Mitch Perry Report – 12.1.14

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Welcome back to the working week. This holiday weekend I did what I do most weekends – see a motion picture at a local movie theater. Actually I saw two over the holiday break: the Jon Stewart-directed “Rosewater,” and “Citizenfour,” the documentary directed by Laura Poitras on NSA leaker Edward Snowden (of which I’ll be writing about later this week).

Amongst a good deal of my friends who actively watch a lot of films, I feel like I’m in the minority of people who still regularly attend films in theaters. The seduction of pay per view movies make it easier (and more affordable) than ever to see relatively recent first-run movies from the comfort of your home via your local cable provider, and in the case of some particular indie titles, gives Tampa Bay residents the opportunity to see films that quite frankly would never get distribution down here, and that’s a pretty awesome thing.

“Rosewater” does have a Hollywood pedigree, but it’s a relatively low-budget film (made for around $5 million) that stars Gale Garcia Bernal, the Mexican indie film star. And if it wasn’t directed by Stewart, it’s doubtful it would have been produced inside the Hollywood system.

Let’s cut to the chase — the Hollywood system of producing movies changed irrevocably for the worst in the 1970s when the blockbuster movies started to make tons of money for the studio, and it’s only become worse since. The studios make far fewer movies than they used to, and for every small or middle budget film that they give the green-light to, the normal fare includes lots of big-budgeted films that usually involve a lot of killing and smashing of things. It’s mass marketing at its worst, and now with China becoming a bigger market than the states for their product, it’s better to keep things simpler in terms of those “big-concept” movies.

Traditionally the studios target the greatest audience in terms of number of people who purchase tickets, which are teenage boys and young men under 25 years of age. Yes, there are exceptions (like “Interstellar” by Christopher Nolan, who continues to make big productions that appeal to more sophisticated audiences), but not too many. And then they wait to release their prestigious fare around this time of year for Oscar season.

But the drive to appeal to that young, male demographic never dies, and an argument that Hollywood is really getting desperate was made apparent in a front-page story in Sunday’s New York Times by Brooke Barnes, where he writes that theater chains are trying to find creative ways to bring out the young ‘uns to the cineplex – and that includes enhancing the movie-going experience by including scent machines and water effects –rain, which drops from the ceiling, and mist, which is squirted from the seat in front of you.

This is what’s going to bring young people back to movie theaters?

Much worse than that, however, is an initiative called Second Screen, which encourages moviegoers to bring iPads and use apps to play games “that relate to the action in the movie.” As The Times reports, “At August screenings in 11 cities of “The Legend of Qin,” an animated movie, ticket buyers were allowed to log on to a Wi-Fi network and use their mobile phones to text with other attendees as the film played. The messages appeared next to the action, much like VH1’s “Pop Up Video” program.”

Let’s see — a former Tampa police officer went nuts last January and shot and killed a man who had the audacity to be texting during the trailers of a matinee screening. But for the young folks, the movie studios are now going to be encouraging folks to text during a movie, with the screen filled with their texts and tweets? Ugh.

This will not end well for any of us who still care about the cinema experience. Good luck, Hollywood – you’re going to need it.

In other news,

It was a pretty quiet weekend, though we did attend a protest by Walmart workers and their allies on Black Friday.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.