Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Moments Worth Paying For

I was recently asked to write something for an online magazine about the new trailer by Universal, encouraging respect of copyright. I have written something and sent it off, but I couldn't let it go and I had to write a perhaps less kind, but more honest version of what I wanted to say. So here is the 15 rated version of what I wrote.  

There is nothing quite like going to watch a great film at the cinema. This is what Universal is trying to tell us with their new trailer, Moments Worth Paying For. Using action heavy shots from their upcoming release Battleship combined with reactions shots of film viewers, Universal make the point that certain films should be watched at the cinema.

No one could advocate this creed more passionately than I, and I do all the time. I love going to the cinema, even with the problems today’s cinema experience may present, I am still a strong supporter of this cause. It’s not about the sound and picture quality, though there is something to be said for experiencing the film the way the filmmaker intended it, and it’s not even about supporting the film industry, though it is most important. No, for me it’s about the communal experience, and that something that indeed is worth paying for. The best of films becomes even better when the house is full of people creating an atmosphere to go with it.

Watching films at the cinema demands collective commitment from its audience. True occasionally you come across those who disrespect it, interrupt and ruin the film for everyone, but when a film is truly great, and I have witnessed it in some of the most notorious places for bad audiences, it will capture even the most disruptive of audiences, and they will laugh together, cry together, gasp and get emotionally involved with the film. When that happens the cinema experience becomes what it was always for me: magic. 

As passionate as I am about watching films at the cinema, it is getting harder and harder to make the argument on their behalf. People wonder how much exactly do these moments really worth paying for, and regardless to my own preferences, I can’t say I blame them. When cinema ticket prices constantly go up, in the West End they are almost as much as theatre tickets, the cinemas really have to work hard to justify this kind of expense and more often than not, they can’t.

For a while it seemed like 3D has become, unfortunately, the card cinemas waved around in an attempt to bring audiences to cinemas. However, the overuse of 3D, and in most cases without good reason, is what I consider a misguided mean towards the end they are trying to achieve and it will hopefully fade away, or else take over the home entertainment industry and cinemas will once again find themselves empty and in danger of dying out. What cinemas should offer is not technology, but an adventure.

This is when money comes back into the picture and it is an unpleasant one to look at. What people don’t realise is that cinemas, in the UK, but I am sure in many other places in the world, hardly make any money out of the tickets they sell. This is why the food and drinks at the cinemas are so expensive. This is not all, cinemas have very little if any control on what films they are showing, how long for and in some cases which screens they are shown. In the world of film industry the voice of cinemas hardly exists and those cinemas that are not funded by charities or the government have to invent new ways to make money not from films, just so they can keep going. There is nothing more depressing than an empty 2000 seat, magnificent cinema, forced to show the same awful film for weeks after even the mice has given up on it, just so they can get the next big box office hit. To say it like it is: cinemas are distribution companies’ bitch, and the bigger the film the less money goes to the cinemas. Those who don’t give in pay the price.

Therefore, whilst I think people should go to the cinema in droves, it is hard for me to even convince myself sometimes that so much of the ridiculous prices I sometimes pay for the privilege of watching a film, goes to the wrong hands and not to make my experience better.

I once had a dream of opening a cinema; I even had my eye on a place. In my cinema people will not be allowed in with mobile phones or anything that may take away from their concentration of the film, there will be film events like in the Prince Charles and BFI cinemas and most importantly it would be a communal and engaging. After working as a cinema manager in top cinemas in the west end and realising how very little control even those high profile cinemas have on their own cinema, with an aching heart I abandoned the idea.

In today’s world of ideas exchange and file sharing, it is time to rethink the copyright law, and take or at least limit the kind of power that distribution companies have over the cinemas. A campaign to encourage film going should educate for film watching. A part of the film industry budget should go to cinemas so they can truly create those moments worth paying for.       

