor’s forum for Yorkshire, though there were more independent outlets then. This apparent lack of cooperation leads to the films we miss: as Roy has noted Hard to be a God has yet to enjoy a screening in West Yorkshire. And that applies equally in a cinematic format to the BFI re-issue of the 1967 Far From the Madding Crowd. The latter could rely on at least one distinguished audience member, because it is much more faithful to Thomas Hardy’s own version. Roy, in his pick of the year, thought West Yorkshire did quite well. I disagree: Manchester’s Home and Sheffield’ Showroom both screened the two films we missed, and both tend to multiple screenings. Gant also notes that

“With all of Curzon’s titles now available on its Curzon Home Cinema platform the same day as theatrical release.”

The latter policy not only undermines the firm’s own exhibition chain but it ignores the future: as potential viewers switch to online downloading. There appears to be a lemming-like drive amongst the UK companies involved in film distribution and exhibition towards the ‘popular’. So we get extended runs of films like Carol and Joy. The former is excellent, the latter sounds so, But both are in multiplexes, who I bet will win out in the competition. Meanwhile Angela Jolie’s interesting By the Sea only turned up in Leeds at the Showcase multiplex: yet it looked exactly like an independent exhibitor film. Gant and James are right to be depressed. And Roy writes on another aspect of this downward spiral. Still, time will tell. I listened this afternoon to the excellent Ian Christie in a Radio 3 discussion that I taped. He remarked that: “The death of cinema has been forecast many times, but it is still alive’. Let us hope he can repeat that line in the future.

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2 comments

  1. Roy Stafford

    I largely agree with you Keith (but not about individual titles). However, you do seem to want to interpret what I’ve said about local exhibition in West Yorkshire in a very specific way. I carefully explained that we do better than many parts of the UK – but I singled out Manchester and Sheffield as places that need to be visited to get the full range of releases. The reason for that is clear – HOME and The Showroom are both still publicly-funded and don’t use Picturehouse booking services.

    You also ignore Hebden Bridge Picture House – another publicly-funded cinema in West Yorkshire which does show specialised titles. (I know you find it difficult to get to.) I would also like to mention Keighley Picture House which, mainly via Keighley Film Club, has managed to show some specialised films.

    We should all support Hebden Bridge PH as it recovers bravely from the recent floods – the second time the stalls have been underwater!

  2. keith1942

    Hi Roy,

    Absolutely support Hebden Bridge, but it is not easy on Public transport. And I do get the listings for other cinemas, I shall add Keighley; though that could be tricky on bus or train as well.
    Re Manchester and Sheffield, yes I use or will use both. However, I do not think their wider range is just down to public funding. The Hyde Park is supported by the Grand Theatre and Picturehouse at the National Media Museum apparently is underwritten by the Museum
    I know the Home and Showroom have more screens, but there are two or three in Bradford depending how you count.
    And the point is that we do not actually get certain films. As far as I know none of Picturehouse in Bradford, or the Hyde Park or Hebden Bridge have screened Hard to be a God and when I checked that also applied to the 1967 Far from the Madding Crowd. Just to be fair to the Hyde Park they have screened Vera Chtylova’s films.

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