Blurring the Boundaries: Chains vs Indie Rep Cinemas

Posted in Cultural Mining, Movie Theatre Trends, Movies, Uncategorized by on January 30, 2010

I like movies and I’m no purist as to what makes a movie. And even if you base it on a 70’s TV show (like the very funny the Brady Bunch Movie), or a kids toy (like the so-so Transformers), or even a video game (like the awful Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) they’re still all movies…more or less.

But while movies change, movie theatres have stayed more or less the same. At least in my lifetime. And one thing I thought was unchanging is that chain movie theatres did one thing, and indie rep cinemas did something else.

Mainstream movie theatres show new, first run, studio movies; rep cinemas show second run movies, or classics. Big theatre chains are a bit pricey, reps are a bit cheaper. Right? Well, it looks like something strange is happening in Toronto, and it’s getting very hard to tell one from the other.

So, in Toronto, The Royal, a rep cinema, is showing first-run European and Asian movies, like Police: Adjective and so is the Bloor, with films like Revanche. First run! And charging premium prices for them. I can live with that. It’s been heading that way for awhile.

But here’s something I’ve never, ever seen before. Now Cineplex is showing a series of old movies, all well known, mainly from the 70’s, 80‘s and 90’s, in early February. And charging 5 bucks a pop. Ok, they’re digital, so they’ll look a bit different (worse, in my opinion), but these are all movies I know from the reps: Close Encounters, The Godfather, The Shining, Die Hard.

What’s going on? Are they allowed to peach old movies, their mainstays, from the reps? Is that fair? Meanwhile, they’re also showing live Operas. I didn’t go to that, but people of my parents generation saw Carmen and loved it — a couple hundred thousand people, all over the world. Which is what people used to do… but they watched live shows on TV, not in movie theatres. And, before you think movie chains are altruistically raising the bar by sponsoring high culture, realize that has nothing to do with it. They’re just trying to find what puts bums in seats. Bums in seats — that’s the motivation. Next in line after the opera? Pro-wrestling.

And the reps are showing live performances, hosting film festivals… so that’s what I mean when I say the borders are blurring.

This is in the movie theatres, but something else is happening, something that I find really hard to fathom. I recommended a movie to some friends, and ran into one of them.

“So? Did you see it?”

“Oh yeah, it took three days, but I finally found it online, and downloaded it. It was in Romanian and it had Chinese subtitles, and it stopped playing after 40 minutes…”

Why can’t people just go to a movie theatre? Isn’t there something to be said for a nice crowded theatre filled with people laughing or hooting just generally enjoying themselves watching it on a big screen? And people are going back to the movies. Maybe it’s because of Avatar — it only takes one big hit to bring the people back — but whatever the reason, I’ve been seeing even second- and third-rate movies selling out. So tear yourselves away from your laptop screens and join the rest of the world, and go see some crummy movies. Come on. They’re fun.

– Daniel Garber, January 28, 2009

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