Twelve Thoughts On The Value Of Cinema

Tops on my list of "75 Problems With The Film Industry These Days" is that there is no way to justify the price point for movie tickets.  Which doesn't mean I am opposed to paying for them -- I do pay and I see it as almost a political act.  By buying movie tickets, I am voting with my dollars for the culture I want.  But I know that many people out there aren't at all like me.  If people see the movies as just another entertainment or leisure time activity, it is very hard to justify the price. (when we compare it to other "values" – not clear on “values” not sure needed). I do think there is a solution to this dilemma though.  We have to restore the values to film that are truly UNIQUE to film. It's easy to say, but what does it really mean? Since cinema's unique value has generally been neglected in most current aspects of film and its infrastructure, we are really talking about enhancing the value of cinema, of making the experience more than a movie -- even if we are essentially returning to what it always has been, will be...

I recognize that there are those out there who bristle at using economic terms as a primary descriptive for an art form and a pure pleasure.  Get over it.  It's an expensive endeavor that is difficult to deliver to a widely dispersed and ill-defined audience.  And the support system is changing and in need of great help.  Burying your head in the sand and not facing the time we are living in, is to dig the grave for the art, the business, its creators and collaborators, even for the culture overall.  Let's find the path out of here I say.  The pain of the present exceeds the fear of the future.  But it starts with taking stock of what we've got.

Most filmmakers recognize the need to try to do more with their movies these days, to try to make them more of an event, or to extend their reach beyond the form into more of a cross platform experience.  That said, there is still a lot more work we can do to increase the value of the traditional cinema experience.  The steps needed to enhance the value of movies start with examining just what the core value of cinema is.  Before you can improvise, you should acknowledge the fundamentals -- and we need to do that with cinema's unique qualities.  We can take it beyond this list, but it's a place to start.

  1. IMHO the greatest value cinema has always brought is community aka social capital.  This is not to say that this is beyond pleasure, but something that is unique to the form. Cinema is a tool to organize community. Movies help people to connect.  Can this connection -- and the odds thereof -- be increased?
  2. Another historic value of the movie going experience is intellectual capital. Yet we do very little to increase either of this value. Where's the equivalent of Oprah's Book Club for Movies that bring both social and intellect capital?  Where are the study notes for every film?  What is done to aid in the appreciation of the art?  To place the work in a cultural context?  Where we once had critics, we now find a synopsis and stars.
  3. Intellectual capital is increased by exposure to a new world.  Intellectual capital is increased by exposure to beauty. Intellectual capital is increased by exposure to emotional complexity and emotional truth. This exposure is a value unto itself.pastedGraphic.pdf
  4. The more that filmmakers curate other films, the more they will increase the value of the films they support.  People need to know that the people they trust care about specific work.  As much as value is determined on an individual basis, it is also determined by those who we value.
  5. The appeal of most films in the theater is that they are new -- but there are so many that offer this quality that it is not a distinct enough value.  What makes one film distinct from another?  Timeliness is not enough of a value, although it is one that certain sectors will always praise.
  6. Beyond new, value is increased by limited access and increased demand.  This is the velvet rope principal and one that gets buried beneath the noise of closing the release windows.  People don't want what they don't know about.  People don't want what demand has not yet been manufactured for.  It has never been enough just to play a festival and hope the world will then show up when you come to their town.  The more the tastemakers, the curators, the Oprahs of the world are talking about films, the more we want them and the more value we place in the experience once it happens.
  7. The more something is linked with our identity the more value we assign to it; how do we help this relationship with others and films?  The closer a specific audience or community sees the link between themselves and a work, the more they will value that work.  Obviously, this requires awareness, outreach, and contextualization.  To date, this has only been done in the most general of terms: race, gender, class, orientation, politics and some special interests like design and general geekdom.
  8. One of the main reasons people go to the movies is simply to get out of the house, but is the experience in the theater enough to warrant the ticket price?  When the home offers comfort and control, how does the theater top that?
  9. When does going to a movie also provide a social good?  Can going to the movies make the world a better place?  Such social good is dependent both on the content and the environment in which it is delivered.  People take great pleasure in doing something positive with their time and sometimes just showing up can trigger that phenomenon.
  10. Movies provide engagement with our world.  They help us feel we belong to something big, something wonderful.  Part of it is the joy of sitting in a theater with a group of like-minded individuals.  Part of it is the recognition that the audience is part of the equation of what cinema is, and part of it is the totally awesome content we are watching.  We are open when we consume and carry that experience with us after we leave the theater.
  11. Movies provide transcendence. They lift us up out of the mundane.  Sure some just stop at escapism, but they have the potential for much more, and even that escape is a start.  Transcendence perhaps combines many of these values, as it is a momentary reordering of the world, born from the awe and pleasure of being witness to creation,  the feeling of another in alignment with our dreams and hopes, a sense of collective wonder and re-understanding.
  12. Movies have the capacity of instilling the most expansive definition of what it means to be human, both complex and generous -- the furthest thing from being reduced down to a simple demographic (as those pocket pickers who masquerade as the form seem to delight in doing??).  Movies can make us glad to be alive and eager to take full advantage of our labor and our gifts.  They are the rare art form that can capture the deepest and fullest qualities of life and time.  But when the movies are first and foremost about separating us from our wallets, they do quite the opposite, alas.  It is a shame that this value is not the pursuit of most Hollywood cinema, but just the same, it does not need to be pushed out to only the art film pasture, for it has the capabilities of returning to even the most populist forms.