Cinema has always been the ‘working class’ theater’.
Cinema did not kill the theater. Cinema did not kill the Opera, The Ballet, nor the Symphony. It killed Vaudeville, yes, Vaudeville. From the French ‘voix de ville’, voice of the city, vaudeville grew out of saloons and showcased singers, burlesque dancers, comedians, minstrel, freak shows, and later the invention that would lead to its death, cinema.
Vaudeville’s audience were not sophisticated, their audience and performers were the working classes, the poor, and newly emigrated. In other words, “average Joes”. For a few cents they could spend time with their families, friends and ‘what have you’s’ for an evening of yucks, thrills, and shocks. Yet the ‘more sophisticated’ saw it as vulgar and common.
Don’t get me wrong, stars and wealth came from it. Martin Beck would build Orpheum theaters across the country, and Alexander Pantages would do the same. But a sneaky little invention that found its way into the tents and lobby’s of vaudeville would soon take it over.
But why? It was cheaper, and it really captured the public imagination. For the first time, they could see faces up close and personal. They could see naked ladies wildly gyrating before their eyes. It wouldn’t be long until The Orpheum and Pantages theaters would shove out vaudeville in favor of cinema. There was no doubt that cinema was here to stay.
Eventually, filmmakers moved from the Jersey shores to the fun California sun for a brighter future. The pictures and the stories continued to be made for regular folks. The pricing, until recently, reflected that. After all, the elites still had Broadway.
Over Priced Tickets, and Redundant Pictures.
Nowadays it’s big fancy seats, beer, and cappuccino for $20 tickets on the same size screens as a few years ago. Personally, I’d take old rickety velour seats and cheaper tickets any day.
For the past decade, ticket purchasers have been inundated with costumed heroes and villains, old tv shows turned into movies, and reboots of movies only a few years old.
Hollywood has always had the so called ‘franchise film’. Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney’s Andy Hardy pictures. Myrna Loy and William Powell’s sophisticated couple in ‘The Thin Man’ series. George Sanders’ ‘The Falcon’ or Universals ‘Ma and Pa Kettle’ to name but a few. But most, not all of these films, were low budget programmers and made a quick buck for the studios. Pretty much the same way Horror and Western pictures did. Now it seems that’s all we get but on a massive scale. I believe this summer we may have peaked since the box office has hit a twenty year low.
Lack of Diversity?
Now diversity can mean a couple of things; it can mean the lack of minorities and women in prominent roles, and it can also mean a lack of different types of stories. With all the superhero movies in the past few years, there really hasn’t been much room for female roles, that is until this summer’s Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman was a no brainer as to whether it would hit or not. She’s a well-established character and pretty much a household name so it was no surprise it did well. The picture stayed strong throughout most of the summer as the other tentpoles fizzled. Not only did it star a woman, but it was directed by one as well. Hopefully, studios will start seeing that women can carry a picture both in front of the camera as well as behind it. People of color, unfortunately, haven’t really fared as well lately, better scripts and behind the camera, talent could change all that. Writer/director Jordan Peeles’ horror picture ‘Get Out’ has proved that. The film grossed over 175 million on a 5 million budget! Hopefully, that sends a signal to the suits.
Too Much Competition?
This one could very well be the main reason why things aren’t going too well at the box office. Too much entertainment competing for that almighty dollar.
Television stole viewership from the film industry in the 50’s and 60’s. The advent of the rating system (the levels of sex, violence and adult themes not suitable for TV) lured more people back to the movie houses. Pictures like Dennis Hopper’s ‘Easy Rider’, with its candid view of drugs and free love spoke to a new generation. It was a film made by hippies, for hippies.
Francis Ford Coppola’s operatic ‘The Godfather’ brought a whole other level of sophistication to the cinema.
These two pictures would change the landscape and be the reason for the massive tent pole pictures of today. But like the 50s, we have Television. What was once referred to as the “idiot box” is now referred to as “Smart”?
The maturing of TV, Smart TV’s, Smart Phones, and their endless supply of streaming services like Netflix, you don’t need to go to the movie theater or even stay at home, you can stream it anywhere right there on your own personal device.
So what are we supposed to do?
I don’t know about you but I’d like to get myself some rickety seats, find and an old playhouse, set up a screen and show movies the way they ought to be shown. Maybe even have some vaudeville and burlesque shows before the picture. That would be nice.
-Phillip López Jiménez
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