Cinemas are open for business again. And the film world is buzzing with new release dates, personal festival, a quick Oscar race, an array of COVID-19 protocols and worrying forecast. Is this the death of cinema (again) or its glorious rebirth? Or has it morphed into something entirely new, a two-headed Disney-Netflix monster with art somewhere in its genome? Our chief film critics, Manohla Dargis and AO Scott, have some thoughts on these matters. He also asked some industry stalwarts to weigh in.
Manohla Dargis Hello friend – 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 movie news when I visited, although it was sad to learn of the closure of my favorite theater in Los Angeles, arclight hollywood, which had fallen from the lockdown. It felt like the beginning of the end of something, but here we are, in a new season that looks more like 2019 than 2020 — even with requests to see our wax cards. what did i miss?
AO Scott You didn’t miss much, except a few episodes into the ongoing discourse – part soap opera, part session, part tech seminar – about the future of films. Judging solely from the slate of upcoming releases (some withheld from 2020), that future looks a lot like the recent past. In the fall new works from both Anderson, Wes and PT Jane Campion will appear for the first time in more than a decade. A new James Bond. Familiar directors and stars as well as newly minted biographies predominate (such as Chloe Zhao, one after her Best Picture win for “Nomadland”). wondrous spectacle) creates a reassuring sense of continuity. Cinema as we know it, seems to still exist.
At the same time – though not for the first time – there is a widespread threat of mortal danger. Some of that concern is COVID-specific. No one knows when and how this will end and whether audiences will return to theaters in sufficient numbers to revive the old business model. The pandemic isn’t the only factor, and the future of movies and movies may depend less on virus mutations or consumer preferences than corporate strategy.
If COVID continues, we will lose more art-house theaters, resulting in lower box office revenue. At some point there won’t be enough theaters to generate enough revenue to justify releasing a film theatrically. If you take a look at how viewing habits have changed over the past 18 months, it looks even worse: The art-house audience is more mature, and that demographic isn’t eager to return to theaters just yet. Is.
–Richard Abramowitz, founder and CEO of distributor Abramorama
dergis That we’re social creatures, it got me thinking that we’ll be back in theaters, and there’s a lot of money at stake. Moviegoing has been up and down forever. But for decades major studios have been ditching exhibition—the movie-watching habit itself—with a business model that banks on a handful of youth-baiting tentpoles and a few monster weekends. Their audiences flock to theaters for a while, and everyone else waits for the home video (or not). I saw Numbers for the previous “Avengers” movie: It opened in US theaters in April 2019 and ran through September, but it sucked up more than 90 percent of its domestic run in 30 days.
I imagine that many people waited to see it, just as the previous generation waited for TV, cable, video to hit – all seen as a threat to see the movie at once. For a time, these separate avenues seemed quite complementary. But the on-demand habit of watching whenever, wherever has proved overwhelming, which is bad for exhibitions but good for multinationals owning studios because they own companies that funnel stuff into homes. Hence, it may be that these MNCs turn exclusively to streaming. Maybe they’ll embrace theaters again or buy them all. In the end, I am more concerned about non-industrial cinema and if its audience will return to theatres.
Sure, there’s the occasional blockbuster they want to see as an Imax experience and that shared community experience, but like everything else in the world, there’s a lot of options and time, effort, and effort available to go to the movies. With the rush of spending, most opt to watch movies from the comfort of their homes.
— Marcus Hu, co-founder of distributor Strand Releasing
Scott The small screen is definitely getting bigger, whether we like it or not. Subscription income is unlikely to ever match blockbuster box-office numbers, but for a lot of independent-minded filmmakers, streaming offers money for projects that big studios no longer make. For a long time, large studios have been focusing their resources on franchise, IP-powered entertainment at the expense of stand-alone features aimed at adult audiences. Streaming has picked up some of that slack.
