Here 'Dead by Dawn' Horror Film Festival director Adele Hartley takes a look at the horror going on at the cinema :
Definition of perverse? One of the best DVD sites on the web should ask me to write an article on the preservation of 35mm prints. Go figure!
SGM's Alan and I agreed one fine day over beer that the entire cinema experience sucks. This is sort of where the idea for this piece came about. But when I started to write it, I found myself unable and unwilling to separate that fact from all the peripheral factors that affect it.
The point that I am about to witter around, but probably never get to, is that 35mm prints aren't getting restored, and it's not that nobody's noticing, it's that nobody seems to care much. Why bother to take a 25 year old horror movie, and spend the time and money it takes to restore it to it's original state, when only a tiny handful of the cinema-going public are going to watch it on the rare occasions that it will play. And given the effort it takes to convince people to come back into the cinema, when they can see the movie and more on DVD, without going through the hell that a cinema experience can be, maybe that restored print will never see the light of day.
I adore movies, and I used to love being in cinemas, but I have come to the (slightly unrealistic) conclusion that I will never be happy in a cinema again until I can be there by myself. But I'll get to that in a second.
One of the glorious things about having your own film festival is that you can kind of go shopping for movies. One day you wake up with a hankering to see some classic on the big screen, and a couple of phone calls (and cheques) later, it's yours for the night. Sounds ideal. But for every movie I have successfully tracked down, there are half a dozen I can't have, and there's always some truly appalling reason why.
Sometimes a print isn't available which basically means that a collector has snapped it up or the rights holder won't grant permission.
Or the print has been lost or has just disappeared, as in the case of Dawn of the Dead. Apparently it left its last engagement, but somehow never showed up back at the distributor. I can't begin to tell you how livid that makes me.
Or worse, it's an 'archive' print which means I must take responsibility for screening it on the understanding that it's likely to disintegrate in the projector, or be of such poor quality that it looks like it was filmed by a twitching lunatic in a snow storm.
Or in the tragic case of Wicker Man, some studio-hand accidentally put it out with the rubbish and it got used as landfill beneath the M3.
In a couple of famous cases, certain student film societies have damaged prints beyond repair when they have sent the print back to the distributor in carrier bags with the cans popped open and film spilling everywhere. On a porch. In the rain.
Such disrespect should not go unpunished, but it does. The prohibitive cost involved in restoring a print means that it's not even up for debate. We just keep showing it till it falls apart. Gone for good. Th-th-th-that's all, folks.
Hopefully, this might begin to explain why I am so hung up on the idea that any film you are watching deserves some respect as it may be the only opportunity you are going to get to see it on the big screen, where it undoubtedly belongs.
I am generally pro DVD and appreciate that it grants much greater accessibility to material most of us might never see, and therefore extends our viewing boundaries and opens up entirely new facets of film. I am also convinced that it is partly responsible for the increasing inability to distinguish between lounge and auditorium.
Going to the cinema now is a labour of love, and I dread the angst it will cause me, and the contempt that rises in me before the lights have even dimmed.
It is not ok to stuff your face constantly. It is not ok to take calls on your mobile with the comedy ring. It is not ok to talk incessantly through the movie, and it's not ok to meander about the place if you get bored.
We are no longer awed by cinema or wooed by the magic it is supposed to weave. We are not transported to another place, rarely are we moved to tears or out-loud laughter. There is no hush as the lights dim, and whoever figured it was ok to sell tortilla chips to eat during a movie should be taken out and slapped. Repeatedly.
Instead, those of us who would love to lose ourselves in a movie are frustrated by those who treat the auditorium as their own front room or worse, their bathroom (don't ask).
The multiplex has much to answer for here. As lowest-common-denominator cinema, it is capable of offering 12 bland movies at a time, no need to choose, each is as disposable as the next. As the studios increasingly refer to their movies as 'product', there is no longer even a pretence at entertainment. None of this experience is for your benefit.
Food is part of that. The multiplexes have posters on the walls saying "Film Food - A Film's Too Long Without It!" and in a certain Montreal megaplex, you can order your dinner from any one of a dozen food stalls, and have it brought to you in the cinema on a tray. I hate to have to state the obvious here, but if you're that hungry, just fuck off to a restaurant.
If you can't get through 90 minutes without noisily stuffing your face, you do have a problem. Not least that you don't have any manners. To paraphrase Hitchhikers….'people are afraid that if they stop eating, their brains might start working'.
Imagine it if you will, the sounds of noisy munching of tortilla chips, popcorn being prised out of teeth, nachos that smell of sick, the tubes of gristle fondly being sold as meat, and slurping and crunching of icy Coke, then top it off with someone's mobile ringing, a couple of conversations and a bleeper, and you have my personal vision of Hell.
And I've got news for you. Unwrapping a noisy sweetie really, really slowly DOESN'T MAKE IT ANY LESS ANNOYING.
A gentle, white-haired friend of mine in his 50's recently turned around to ask someone, politely, to stop talking during a film and then spent the next two weeks in hospital having his cheek and eye socket reconstructed where he was battered for having the audacity to ask.
From my early days at the Toledo in Glasgow where I first fell in love with cinema, through years spent watching every inch of celluloid at the GFT, to running my own festival, my passion remains for 35mm movies and audiences who, even according to my possibly rose-tinted memory, seemed willing to stop talking and risk starvation for the duration of the film.
Respect not only for the film, but for film-goers no longer seems to be a requirement.
Of course I should not, however, over-romanticise the Toledo or it's loyal patrons, many of whom found the forty-year-old building a great deal more useful than the back seat of a car. The chairs were really leftovers from the Spanish Inquisition and one had to be careful not to cough, not only to avoid releasing clouds of infested filth, but also to dodge getting a stray spring up yer bum in the dark.
Despite the sticky floor, the permanent draught and the assortment of worrying smells that wafted through the place, I was in love, and love is blind. And deaf. And has no nose. But still….
I digress. I frequently hear from people that it doesn't matter that the print is gone, because the DVD is available. One day I am certain the majority of auditoria will have digital projection and then there will be no limit to what is on offer to us, but I am not sure that this is the progression that digital-lovers believe it to be. It will be a long time yet before that form of projection will have any of the texture that 35mm has, and in the meantime, more and more films are disappearing and it's genre movies that suffer the most.
A 35mm, big screen outing of any classic movie (personally - The Thing, The Shining, American Werewolf, The Beyond, TCM, Star Wars) is, it should be remembered, a privilege.Back to the Spotlight page