Monthly Archives: January 2011

Cinema In Retreat

Another One Bites The Dust

Caught this story in the SMH this morning.

THE closure of the Greater Union cinema in Mosman comes as further proof of troubles in the Australian film industry.

While local filmmakers find it difficult to get work, and film, as an investment proposition, has retreated from fashion, the closure has underscored the impact of falling audiences.

It is the seventh picture theatre to close in Sydney since 1999.

Greater Union’s owner, Amalgamated Holdings Limited, put up a sign outside the Mosman building last week announcing the closure.

”A business decision had to be made on the viability of the cinema,” the sign said, adding that the announcement was made with ”great regret”.

If exhibitors are doing it this tough, then we can infer distributors will be doing it tough too. It kind of puts paid to the old “get a pre-sale” method of raising investment from distributors. There’s no investment money coming back from the frontlines of cinema if people are staying away in droves. What’s worse is that not even Hollywood fare is keeping the doors of the cinemas open. Mosman cinema was your typical multi-screen suburban cinema that made its dough through screening American movies with guns fights, car chases, and simulated sex scenes. In other words, it wasn’t terribly a high-brow kind of cinema (which is not surprising given its location in the middle of consumerist philistine-ville, Mosman).

Without going into the issue of piracy; just as television took audiences out of the cinemas in the 1950s, big screen TVs for home entertainment, combined with DVD and blu-ray has killed the need to go out for the big screen experience. The unique selling proposition of cinema has taken a great hit, but it’s hard to see from where the next generation of kids who grow up loving the cinema are going to arise. It may be another generation before something brings them back.

It’s also not clear whether 3D is actually going to be the new USP for cinema – if anything it reminds us of the desperate attempt by the movie business in the 1950s to woo back audiences. What’s striking is that as Gen-X ages and stops going to the movies, the audience numbers have suddenly dried up. We’re talking about the original star wars kids plodding into middle age, as Hollywood keeps pitching product to younger and younger audiences to no avail.

If history is any precedent it means that the movie business as a whole is having to retreat back into a smaller, more nimble business. It’s hard to see how this will look in a few year’s time but the clock is ticking and time is running out. The massive blockbuster model of cinema may have to disappear if they cannot command the audiences as they did in years past. It’s happened before.

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