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Some may say that cinema – with reference to the movie experience, is dead. Yet, often, the experience achieved from going to a cinema, is still more gratifying than watching a movie on a small screen at home. Why, you may ask? Mainly because no matter how big a screen you may have or what sound system you may have equipped, it’s still not quite the same as going to the cinema, buying your popcorn and finding your seat while watching it with loved ones or friends. The cinema is often a neutral ground that is suitable for first dates or if you were just looking to do something with friends. Somehow, the silence between members of the audience, with the occasional whispers between friends is a thrilling and enjoyable experience altogether.
Recently, a large number of Vue cinemas in the UK decided to slash the price for ticket prices, which combined with the Super Monday or Super Tuesday deals, could bring down your movie experience to under £5 is motivation enough to snag that deal. However, the argument arises that the reason behind the reduction of the tickets are due to the weaning popularity of cinemas especially with the introduction of Netflix from £5.99 per month, it’s simpler for most people to just watch it from the convenience of their home.
However, having said that, watching a new release in the cinema still brings back nostalgic memories to when we were kids and nevertheless, not all movies are available for immediate streaming online and for cult movie fanatics, watching them when they are first released is still an anticipated activity. Additionally, it’s a family- and child- friendly environment where everyone of all ages are able to enjoy the movie going experience and also keeps teenagers away from picking up unhealthy habits. Similarly, even at university, it provides an alternative medium to have fun instead of the predominantly alcohol centred activities.
In the long run, people may stop going out to the movies, but at the same time, we said we’d be having flying cars by the year 2020 and the only thing that we currently have achieved, although not diminishing the importance of it, is the safest in air travel history as of 2017. The cinematic experience, much like the joys of candy floss at a fair has been passed down from generations, but undoubtedly, it would be less of a popular option especially due to the higher cost of living. But, nevertheless, as much as cinemas have been closing shop, it’s more so to do with the population of younger generations moving out of villages and smaller cities to look for opportunities elsewhere, and with the reshuffle in the population, these group of people who now possess the spending power equally have less time to spend on going to cinemas. So, as much as the cinema is shutting down, I don’t think that the cinema itself is dead, but rather the availability of people to go to the cinema has declined.
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I suppose people might’ve said the same about sound in film. One quote comes to mind, from Billy Wilder’s 1950 Sunset Boulevard: “You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big,” to which the retired actress Norma Desmond replies: “I am big! It’s the pictures that got small”.
It’s easy to snub your nose at ‘the new entertainment’ and claim the old ways are the best ways (particularly when Netflix puts out gems like Bright). But, for good or for bad, just as in the faraway Fifties there’s a pervasive feeling that cinema is down in the dumps – not least because of the ‘eclipse weekend’ on August 26th-27th last year, which saw the lowest box-office numbers since 2001. Meanwhile, streaming services like Netflix with Black Mirror, CBS All-Access with Star Trek: Discovery or Amazon prime with its The Man in the High Castle seem to be bigger than ever and only growing. Is cinema dead – did streaming kill it?
When people say – and feel – ‘cinema is dead’, it’s important to consider what is meant by cinema. Most people are really only saying ‘the movies are dead’, and by ‘the movies’ what is meant is of course the theatrical experience. Going to the movies, these days, is as much a “premeditated crime” as it was in 1957 when Eric Hodgins coined the phrase in the LIFE magazine. On one hand, there is the exorbitant cost of tickets – here in Lancaster, though our first-years won’t remember, tickets at Vue used to cost £15.99 in late 2016 before being reduced by over 60% to motivate attendance. This exorbitant cost is mostly just ‘the bill’ for the exorbitant upkeep of a theatre – not only equipping and staffing the venue but licensing films, franchising costs, etc. It is a bit like the upkeep of a temple nobody worships at.
On the other hand, modern life’s hectic pace demands simply experiences be short-term, low-risk and quickly gratifying – like street food. There is no time, money or patience to plan a cinema outing with the frequency our parents and grandparents did. Streaming a movie, meanwhile, requires as little planning as one flatmate simply putting it on the screen in the living room and others joining in – for a fraction of the price, too.
Does this mean streaming has killed cinema? The physical cinemas themselves seem to already have a foot in the grave, with historical venues such as the Lincoln Plaza Cinema in Manhattan trading hands or shutting down for good. That cinema itself – the art of the motion picture – has died at the hands of streaming is a much harder sell, unless you’re writing a sensationalist piece about Will Smith’s Netflix adventures. Streaming presents ‘the establishment’ of filmmaking with a crisis of production, much like television did back in the day: how can it maintain its monopoly over entertainment?
A recent but underappreciated example comes to mind. Just last month, the Disney corporation bought out roughly $52 billion’s worth of 21st Century Fox’s film and television assets. Disney did not do this, mind you, to have the X-Men join the Avengers or to restore the 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare to the Star Wars movies (though this is a piece of fanservice I’d pay money for), but for Fox’s huge share of the television market. The unsold remnant of the company is already being focused by the Murdoch family, fifty billion the wealthier, on news and live sports broadcasting. Cinema is not so much dying as going through a stage of painful puberty.