Rebuilding Cinema

The impact of “Tenet” had the effective impact of slowing releasing air from an over-inflated balloon. Rumors abounded that on Saturday members of a major studio’s theatrical booking department received notice that they soon would be laid off. It is more than likely that “Wonder Woman 1984” would be delayed. Meanwhile, theaters had ramped up to serve a movie-going audience that was still highly confused by the evolving nature of the pandemic. The lack of absolutes by political leadership deeply impacted consumer confidence. Five States remain closed as a result of COVID and the daily shifting of the world of the theatrical exhibition begins to take on the semblance of a bizarre dance.

This business has changed and changed forever. It is a key fact that should be understood by all there is and will be going forward there will be massive shrinkage. This of course has to be measured by the simple reality that for decades now we have built an engorged industry, less reliant on reality than on the ability to get cheap financing for build-out and lucrative tenant improvements. There has been the rush for stadium seating, the embargoed VPF program, the insidious chicken tenders’ offerings, and of course the $300,000 digital screens. AMC cut a 17-day deal with Universal, it appears that Cinemark is on course to do something similar.

In a fit of political correctness and cloying positioning by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, they have made a subjective judgment on whether or not the movie is inclusive enough as criteria for nomination. This is more than silly, the judgment on inclusivity at best is a subjective one, and in reality, it really is a form of censorship and makes the Academy less about cinema and more about being LALALAND thought police. The inmates are officially running the asylum. Politically I am somewhat of a centrist, do not believe in imposing my own take on morality on anyone else and when it comes to money, be careful and try not to spend what you do not have. I am also of the opinion that a sure sign that someone might have a personality disorder is their wish to enter politics.

The Academy has taken the final step in negating itself. Its rules now are mollified in the light of a subjective opinion of what is inclusive or not inclusive. This politically correct barrier with what should be a celebration of the art of cinema will create the annual awards show to be a celebration of smugness.

The Screen Actors Guild is in deep rebellion as a result of removing 25% of its member’s health benefits and forcing senior members to revert to Medicare.

I am passionate about movie-going, zealously so. What I am seeing take place is a dying of cinematic tradition and a massive assumption of what remains within that tradition by streamers, who frankly for the most part are living in a bloated and self-satisfied universe. These boyars of corporate manipulations and political correctness are leveling a deep legacy and leaving the remnants to be dispersed into an increasingly frantic wind. You see here is the rub, they really have no idea and are ignoring all the lessons being provided by history.

While in Middle School, my class for some reason decided that as a field trip we should all go to see George Lucas’s second studio movie, “American Graffiti” at The Towne Cinema. I was young and inexperienced in the world, so the movie did not have the poignancy for me that it has now. That being said, the ballet of classic cars, the eruption of teenage angst, and the rebellion against authority were attractive. Bundling all of this within a wrapper of Wolfman Jack and good old rock and roll, it spoke to me. As I get older there is a truth within this movie that speaks to me. I suspect that a lot of its internal and external truth should be credited to writers Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, visual consultant Haskell Wexler and editor Verna Fields. For me, it is the most honest portrayal of American youth before Vietnam ever put on screen.

The movie is structured around one evening in Marin County California and the adventures of four young men. John Milner, played by Paul LeMat, Curt played by Richard Dreyfuss, Steve, played by Ron Howard, and Terry “The Toad” played by Charles Martin Smith. At the close of the movie, Curt, now on a plane heading to a Vermont College, looks down through the window of the airplane and sees from above a white Mustang being driven by an object of his desire, a blonde bombshell played by Suzanne Sommers. The image dissolves into the blue of the sky and images of the young men and their respective fates launch onto the screen emulating the style of the yearbook. It is dramatic, in some cases tragic and real. The faces disappear and the credits roll underscored by “We Have Had Fun All Summer Long”.

I apologize for languishing over this. I am trying to drill home a couple of points. In 1973 the budget of “American Graffiti” was $720,000, $200,00 of which paid for music rights. The film was a massive hit, earning $55 million in 1973 and another $63 million when it was re-released in 1978, a total of some $500 million at today’s ticket prices.

Would this movie be made today, the answer is no. Would it be made for VOD, the answer is also no. And for this industry, this is a big problem. When the movie gets screened today in drive-ins and repertory theater it often sells out. What I am saying is that the movie business as it exists today is doomed. By building off history and taking deep lessons from it, a phoenix can rise from the flames. The movie business can be rebuilt if you remove new Hollywood from the equation and remember old Hollywood.

“Tenet” did little business in the rural and secondary markets. It is somewhat sobering to reflect on “American Graffiti” and realize that its director gave rise to ancillary marketing which began the downfall of cinema

It is indeed time to rebuild.