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Cinema Excess (and a bit of Kung Fu Hustle)

Last night I watched Kung Fu Hustle, Stephen Chow's latest film, and I quite liked it, even if I had to pay twelve bucks.

This post is going to chop and change between my thoughts on the film and my thoughts on the cinema industry, because, on the way back with D., our conversation was about the two things. He had paid fifteen bucks, since he lacked that card to identify him as a student and thus get a whole three bucks off, and so our conversation moved between the fact that if we had pooled the cost of our tickets, we could have bought the DVD in a couple of months, and sat round at home and avoided driving anywhere with our expensive petrol, and the other fact that both of us had liked the film, even if we thought it could have shortened those fight scenes a bit to give us some more character moments. Chow himself is quite charismatic as the down and out Sing, and the other characters, from the Landlady to the Axe Gang boss are all fun and quirky, and I would have liked a bit more of them. The biggest problem with the film is that, since it's plot is essentially about kung fu masters hiding out in a little village and being attacked by a gang, and as each new attack is launched a new kung fu master is revealed, is that this plot is somewhat similar to what gamers will know as encountering the Level Boss. Since the fights are quite fun to watch, that doesn't present much of a problem to the enjoyment of the film, but each of the actors Chow has cast is pretty funny, and I would have liked to see more of their comedy.

Which I guess brings me up on just about everything I have to say about Kung Fu Hustle. It's funny, it's entertaining, it is worth twelve bucks, and you should check it out. In addition, you should find my favourite Stephen Chow film, From Beijing With Love, as it's just fantastic. What James Bond should really be, if he was a butcher with a magic butcher's blade.

But back back to cinemas.

It's probably not such a wide known fact, but I spent four years working as a projectionist for Village Cinemas in NSW, which left me with absolutely no respect for the cinema industry. None. Not an ounce. And if I see you buying popcorn, I have no respect for you. Anyhow, I became a projectionist when they shafted the old time projectionists and decided that their job was no longer a trade and thus did not require the cinemas to pay them the money the were currently receiving. That meant that the cinemas could take any old shit kicking usher and train them to run a film, which in all honestly isn't that difficult, and would at the same time not bother to train them with the maintenance of the machines, which is. Unsurprisingly, I was one of those ushers who agreed to become a projectionist, because it sounded cool and not hugely boring, which it is in reality, and the golden rule that I was instructed with was, "Don't ever open the back." Since I worked it for four years, I did, and I learnt bits and pieces about the machines, though I've probably forgot everything but how to thread a machine.

The removal of an entire trade and replacement with cheap teenage labour, however, is representative of the McDonaldisation of the cinema industry as a whole. It's doing anything it can to make money, and the first thing to go is the quality of the service, and the employment of anyone over twenty as an usher or ticket box person. It's pretty basic as a business plan and this is because the majority of cinemas are run by men and women with the intelligence of a brain dead monkey who are being forced to work for regional managers who are brain dead monkeys. To further encourage managers that they staff their cinemas with skeleton staff and combine candy bar and ticket box jobs together is the incentive that if you come in under your budget, you'll get a nice bonus at the end. Of course, this isn't isolated here--indeed, none of these practices are. They're the practices of a business mentality that must always increase their profits and does this by cutting staff and wages and so forth to do that. It's primary stupidity is the subsequent problems it creates (and which impacts on staff happiness and customer service and happiness in general) but it's not difficult to talk about this and it's not the entire fault of the cinema industry.

The rising cost of the movies is a problem that exists on all levels. It's naive to think that when someone like Tom Cruise gets twenty five million plus a percentage of the profits,* and when films cost hundreds of millions to make, and so on and so forth in the movie making business... it's fucking ridiculous to think that this won't impact on the ticket price at the end. That it won't raise the base line studios need to turn a profit, that it in turn won't make them demand more from distributors, that it in turn won't make the distributors demand more from the cinema chains, and that they, in turn, won't demand more from us.

And who the fuck can we demand more from?

It goes without saying these days that most films are not worth twelve or fifteen bucks. They're just not. I urge everyone to take a moment right now and think about the last film they saw and if it was worth the money they paid for it. You don't just have to have enjoyed it, or liked a part, or thought that it had some nice visuals or sexy people. You have to have liked it as a whole, you had to have gotten good service from the staff, the print had to be in fine condition, the sound excellent, and the people around you didn't have mobile phones... and, in the end, you walked out thinking, "Yeah, that film was great. That film made me enjoying being at the cinema. I didn't notice the gouge at all."

In short: you felt perfectly satisfied in every angle of your movie going experience.

I liked Kung Fu Hustle and there was only two other people in the cinema with me and D., so I had no problems there. I thought the cinema was somewhat under staffed for a Thursday night, however, and the usher called me sir... and, let me just say, I don't pay twelve bucks to be called sir.

Still, that's just me being shallow.

My theory to make me happy about cinema prices is to bring in a scaled ticket price system. Since it can be argued that ticket prices have gone up because of stars and film costs and so forth, but that that is only for a certain kind of film, a film that is usually shit and which I can do without seeing, I say scale them. Films that cost two or three million to make should have a five dollar ticket price--after all, they were cheaper to make, and need less to turn a profit. And films that cost one hundred and fifty million to make... well, fuck that decadence, I say. Be punished for you excess. Sell a mansion. Adopt one less black baby. Make another private sex film. Get some fucking perspective.

Scaled ticket prices. It's genius I tell you.




* IMDB report of his payment for the Last Samurai. For War of the Worlds it claimed he got a 20% take.

