Movie Houses Need to Lure Us Off the Couch


The Hollywood film industry has problems. And it’s not just with (it is thought) North Korea and their hacker “friends” who recently pierced the Sony Pictures computer system and leaked a bunch of embarrassing internal communications and information, all to protest and prevent the release of The Interview, a film about a plot to assassinate the nation’s leaders. (The nation denies involvement.)

Or producer Scott Rudin’s racist email remarks about President Obama (whose campaign he gave money to in 2012) that were leaked in the hack. Bad timing there indeed as current race relations in America reach a disgusting low as too many police behave as if its open hunting season on young black men.

But maybe radical action is what’s needed to wake up the film industry to its failings. Okay, just kidding there. Partly ...

The hack did reveal one memo that shows that someone or more than one person at Sony is concerned about the level of quality of their offerings. And, as an aside here, how stars with big money demands affect profitability.

It’s obvious to anyone with some brains and taste that the major studio system churns out too much tripe and far too often lacks originality – if another old TV series gets turned into a feature film I swear I will scream, and I’ve yet to see a remake of a classic that came anywhere close to the original – and vision. Sure, the business of films has always been a bit of a crapshoot where the blockbusters pay for the duds. But whoever at Sony was kvetching about churning out Adam Sandler movies does have a point.

It’s a complex issue for sure. But I think I see at least one bright spot on the horizon that could help raise the bar in the movie game, at least as far as quality goes.

It’s a curative for one of the market forces that has caused studios to focus on low-brow entertainment – the fact that teenagers are the prime demographic attending films in today’s multiplex cinemas. That’s painfully obvious when I enter one local theater complex and just inside the doors is a videogame arcade.

Many adults have forsaken moviegoing in theaters for home consumption of movies, abetted by modern technology. But a recent wrinkle in theatrical film display is helping to get older consumers off their couches and back to the big screen cinemas.

I’m proud to say that it started in the city where I live. Austin, Texas, and the Alamo Drafthouse chain that serves up food and drinks with the onscreen fare. Since its founding in 1997 it has spread to 11 locations in Texas and is rapidly expanding nationwide. Others are following its model and opening similar theaters both here and elsewhere.

Perhaps this trend can affect what the studios offer and stimulate more films for smart and mature audiences. I also have to laud Alamo for its strictly enforced policy of courtesy to other viewers by insisting that patrons turn off their cellphones. Basic consideration for others in our modern American culture does seem to be on the decline, and it has tainted moviegoing for those of us who go to theaters to not just see movies but actually watch them in a committed fashion.

We’ll never return to the theaters of my youth that were sometimes grand palaces that made going out to the movies feel like a special occasion. Yet the dinner and drinks cinemas do at least restore some adult appeal to going out to the movies.

It’s a nice next logical step after the rise of independent filmmaking in recent decades. The migration of adult visual entertainment fans into their homes has resulted in a new boom of quality, intelligence and even daring in TV to the point where the fare on cable channels and even at times the three broadcast networks far outshines what is produced for the silver screen. Perhaps the new style of theaters – where movies earn the bulk of their income – can have its positive effect on the film business.

Yeah, it all still has to contend with the general dumbing down of American culture. As cynical as I may sometimes be, I do see a ray of hope here.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2015

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