I’ve not felt like writing so much in that last few weeks, I’m not entirely sure what that’s about, but I’ve been doing making type things so maybe I only have so much creative energy. But I have just started reading ‘The Good, the bad, and the multiplex’, by Mark Kermode. It’s a book that has been out for some time. It’s been lurking in my kindle library for some time. I’m not about to do a book review. I have yet to make it past Chapter 2, so have little substance to base any review on. But I am enjoying it so far, and wanted to share a musing prompted by the book.
It’s a little ranty for my tastes. I like to see a skilfully executed rant, and in his film review work he is known for some excellent rant work. But in his description of what sounded like an excruciatingly irritating visit to a multiplex cinema, I feel he may have reached peak rant. That said, the book by very elegantly explaining the role and the importance of the skill the projectionist in the art of cinema, and I liked this beginning very much.
The projectionist, he explains, is a vital part of the art work, not some who presses play on the DVD player. He then goes on to explain how the profession is slowly being wiped out across the UK by the introduction of digital technologies coupled by the arrogance of large multiplex cinema managers. Cinemas are slowly bleeding their projectionists. If you have ever had the experience of sitting in a cinema where half of the picture is slipping off the screen, or freezes half way through the movie never to start again, this is probably the explanation. You have been denied the proper care and attention of a projectionist.
He goes to to begin talking about how the desire to make money has taken over from the desire to make good art in much of commercial cinema. For me this brings together a few themes that have been floating around the news lately. One is the increasing likelihood that robots and machines will replace more and more humans in jobs, and the second is the idea that the thing that is human about artistic work is somehow unimportant, and should be subservient to the thing that makes money (any thing that makes money). As humans we are fundamentally wired to be social, and to connect with other people and understand them. At a basic biological level, we like there to be other humans about, doing things and helping each other. As a species, much of what we are about concerns this. This helping, this tending to each other’s needs is an evolutionary, competitive advantage – we tend to die if we have to do it all on our own. That there is no longer a projectionist taking care of each screen in the cinema may save the cinema money, but it costs them in skill and expertise. With the projectionist disappears it costs the cinema that very human ability to care for and respect the audience.
If going to the cinema begins to feel less special than snuggling up with a buddy on the sofa with a pizza and Netflix, why go to the cinema at all? You only pay (a rather large chunk of cash) to go to the cinema because it is meant to be a special experience. The stripping out of the things that feel human may make things seem more efficient, but it may also make audiences forget why they should show up and pay up in the first place.