Marvel Studios is not to blame for the changing cinema landscape but there is certainly a problem with the current way in which we view movies.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese has made some interesting comments while promoting The Irishman. Other filmmakers came to his defense when it came to what is and isn’t cinema. Some other filmmakers decided to call him out. It wasn’t until he expanded on his comments in the New York Times in which everything came to a climax so to speak. Let’s get one thing straight right now: Marvel movies are cinema. Scorsese might not like it but these films fall under the definition of cinema. Listen, we may not agree on the definition but I’ll agree with Scorsese on the value that comes with seeing films on the big screen. An increasing number of people are turning to streaming as their primary viewing habit. WHY DIDN’T YOU SEE BOOKSMART IN THEATERS, PEOPLE?!?
Take The Tree of Life, for example. I know people who love this film and will probably have it on their list when it comes to the best films of the decade. Me? It’ll be on my list of the most boring films of all time. After the film took home a prize at Cannes, it was on my list of films to see. The film didn’t live up to the hype at all. In fact, I was completely shocked when it earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture! Of course, there have been worse films to be nominated. I’m looking at you, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I’m just going by the reviews because I didn’t see the film due to the reviews.
When we look at the theatrical landscape, everything started to change in December 2009. This is when James Cameron unleashed Avatar in 3D. Not only did the film play in 3D in theaters but other screens were needed for 2D screenings. You know what films end up losing screens as a result? The indie films that are otherwise fighting for screens. That’s right. Scorsese isn’t exactly innocent in all of this as Hugo was released in 3D in 2011. Avatar kickstarted this avalanche of 3D releases and even though audiences prefer 2D far and wide, the 3D releases haven’t stopped. The 3D conversions are more or less a gimmick by the studios to bring in just a bit more at the box office. There were a few films that were quickly converted into 3D for the cash grab and the poor quality showed.
When we look at the indie films fighting for screen time at AMC, Cinemark, Regal, etc., the 3D films are a major part of the equation. For the most part, releasing a film in 3D does not add to the story. It’s more or less to show off the visual effects. Nothing more than that. When a major studio release takes place, it requires several screens because of the 3D factor. The films that suffer the most are going to be the art house films–the classic independent film. In some markets, there aren’t any specialty theaters so they depend largely on the theatrical chains. Only the theatrical chains are focused on the blockbusters since that’s where the money is.
I think back to 2013 when I was going to see Nebraska at the Baxter Avenue Theater in Louisville. I was working part time and film wasn’t a full time thing for me at the time. As such, the Sunday of opening weekend was the only day I could see the film. However, I got hit with a stomach bug and after the following Thursday, it was gone. This is more or less how indie films work in Louisville and other smaller markets. Louisville is one of the top 50 metropolitan areas but the city isn’t large enough for some of these indie films to last more than a week.
Parasite, which opened in October, has yet to open in Louisville. It’s going to play the cinema at the Speed Art Museum when it does open…for a grand total of four screenings. Thankfully, the film is also scheduled to open at the Baxter Avenue Theater in Louisville. I’m sorry but this is simply unacceptable for a film that will likely win the Oscar for Best International Feature. A Fantastic Woman never played in Louisville and that’s an utter disappointment on every level. What I find the most surprising is that these films will play in more theaters in markets with a smaller population.
Short Term 12? Nope, I had to watch it on DVD after starting a Netflix subscription. This is how I had to watch a lot of amazing films that simply never opened in Louisville. Living in Chicago means having the resources of being able to watch quality films on the big screen–that is, if they open here. Some smaller indies might get booked in New York or Los Angeles screening rooms but outside of those markets, if a film critic wants to watch them ahead of time, I’m sorry but it’s links only. Speaking as somebody who is a fan of the comedy genre, indie comedies don’t play well without an audience. If you’re an indie filmmaker who makes a comedy, you need to fight to make sure it screens with an audience!
Even though the business model ultimately failed, the thing I love about MoviePass is that people saw indie films. I love Marvel but if there’s an indie film, I’m going to champion it and keep pushing people to see it. The sad thing is that films like All About Nina just didn’t play on enough screens. Could this have helped Mary Elizabeth Winstead get an Oscar nomination? Maybe.
While we can argue the definition of cinema all day long, indie films are fighting for screen time. When films are blink and you miss it at the theater, viewers have no choice but to watch on streaming. That. my dear readers, is the real tragedy.