Comments

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angriest
Aug. 19th, 2005 04:02 am (UTC)
Cinema is dead - everyone's just confusing the twitches of the corpse for life.

I say this as both a lifelong cinema attendee, a filmmaker and an independent cinema manager. No one goes any more. Box office figures worldwide are falling through the floor. Are the films any worse than before? Not really - if anything, this year's actually a little better than average. It's just that no one wants to go.

Why? Ticket prices are, as you say, high. But they have to be. The studios carve out something like 80% of the gross on first-run blockbusters (45% if its a small indie movie). This is also why popcorn and soda is so expensive - they more often than not represent the cinema's profit margin.

Also, the studios have spent millions of dollars educating consumers into buying large home theatre systems and enormous libraries of DVDs. I haven't seen recent figures, but two years ago every Australian consumer who purchased a DVD player went on to purchase an average of 11 DVD videos to use with it. The average for VHS never rose about 4. So we're all rushing out buying DVDs and not going to see films in the cinema any more.

Piracy is also killing the cinema. Why pay $15 to see Sin City at the local multiplex when you can borrow it off a friend for free? Or download it? Many, many people I know actively engage in film piracy, and act like it's all OK and that they're just doing it to give "the Man" the finger, etc. Which is fine. They can think that. They should also note that the Chauvel, Valhalla and Lumiere cinemas just closed down.
benpeek
Aug. 19th, 2005 06:12 am (UTC)
i don't think you can put piracy down for the reasons the valhalla and such closed. (assuming all those are like like the sydney valhalla.) downloading, bootlegging, swapping, those are not big activities that are done on smaller films. they're mainly at big, studio things that are aimed at the youth demographic, since they're the main downloaders.

dvd is certainly taking over things. this morning i bought the box set of DEADWOOD for thirty five bucks. that's easily a month paying for cable to watch it and i've no desire for many of the other shows.
chrisbarnes
Aug. 19th, 2005 07:36 am (UTC)
I think DVDs are the main contributors to the death of smaller cinemas. I suspect people who like arthouse/indie movies are just as savvy and active at buying DVDs (and maybe downloading too, but probably less so). The number of such people is small compared to the mainstream, sure, but then it always was. 100 less arthouse moviegoers is probably a much bigger impact on small cinema than 1,000 less mainstream moviegoers.

I'm interested to hear what you think of Deadwood. I've not seen it but had it highly recommended. I was tempted to buy the DVDs myself yesterday, but refrained.
benpeek
Aug. 19th, 2005 07:47 am (UTC)
you are probably right about the number of people thing.

i watched the first episode of DEADWOOD. was neat. very fine. i totally look forward to the rest and, also, bringing back the word 'cocksucker' to my vocabulary. yes.
bodhichitta0
Aug. 19th, 2005 12:56 pm (UTC)
Deadwood is cool. It actually gets better as it goes along, like most good shows. (My dad loves it too--got HBO pretty much just for that.)
angriest
Aug. 19th, 2005 07:38 am (UTC)
Piracy is doing a lot - I know that most people who engage in piracy, particularly online piracy, like to say that they're not doing any real damage and it's all scare-mongering by the studios, but it is doing real damage, and they are contributing to the current dire state of the film industry, and quite frankly they can all live with that.

It's not the cause, but it's certainly one cause.

A slightly bigger one in the case of cinemas like the Chauvel and the Valhalla would be non-simultaneous international release dates. After all, why bother going to see the League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse when it opens here next year if you can buy the Region 2 DVD next week?
benpeek
Aug. 19th, 2005 07:57 am (UTC)
piracy is a cause. i don't think it isn't, but i don't think it's the cause that studios want people to believe. pricacy has and always will exist, in whatever form it has. it has always had an impact. technology has made it a bit easier, but at the same time, rising costs, dvds, and a change in the youth culture towards cinema going have made that impact seem a lot larger than it is. least imo.

i do think non simultaneous releases suck and hopefully it'll fade away a bit. but we'll wait.

oh.

i forgot to mention before, but i do reckon this years crop of films have been worse than the previous. not by much, but by some.
angriest
Aug. 19th, 2005 11:16 am (UTC)
Piracy used to exist, sure, but now it's phenomenally widespread through internet file sharing. The studios have to shoulder some blame for their current situation, because they're not winning any friends by running around litigating individuals the way they are, and hollering about how downloading is theft (it isn't - if anything, it's a form of fraud).

On the other hand, lots of people are watching things for free that, five years ago, they would have quite happily paid to see.
bodhichitta0
Aug. 19th, 2005 01:05 pm (UTC)
Here in Michigan, we can still go to a matinee (anything before 6:00 p.m.)at a first run movie for $5.50. After 6:00 p.m., prices are $7.50. The Imax in town is $12 a head, doesn't matter how old you are or if you're a student or what. Even at those prices (of course there are four of us)the convenience of DVD is really something to consider. In five months, I can rent *almost* any given movie at my library for $1 for one week. I can rent ANY movie under the sun at the big movie store in Lansing for $3.75 for 3-5 days. I can usually buy a new copy for under $20 and if I wait a bit, a used copy on amazon for around $12.

The studios can't roll around like pig in slop in their DVD profits and then wine that the box office is dropping. And still, the box office it does has some result on DVD sales. And throw into the mix that some shows and movies, MORE people buy the DVD than every saw the TV show OR watched the movie. For example--HBO's DVD division is what is keeping them in the black right now, because subscriptions are actually down a bit.
bodhichitta0
Aug. 19th, 2005 01:06 pm (UTC)
er, make that "whine."
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