The recent lockdown has intensified a debate that has been raging ever since digital streaming platforms like Netflix rose to prominence: Are the days of the movie theater experience numbered? In a recent interview, James Mangold, the filmmaker behind such hits as Logan and Ford v Ferrari explained that the issue with theaters had existed long before the lockdown dealt the business a devastating blow.
“To me, filmmaking is filmmaking. The reality is that the delivery of a movie to a smaller screen that sometimes now is not even necessarily that much of a smaller screen. The reality of theater projection has gotten so tragically bad in so many cases. The fight to put your movie in a theater that stinks and someone’s eating an enchilada next to you – half the screen is out of focus or too dim.”
“Theatrical has its own problems, which is that if it doesn’t make itself a sterling presentation that you cannot approximate at the home – then theatrical kills itself without any other delivery method even competing with it. When I talk to theater owners or theater chains, that’s the big thing.”
Rather than as a filmmaker, Mangold is speaking from the perspective of the average moviegoers, who he believes are not getting the experience they come to theaters to have.
“My point really is just that theatrical is a wasteland right now of a lot of shitty delivery of movies to audiences who are paying a premium to see them on a big screen. That’s something that needs to be solved in the future. I don’t think theatrical is dead. I’m sure there’s going to be casualties from all this and the theater chains, but I think that people wanting to go out and have a special experience on a big, big screen with great presentation of a movie that isn’t available anywhere else… is something that will continue. But I do think the kind of glory period that I came up during the 90s, when there was really thriving independent cinema on screens in major cities, is already gone.”
It seems Mangold has already made up his mind about the bleak future of theater-chains, and that the descent had started long before the lockdown came into effect. And for the filmmaker, it doesn’t even matter what his fellow directors and producers in Hollywood have to say about the ongoing crisis facing the business because their concerns are far removed from the actual functioning of theater chains.
“The theaters are, like all capitalist endeavors, in a never-ending cycle of running from bankruptcy. They pay people as little as they can. They hire as few people as they can. They serve snacks that cost them 45 cents to manufacture at prices 22 times the cost of creating. They put you in a theater that is as passable as it can be at the minimum amount of expense. Once in a while, the main theater chain will renovate and put new equipment in.”
“But if the people running the equipment aren’t great, trained, or even give a sh*t because they’re paid so badly – then the result is always going to be questionable. It’s just that simple. It really doesn’t matter what filmmakers say when theater owners are worried about whether they can pay rent next month. More than whether some spoiled filmmaker thinks that their sound is too low or the image brightness isn’t high enough. That’s not where their heads are.”
This discourse first appeared over at DiscussingFilm.