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

My James Bond Confession

James Bond films have passed me by without leaving any lasting impression, positive or other, for a long time. I admit I couldn’t tell the difference between a Sean Connery's Bond film to Roger Moore's, Timothy Dalton's or George Lazenby, who I only discovered had a film in recent years. They all seemed to have a similar look and feel to them; they always felt a little bit sleazy to me, like a level up from a carry-on film and with action. The choice of Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in the 1990s reinforced the feeling of sleaze and ensured my complete lack of interest in the series until the reboot of the series with Daniel Craig, which briefly raised my eyebrows with some interest in Casino Royal, but they went quickly back down with disappointment and annoyance at Quantom of Solace. I tend to prefer grit and violence to sex and gadgets, not that I have anything against them, I love the gadgets of the Mission Impossible films, or the sex in Buffy the Vampire Slayer on telly, but there was always something too clean about James Bond for my liking, like he is meandering through his adventure without it touching him. 

Therefore, when a friend asked me to watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service on my big screen, I agreed more out of the kindness of my heart than real interest in James Bond. Watching the film on the big screen, my friend excitedly discovered a percentage of the film he hasn’t seen before. I on the  other hand, have discovered a little cinematic treasure in the unlikely form of a James Bond film. 

I don’t have the knowledge or fandom mileage to discuss this film in the context of the James Bond series, nor to compare George Lazenby’s Bond to any of the others. I know enough to realise he made his biggest career mistake by listening to his manager and turning down the next Bond film, that Sean Connery’s return, with Diamonds are Forever, was somewhat anti-climatic in comparison and that though the film wasn’t as successful as its predecessor, it gained appreciation with time. Whether George Lazenby was a good James Bond is not something I feel I could comment upon, but I think I can safely say that his choice was a most regretful missed opportunity, not just for him.

So I choose to separate my discussion of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service from the wider Bond discourse and treat it as an independent film. Despite Bond’s famous history with Blofeld, I think this could have easily been the first film with the super villain and could have become a reboot to the Bond franchise like Christopher Nolan’s[1] Batmen Begins was to the Batman one. 

Those of you who know my film and television writings know that the visual side, or visuallity as I decided to name it, is an aspect of this art forms that is dear to my heart, and one which I feel is often neglected by those who write about films and TV and more importantly by those who write for it. Therefore, as I do in many of my articles, I will take a moment to first gasp and admire, then point out with excitement and discuss this exceptional look of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. 

It is an unusually dark film visually. Long before the story takes a turn for the gloom, like dark clouds forewarning of a coming storm, the film is wrapped with the kind of bluish-greyish colour and dimness throughout, which creates a Hitchcockian ill-omened ambiance that sets the tone. It is like no other colour of James Bond films I have seen, nor is it a colour typical to the films of the time. 

From the ominous Vertigo like beginning to the end, Tracy di Vicenzo is a tragic character. The reason for her attempted suicide like her strange mood all the way through the beginning, are never explained in the film. Though I have read the wiki page about Tracy and know her story, the omission of her background story that leads to her actions, strengthen her larger than life character and tragedy and gives her and it mythic air.

Unlike any of the Bond girls I have come across, the first time Tracy surrenders to Bond she only surrenders her body as a “thank you”, but her heart remains closed. In a different century’s manner, and politically ignorant to the feminist awakening of the 60s and 70s, James Bond and Tracy’s father, who as it turns out is an organised crime head, trade her love life behind closed doors. When Tracy does fall in love with James Bond she knows he doesn’t love her and he won’t love her until she risks her life to save him. All these make Tracy a melancholic character uncharacteristic of a Bond girl, and with her sad ending a possible new James Bond was created.

James Bond of the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the kind of James Bond I am interested in; a James Bond with a potential to become Dirty Harry, perhaps with a bit more sense of humour. From what I heard the aftermath of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in Diamonds are Forever sounds almost offensively trivializing all that happened in the previous film, the ending is only a part of it in my opinion. I understand the books portray a different story and I could only hope a better one, but I have come to realise that James Bond of the books is quite different to that of the films and one day I hope to find it out for myself.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has left me contemplating the viewing of more James Bond films. From the little I have seen of Roger Moore, I think I would probably like him and his suaveness, but I have a feeling none of the films will reach the level of this film, which transcends the Bond franchise. My enthusiasm has lead to the wild running of my imagination with possible scenarios of a parallel universe franchise of James Bond, perhaps an evil one with a fake beard.

[1] I was very excited, but not surprised to discover the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is Nolan’s favourite James Bond film. I can see where Nolan gets his visual sense of darkness.