A new report from the European Observatory shows that audiences are returning to the cinema slowly but surely accross the continent. An encouraging sign for all of us who value both the “theatrical” experience (to borrow the American term) but also the medium term prospects for feature films. It’s the long term I’m worried about.
The use of higher and higher resolution cameras in TV series and serials coupled with the widespread uptake of 4K televisions have eroded the image-quality distinction between movies and TV. All the major streamers have invested heavily into feature film production, chiefly for the marquee value of the stars that features could – up to at least in the recent past – attract. Would Scorsese have taken Netflix’s money for The Irishman if he had not been guaranteed a theatrical window? Could he have made it without Netflix’s money? No, too.
Film culture has never been less visible than it is now.
So, French film theorist André Bazin’s question from the 1950’s -What Is Cinema? – seems startling relevant today. Film culture has never been less visible than it is now. Film history for other than Media students is …well, history. Poll a class of leaving cert. students about Hitchcock, Ford, Welles and you will be met with blank stares. Forget about Kurosawa, Varda, Ozu. I’m not even confident about Sophia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow – and they won Oscars.
Incomprehensible as it seems to cinephiles, younger people prefer the convenience of consuming “media” on devices that fit in their back pocket rather than a giant screen.
Where that leaves the feature film as a form – and those of you who write for it – remains to be answered.