Why are there so few decent cinemas?
If you walked down the street and every restaurant was a McDonald’s you’d be frustrated. When you go out you want to decide if you want to eat Italian or Chinese or Indian. Sometimes you want to grab a sandwich, or a burger, sometimes you want to spend the whole evening over a meal. It would be bizarre if every evening you went out you had to go to the same identikit burger bar serving bland mass produced food where you sit on bright coloured plastic chairs under neon lights with muzak playing in the background. Yet nine times out of ten people go to the cinematic equivalent.
If you listen to the pessimists in the industry it’s because that is what the public wants. Is that true? Twenty years ago the choice for eating out was pretty similar to the current situation for cinema. If you’d predicted the revolution in that industry people would have thought you were mad. And in most areas of entertainment similar changes have taken place, whether you think about bars or clubs or holidays or sports.
But not in cinema.
Everyone will tell you that people don’t want to watch European films, or independent films, or foreign films or serious films or unusual films. But imagine someone walking into Macdonalds and seeing a curry on the menu (they do occasionally try and promote ‘exotic’ specials). Would they want it? No. That’s the equivalent of someone having to drive to the edge of town, park in the lot, walk past the bowling alley and the burger bar, buy the coke and the popcorn and then sit down and watch a Lars Von Trier film or a Wong Kar Wai. So how do you create demand? Ten years ago people weren’t all walking around complaining that you couldn’t get a decent crayfish and rocket with miracle mayo sandwich anywhere. But now Prêt á Manger sells thousands of them every lunch time. People are more likely to order a cappuccino in a coffee bar or an Italian restaurant than they are in a pub – especially if the pub is owned by a chain that owns two thousand others.
As a cinema-goer I want to have the widest choice of films to go and see: whether they’re from America or Europe or Hong Kong or India or China or even, God forbid, Britain. But I want to go and see them in a cinema which is designed for them, a cinema which is sophisticated and friendly, a cinema with good quality projection and sound, which has enough screens to give me a choice of films and which is near the bars or restaurants I might want to go to afterwards. And as a filmmaker? Well, imagine the filmmakers as the equivalents of the chefs. Imagine Marco Pierre White, or Alastair Little or Prue Leith or Gary Rhodes or Delia Smith all cooking away in a kitchen at the back of a burger bar where one till out of twenty five is dedicated to their cooking. I don’t think they’d be very happy. So where are cinema’s equivalents of Conran, or Pizza Express, or Prêt á Manger or Starbucks?
Your time has come.
Michael Winterbottom, Film Director