On the "Death" of Cinema
As Oscar season draws to a close, I would like to take a minute and discuss the cinema and it’s place in the modern world.
I constantly see articles pertaining to the death of cinema, and though no one can pick one particular point to blame there seems to be a variety of theories. “Superhero movies are killing cinema”, “Big budget films are killing cinema”, streaming services, Gen z, cancel culture, the coronavirus pandemic etc etc. It seems like every day another major director or media outlet is trying to make the case that cinema is dead and we have killed it. This is nothing new. People have been speculating the death of Cinema since the Lumiere brothers premiered their first picture in 1895 with people dismissing moving pictures as a fad that won't last. In fact one of my favorite movies, Cinema Paradiso, was written as an obituary to theaters and the movie industry in general and that was released in 1988, over one hundred years later and 30 years ago.
Having gone to 1-3 movies a week for a few years pre-pandemic, attending a large amount of films in theaters since they reopened, and doing whatever I can to go to every “event movie” on opening night I’d like to argue not only are all of those ideas false, but they are some of the most special moments cinema has to offer.
At the risk of sounding like the Nicole Kidman meme, going to Spider-man last night was one of the craziest theatre experiences I’ve ever had. The sound and picture were unbeatable, but the excitement of the crowd was really the most fun part. The stories and moments that move us to the point where we audibly clap, cheer, and cry at a screen are movies and stories worth remembering.
In every other art form, we always hear the artists talking about wanting to make people feel something. To feel something means we are alive. The movies is a place where thousands of artists at the top of their game come together to create one piece of art to make millions of people feel something together. It doesn’t matter if its a superhero movie, a hallmark Christmas movie, or an indie arthouse picture. The feelings they give us are real, add value to our lives, and often bring new perspectives and experiences into our every day reality. Besides the actual content of the film itself, there are feelings we get through these movies in connection to our everyday lives that may not be part of the story the filmmakers are telling. The cinema is often the place of first dates. It’s where love is born and dreams are made and where people come to experience something remarkable together.
As a film composer myself, one of the biggest things I’ve learned is you shouldn’t watch movies alone. Especially ones you are working on. There’s a psychological difference when the screen captures the attention of a room of people vs just you alone. Despite the idea of “dropping your emotional barrier”, when you’re alone you can’t feel as much as you can when you are watching something with another person. I don’t have any evidence to support this claim that’s not anecdotal, but I truly believe cinema is inherently meant to be a shared experience rather than a solitary one - which is why home streaming, though enjoyable, can never truly replicate the theatrical experience. So cinema is not just about the movie. It’s the whole theatrical experience, and a large portion of that is being in that room with others. With this in mind, I would argue that cinema was closest to death (like in a coma unsure if it would pull through) throughout 2020, but in 2021 it’s come back with a vengeance and we’ve gotten many stories worth remembering and experiencing with others.
I think a majority of the people who believe that cinema is dead or dying would also be in the same camp of people who believe “music just ain’t what it used to be”. And because current trends aren’t aligned with their preferences, they dismiss the entire art form as losing it’s touch. Technology evolves, and so does art. And sometimes, the new tech (or creative restrictions driven by new tech) is what we come to cherish most about an era. People still shoot analog photos, even though digital cameras can produce much higher quality images, precisely because the analog format offers restrictions and special characteristics that can never be replicated digitally. And why should it? It already exists!
Some amazing films from this year include:
No Time to Die
Mitchells vs the Machines
House of Gucci
The Last Duel
Spiderman: No Way Home
The Green Knight
The above includes animation, indies, blockbusters, arthouse, historical epics, coming of age movies and more. Every single movie on this list is worth seeing, and there are many films from this year alone I left out simply because I had to cut it off somewhere. There is no shortage of great movies coming out.
Cinema as a format is an immersive audio-visual experience meant to be shared simultaneously with another viewer. It doesn’t matter how large the screen is, how much money was spent making the film, or how “artistic” the film is deemed. Cinema is a sacred experience. And though I disagree with the take that it is “dying”, I do agree with many of those who express that opinion that cinema is worth fighting for and preserving.