Movie theaters are open for business again

Movie theaters are open for business again, and the film world is abuzz with new release dates, in-person festivals, an accelerating Oscar race, an array of Covid-19 protocols and anxious prognostications. Is this the death of cinema (again) or its glorious rebirth? Or has it mutated into something new altogether, a two-headed Disney-Netflix monster with art somewhere in its genome? Our chief film critics, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, have some thoughts on these matters. They also asked some industry veterans to weigh in. Note: Les Tuche 4 Film streaming

MANOHLA DARGIS Hello, friend — it’s been a while. I recently returned from a book leave and having failed to win the lottery, I am back (happily!). I ignored most of the movie news while I was gone, though was sad to learn about the closure of my favorite theater here in Los Angeles, the ArcLight Hollywood, which was felled by the lockdowns. It felt like the beginning of the end of something, but here we are in a new season that looks more like 2019 than 2020 — even with requests to see our vax cards. What’d I miss? Note: Venom 2 Let There Be Carnage Film streaming

A.O. SCOTT You didn’t miss much, except for a few episodes in the continuing discourse — part soap opera, part séance, part tech seminar — about the Future of Movies. Judged solely from the slate of upcoming releases (some held back from 2020), that future looks a lot like the recent past. The fall will see new work from both Andersons, Wes and P.T. Jane Campion’s first feature in more than a decade. A new James Bond. The predominance of familiar directors and stars along with newly minted auteurs (like Chloé Zhao, following her best picture win for “Nomadland” with a Marvel spectacle) creates a reassuring sense of continuity. Cinema as we have known it seems to still exist. Note: Mourir peut attendre Film streaming

At the same time — though not for the first time — it is widely feared to be in mortal peril. Some of that anxiety is Covid-specific. Nobody knows when or how this thing will end, and whether audiences will return to theaters in sufficient numbers to revive the old business models. The pandemic is not the only factor, and the future of movies and moviegoing may depend less on virus mutations or consumer preferences than on corporate strategy. Note: After – Chapitre 3 Film streaming

DARGIS That we’re social animals is what made me think that we’d get back into theaters, that and there’s too much money at stake. Moviegoing has been up and down forever. But for decades the major studios have been eroding exhibition — the moviegoing habit itself — with a business model that banks on a handful of youth-baiting tentpoles and some monster weekends. Their audience flocks to the theaters for a bit, and everyone else waits for home video (or not). I looked at the numbers for the last “Avengers” movie: it opened in American theaters in April 2019 and played through September, but it sucked up more than 90 percent of its domestic haul in 30 days. Note: BAC Nord Film streaming

I imagine that a lot of people waited to see it, just as earlier generations waited for stuff to hit TV, cable, video — all once viewed as a threat to moviegoing. For a time, these different avenues seemed fairly complementary. But the habit of on-demand, whenever, wherever watching has proved overwhelming, which is bad for exhibition but good for the multinational companies that own the studios because they also own the companies which funnel stuff into homes. So, maybe these multinationals will shift exclusively to streaming. Maybe they’ll re-embrace theaters or buy them all up. In the end, I am far more worried about nonindustrial cinema and if its audience will return to theaters.

SCOTT The small screen is definitely getting bigger, whether we like it or not. Subscription revenue is unlikely ever to match blockbuster box-office numbers, but for a lot of independent-minded filmmakers, streaming offers money for projects the big studios don’t make anymore. For a long time, the big studios have been concentrating their resources on franchise, I.P.-driven entertainment at the expense of stand-alone features aimed at adult audiences. Streaming has picked up some of that slack.

The upshot is that what you and I and others in our rapidly aging demographic understood by “going to the movies” may have been replaced by a different menu of choices and practices. What I mean is the idea of the movie theater as a destination, independent of a particular film that might be showing. A lot of the time, you’d just go and see whatever was there, and there was always something — art, trash or in between — worth the price of the ticket, which wasn’t all that much. A movie habit was easy enough to acquire, and a lot of us did.

Kids nowadays haven’t developed it in quite the same way. They have more screens, more options and different reasons for buying a ticket. I’m not lamenting, just observing. What I wonder about is the effect of these changes on the art form that we’re still calling by the anachronistic names cinema and film.

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