The result is that you and I and our increasingly aging demographic can be understood from “going to the movies” to be replaced by a varied menu of choices and practices. What I mean is the idea of a movie theater as a destination, independent of any particular film that might be shown. A lot of times, you’d just go and see what was out there, and there was always something—art, trash or something in between—worth the ticket price, which wasn’t that high. It was easy enough to get used to a movie, and a lot of us did.
Children of today have not developed it at all in the same way. They have more screens, more options and different reasons to buy tickets. I’m not grieving, just watching. I wonder if these changes have an effect on the art form that we are still calling by the chronological names cinema and film.
The studio stopped making the movies I made while we were finished “Moneyball” – I remember an exec telling me that if he had come to him he would have passed it. The number of years it took to make that film changed the world of that kind of film.
— Rachel Horowitz, Producer
dergis Let’s look back 50 years at how streaming influenced cinema, which is always a moving target. Frankly, it’s interesting to see how big companies are handling the latest normal, the work I love has a different ecology, with its own way of doing things, with its own community and relationships. In 1991, Julie Dash’s “daughters of dustIt required slow releases, critical love, and word of mouth to make a dent, and that’s true of most movies we care about right now. A friend asked the other day, what Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” Be “Parasite” if it was only streamed? We both think the answer is no – it would still be great, but not a cultural sensation.
Unlike branded entertainment, movies need to be in the world, not just on personal devices. It’s not about the emotional romance of watching a movie, but about how people experience art and culture, because when we’re talking about infrastructure, we’re also talking about pleasure – the cinematic object. Enjoy, and enjoy your company and conversation. It’s disappointing that people keep writing lazy obituaries for cinema, something they have no emotion or interest in. I don’t like all that has happened in film history – the transition from film to digital, the loss of technical competency – but I remain enthralled by the persistence of the art and how its ecology remains friendly and persevering.
Still, and I think I’ve said this before, I increasingly see the part of the film world that I’m most concerned about, like jazz. It’s generally appreciated by a specific audience, but it needs new blood – the kids you mentioned – to really keep it up.
Theaters in theatrical films will have special windows, but those windows will be smaller and more flexible. But movies that are important, that have a cultural impact, will again run exclusively in movie theaters for some time, possibly 45 days.
— Tom Rothman, President and CEO of Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group
Scott I guess I’m always optimistic about the perseverance of the cast and the curiosity of the audience, and know that good work is often done against the grain of whatever the system is at any given time. But it is important to criticize that system nonetheless, and it is fair to wonder how its current iteration can stifle some sort of originality while encouraging others.
There is no going back to any previous golden age, and the gold runs out very quickly when you look closely. The old studios whose products earned the “classical” designation were built on exploitation and hunting, and were ruled by autocratic Mughals. New Hollywood In the ’70s or indie ’90s, things weren’t much better from a moral or political point of view.
Still, great and weird movies were being made then, as they are now. But I fear that many of them will be siphoned off in streaming algorithms or in the margins of micro-distribution, even from the small public who may have discovered them. A cause for alarm – which has nothing to do with streaming per se – is the mass extinction of local newspapers and all-weeklies that nurture local film scenes across the country. The health of films is linked to the health of journalism.
[I worry] That economic challenges will drive art-house cinemas away from smaller titles that significantly add diversity and inclusion to our cinematic landscape. Additionally, theater owners will have a hand in these decisions by reducing newspaper and media coverage for short films.
— Dennis Doros, Co-Founder of Milestone Films
dergis The pandemic has brought up specific issues – at least, perhaps better theater ventilation will put an end to the gloom and stale popcorn viewing of multiplexes fodder. More to your last point, I think it underscores most of what the pandemic has done, that we are all still navigating a world created by the Internet, which has changed our labor, playing, reading, watching, Changed the way of thinking. The film industry has a history of various production-delivery-exhibition models that work until they work, yet these shifts keep movies being made and people watching them, and I think they are made. Will stay and we will keep watching and keep talking about it.
Scott Let’s hope! Otherwise we could both find ourselves on permanent book leave.