Christopher Nolan Discusses the ‘Bleak Future’ of Cinema

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Christopher Nolan Discusses the ‘Bleak Future’ of Cinema

Posted on: July 9th, 2014 by tommyj

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Christopher Nolan is putting the final touches on his upcoming movie Interstellar, but a bug in the process must have bit him and reminded him the supposed "death of cinema" is just around the corner. Either that or he took in a double bill of Maleficent and Tammy. Either way, writing at The Wall Street Journal he sees a "bleak future" for cinema, though he does add "even if it arrives it will not last."

Nolan targets the new digital presentation of films, gives a nod to Quentin Tarantino‘s latest comments and sees the recent turn to digital over film as not a cost-saving effort on the part of the studios, but as flexibility in having a nonphysical product:

As streams of data, movies would be thrown in with other endeavors under the reductive term "content," jargon that pretends to elevate the creative, but actually trivializes differences of form that have been important to creators and audiences alike. "Content" can be ported across phones, watches, gas-station pumps or any other screen, and the idea would be that movie theaters should acknowledge their place as just another of these "platforms," albeit with bigger screens and cupholders.

As I have been referring to the Marvel movies for some time and was reiterated by Tarantino, Nolan is onboard the fact movies have become television in public and he sees a future where if a film doesn’t perform well enough during matinee screenings and doesn’t have enough presales, the evening screenings may be cancelled for more popular fair. Essentially, theater owners will "change the channel" saying "[i]nstant reactivity always favors the familiar."

Where I find a little pushback in Nolan’s view is his perception of the experience of watching a movie with an audience, something that can certainly be great if you’re sitting with hundreds of respectful people, but is that even close to the case nowadays?

This bleak future is the direction the industry is pointed in, but even if it arrives it will not last. Once movies can no longer be defined by technology, you unmask powerful fundamentals–the timelessness, the otherworldliness, the shared experience of these narratives. We moan about intrusive moviegoers, but most of us feel a pang of disappointment when we find ourselves in an empty theater. [Do we?]

The audience experience is distinct from home entertainment, but not so much that people seek it out for its own sake. The experience must distinguish itself in other ways. And it will. The public will lay down their money to those studios, theaters and filmmakers who value the theatrical experience and create a new distinction from home entertainment that will enthrall–just as movies fought back with widescreen and multitrack sound when television first nipped at its heels.

Nolan then takes on digital and 3D experiences saying, developments in cinema "will require innovation, experimentation and expense, not cost-cutting exercises disguised as digital ‘upgrades’ or gimmickry aimed at justifying variable ticket pricing".

I do love this passage:

The theatrical window is to the movie business what live concerts are to the music business–and no one goes to a concert to be played an MP3 on a bare stage.

The theaters of the future will be bigger and more beautiful than ever before. They will employ expensive presentation formats that cannot be accessed or reproduced in the home (such as, ironically, film prints). And they will still enjoy exclusivity, as studios relearn the tremendous economic value of the staggered release of their products.

Nolan then presents a look at the future in which he envisions new filmmakers tearing down what has become the norm saying:

As in the early ’90s, when years of bad multiplexing had soured the public on movies, and a young director named Quentin Tarantino ripped through theaters with a profound sense of cinema’s past and an instinct for reclaiming cinema’s rightful place at the head of popular culture.

The obstacle I see here is the way movies have been treated as of late. The idea they are merely products developed to immediately pack the shelves and sell as many as possible before the audience tires of them and needs some other form of stimulus. Yes, he’s right, we need to go back to staggered releases. A greater care needs to be taken with new releases rather than vomiting them onto unsuspecting audiences who can’t devour them fast enough, or even afford to do so if they could.

The only thing I wish Nolan had said, since he seems to be specifically talking about studio movies is a greater care for a better product, and by that I mean better movies, not better technology or expensive theaters. People don’t want to pay to go to the movies to see a constant stream of C+ and B- movies, especially if they look just like the last one they saw a week earlier and know it will be on Netflix in three months.

Nolan sees a bleak future, but he sees promise beyond that. I don’t know, I like the optimism and I’m sure unique voices will continue to inspire us, but I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be seeing a lot of these movies on the big screen. Hell, just read my interview with Richard Linklater and his memory of seeing 2001 when he was seven and tell me if any such scenario could possibly happen today, at least in terms of actually changing the landscape and future of cinema.

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