Yes, it is welcome opportunities to see films in their proper format, 35mm. The Hebden Bridge Picture House is starting a regular slot on the first Saturday of the month. And the next feature is the 1961 film, Whistle Down the Wind. This is a fine drama, with location filming in Lancashire by Arthur Ibbetson. Most famously it is one of the films that established Hayley Mills as a star. It was also the first film feature for Alan Bates, the start of an illustrious career on celluloid. There is [as usual in British films] a strong supporting cast and fine music by Malcolm Arnold.
This was one of the production efforts of Richard Attenborough when he was [with colleagues like Bryan Forbes] producing interesting and distinctive British films. It is a children’s story and a parable, very much offering their point-of-view on the adult world. As is often the case, including in a series of British films, this point-of-view asks questions about how adults regard their world. It is a definitely a film to be seen on the big screen.
Then the Hyde Park Picture House have the highly praised Carol on 35mm. This is on the same Saturday as Whistle Down the Wind, but fortunately it is also on the Sunday as well. Carol has been praised for the acting of the two leads, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. But it also has a fine supporting cast and excellent production design by Judy Becker. What should be particularly well served by 35mm is the cinematography of Edward Lachman, who shot the film on Super 16 Kodak film. The adaptation follows closely the very fine novel by Patricia Highsmith, (for me, a fan, possibly her finest) but also adds a couple of significant variations. These serve the cinematic rendering of the story extremely well.
If perchance you miss the latter it is also screening at Picturehouse at the National Media Museum on March 23rd. The bad news so far is that there is no sign of The Hateful Eight on either 70mm or 35mm around West Yorkshire.
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.
This has not been a great week. I feel rather like Walter on the receiving end from Steve Jobs (2015).
First I looked in the Picture House PH magazine. On December 8th their screening was to be All About Them / À trois on y va (2015) in their Discover Tuesdays slot. Then I checked the individual brochure for Picture House at the National Media Museum and found ‘Discover Tuesdays takes a break’. This film got a warm reception at the Leeds International Film Festival and is an enjoyable French comedy: French films do well in the art film market in the UK?
Worst was to follow.
I am waiting to see Hard to be a God / Trudno byt bogom (2013) which was voted joint number 14 in the annual Sight & Sound Poll. It was screened at the Sheffield Showroom in late August. I thought I could catch it in Leeds later. As a famous Julia Robert’s characterisation opined, ‘Big Mistake!’ To date there is not one exhibitor in West Yorkshire with the film listed for a screening. It is in PH for December 22nd, but again the local brochure has ‘Discover Tuesdays takes a break’. Are the cinemas all hired out by Kit-Kat?
The film is screening at the PH City Screen in York. However, it only starts after 8 p.m., and this is a three hour film. Problematic for train or bus, and even for car as the city Park and Ride closes down at 10 p.m.
Finally we have the re-issue of Doctor Zhivago (1965), admittedly on DCP. However when I checked with BFI Information [who responded promptly), they advised ‘It’s 4K as long as it’s in a cinema that has a 4K projector, otherwise it will be 2K’. So PH at the National Media Museum have 4K projection in Pictureville and 2K Projection in Cubby Broccoli. The single screening of this release is in Cubby! Added to this the screen in Cubby is about half the size of the one in Pictureville and Zhivago is definitely a large screen film.
Apparently all this is due to ‘live transmissions’ being accommodated in the programme. Roy has written at length about the problems this is causing. I tend to think that this sort of programming is here to stay, it is an important economic stream for exhibitors. But does it need to have such a disastrous impact on film programming?
PH has this Discover Tuesday and tend to place ‘art films’ in this slot. And they have Vintage Cinema on Sundays. Whilst some of their cinemas do have additional screening, for example City Screen in York, the tendency is for single screenings. Something similar happens at the Hyde Park Picture House, whose booking is done by PH: but the HPPH is more flexible. I have seen vintage films on Thursday and Saturdays there. This assumption that the whole audience can be accommodated at one screening is clearly ludicrous.
Meanwhile inexorable films like Steve Jobs, bland films like Brooklyn (2015), or accomplished films like Carol (2015), occupy screens for a whole week or longer. Roy refers to the 700 or so films that manage a UK release: there are many other which do not pass this hurdle. When these cinemas programmed on a repertory basis there were opportunities to see such films over several screenings and the variety of films was superior.
Part of the problem is that many film fans are content to see films at home on DVD or Blu-Ray. When I looked up Hard to be a God on the Internet I found a bevy of adverts/reviews for Blu-Ray. I rather hope that readers of this blog are convinced that cinematic viewings are superior. However, if you go along to the Everyman chain that will be debatable. And whilst the Vue chain is more like a cinema their irritating custom of leaving houselights partly on does not help. I know there will be disagreements, but DCP is in effect a high quality video projection: hence cinemas often get away with running DVDs and Blu-Rays rather than theatrical DCPs. Moreover I have yet to find a source that consistently provides the information as to whether a release is in 2K or 4K DCP. If enough film buffs actually made their views known to the distributors and exhibitors we might stem the tide to a degree.
I have just returned from an International Film Festival full of archivists, academics and knowledgeable film fans. It was a great week but I was rather concerned that even there we had problems with Mobile Phones, Tablets and similar. Before each session an onscreen message in English and Italian warned audience members to ‘switch off their mobiles’! Clearly some people are impervious to persuasion.
These electronic devices have become a minor plague in cinemas and the like. Apparently it is even worse in some London theatres. The screening theatre at the Festival has an ‘opera style’ auditorium with three balconies – I suggested that the top one could be turned into a ‘sin bin’.
Unfortunately that is not an option in the venues I attend here in West Yorkshire. It has rather worried me that fewer and fewer venues actually screen a warning about their use. Recently only the Cottage Road in Leeds has had an admonition . So I was heartened by the new pre-screen trailer produced by the Picture House chain. Well executed but short, it not only admonishes regarding answering mobile phones but also lighting up the screens during a performance. Of course, such warnings are only partially effective. So I would be glad to hear from readers with suggestions about how to deal with recalcitrant ‘techies’.
Note – Cinemas subscribing to Pearl and Dean now have a new advert which appears after the trailers and just before the feature. It is an advert for Sony products, including those electronic devices that disrupt film screenings. There is no admonition about running them off or keeping them off through the entire film!