Mark Kermode: Give us proper cinemas, not multiplex sheds

A great leap forward or the end of cinema as we know it? Join our debate on the multiplex...

Picture this: You’re sitting in screen 15 in some faceless warehouse
of a multiplex cinema, waiting for the main feature to start.

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You’ve
shelled out the best part of ten quid for your ticket (more if you
incurred the “online booking charge” that attends internet pre-purchase)
and most of those around you have spent the same again on
industrial-sized vats of overpriced popcorn and syrupy soft drinks,
which they are now slurping and crunching noisily.

Adding to
this cacophony is the drone of mobile phones that has not diminished
even though the lights have dimmed, signalling the start of the
performance.

Despite studying the seating plan in advance to
select a position that would afford you both ample leg room and a clear
line of sight, you’ve wound up in the wrong seat because there are no
ushers to ensure that previous patrons proceeded to their allotted
seats. So you’re now squished into an obscure corner of row F with the
teenager behind you kicking your seat to the rhythm of their evertexting
thumbs.

And then the movie starts…

The first thing you
notice is that the top quarter of the picture is missing. Or maybe the
image is upside-down, or back to front, or out of focus – whatever. You
wait for the projectionist, whose job it is to ensure that the feature
is properly presented, to notice and correct the error with a tiny turn
of the lens or a deft tweak of the racking knob.

But despite the
fact that there’s something very clearly wrong with this picture,
nobody notices. Why? Because, in today’s multiplex, the projectionist –
for a century the very life and soul of a thriving cinema – has become
obsolete.

Where once a team of highly trained operators would
nurse several reels of celluloid through the cogs and pulleys of a
projector, now a management wonk with a mouse clicks “Go” on a computer
and the movie is left to its own digital devices, like those robots in
the sci-fi movie Westworld, about an automated amusement park in which
nothing can go wrong, go wrong…

Although it’s commonplace for
grumpy old gits like me to insist that everything was better when they
were young, you’d have to be almost pathologically perky to believe that
all is currently well in the world of the modern multiplex.

Over
the past few years, there has been a growing tide of letters and emails
from listeners to the Kermode and Mayo Film Review bemoaning the
increasingly parlous state of film exhibition in the UK. From
projectionists who have lost their jobs to punters who have lost the
will to visit a cinema ever again, there is a sense in these impassioned
missives that film-goers are losing patience with the shoddy treatment
they receive in the cinematic equivalent of the supermarket.

Some
are lucky enough to live near an “independent” cinema whose properly
projected programming looks beyond the latest Hollywood blockbusters.
But for many it’s the multiplex or nothing. No wonder so many film
lovers are concluding that home viewing is increasingly preferable to
the perils of public performance.

There is a solution, of
course; demand better service. If you have a local arthouse cinema, then
support it (if you don’t, you’ll miss it when it’s gone). As for the
multiplexes, don’t just sit there and take it when the film is shown in
the wrong ratio in an understaffed auditorium. Complain!

Better
still, ask in advance how many projectionists and ushers will be
attending the performance for which you are paying. If the answer is
“none”, then ask where all your money is going. After all, a cinema that
doesn’t have a projectionist, but does have a fast-food stand, is not
really a cinema at all, is it?

What do you think? Post a comment below.

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Mark Kermode’s The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex published by Random House Books, £11.99 is out now. For details of Mark’s book tour please visit www.markkermodebooks.co.uk