Once in awhile I come across little stories that are relevant to this column that don't necessarily call for so many words of commentary. But it's a shame to skip over them, so occasionally, I'd like to break The Exhibitionist up a bit and write about a few of them at once.
The first thing that caught my attention this week was a report of a study focused on ambient lighting, such as the kind used in cinemas. According to research conducted by academics at the University of Cumbria in England, and at University College Dublin in Ireland, movies should be viewed in rooms that are as well lit as the movies themselves. So, yes, that means your local multiplex has the lights dimmed way too low.
But, you wonder, isn't it dark in theaters because we can see the movie much better that way? And when we're at home don't we turn out the lights, or, when it's daytime, close the shades for the same reason? Well, yes, but incorrectly so, say Cumbria's Professor David Manning and UCD's Professor Patrick Brennan. Their findings indicate that such darkness actually hinders the eye's ability to see at optimum capability. "Ideally, ambient light should be adapted to the brightness of the screen for the eye to pick up as much detail as it can," Manning said. "However, most people prefer to watch films in a darkened room, but as the eye adapts to the surrounding light these conditions may not be conducive to picking up maximum visual detail."
Manning and Brennan's study wasn't really about movie watching, though. Their actual purpose had to do with medical imaging and their goal was to increase accuracy in diagnosing illness via x-rays and scans. But the local media latched on to the story due to its connection to cinemas and the funny idea that if movies weren't shown in the dark, there'd be no kissing going on in the back row (and Jerry on Seinfeld wouldn't have been caught inappropriately smooching during Schindler's List). One newspaper even changed the focus of its article midstream to discuss the issue of make-out moviegoers with a theater owner.
Anyway, if you've ever tried watching a movie in an auditorium where the house lights accidentally failed to turn off, you might wonder how these findings could possibly be legit. And for theater owners to comply with the science, it seems like the ambient light in cinemas would need to fluctuate depending on the brightness of the image on screen. And that sounds like an expensive idea. So, those of you in the back who like your privacy, you probably don't have anything to worry about.
As for those of you who pray nightly for movie theaters to do away with pre-show advertisements, finding out that there's something called the Marketing at the Movies trade show, which is put on by Advertising Age and sponsored by National CineMedia, may be proof that God is not listening. Or he's excited about 3-D commercials. Because that's what's apparently in store for pre-show ads, which makes me very afraid of the military recruitment spots we'll be seeing in 2011.
Former Cinematical writer Chris Thilk blogged his experience of the event at Movie Marketing Madness, and it's a bit dorky for those not as interested in the subject matter as Chris and I, but curious moviegoers might find some interesting notes. My favorite quotes that Chris wrote down come from a panel on "Innovative Use of Cinema," during which David Krupp, of a company called Kinetic, said, "We try to create good spots but it's also not like people are getting up and walking out. It's not taking away from the movie itself. Plus there are increasing ways to create an entire experience that begins in the lobby and into the theater," and Bob Martin, of Martin Media Consulting, said, "The fact that people can't forward through the commercials in theaters makes it more efficient than TV buying." At least we can appreciate their honesty, right? I can't stand when execs mention figures regarding how popular pre-show ads supposedly are these days.
Chris also comments on his experience of NCM's new Reactrix ad technology, which he had blogged about last month. From the way it's described, the interactive, motion-sensitive ads sound like something out of Minority Report, but unfortunately it's not quite as cool (or annoying?), as you can see in this video demonstration.
Also via Chris at MMM, my attention was directed toward the new Iron Man poster made specifically for Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Lamar, which is previewing the superhero movie this Monday. This isn't a new thing for the Alamo, and you can check out limited edition prints of past posters at the Mondo Tees website, but I'd never really thought much about the concept behind these works of art. Obviously, they're in the tradition of rock concert posters, and that pretty much equates Alamo's special screenings to rock concerts. And that's pretty cool, because it makes going to the movies seem like more of an event and also more like a community experience.
Speaking of Alamo Drafthouse, there's a similar chain of cinemas popping up around the country. Co-owned by Regal Entertainment, Cinebarre theaters serve food and alcohol in auditoriums that look near identical to the Alamo model, and occasionally (infrequently?) they have their own special events. And while there's only one currently in existence, in Asheville, North Carolina, two more locations will be opening this summer. Earlier this month Regal announced that two of its preexisting theaters, one in Denver, Colorado, and another in Charleston, South Carolina, would be converted to Cinebarres.
Hopefully they will continue expanding to other corners of the U.S., including New York City, which will need to change some laws first (it has been illegal for cinemas to serve alcohol since the 1930s, thanks to Broadway lobbyists). I know a great empty lot that could use some development, and interestingly enough, it's right near my apartment.
Other odds and ends:
- Film critic Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote back in February about the fading audience of repertory theaters, and now he and Carl Martin of the Film On Film Foundation are in an online discussion (here and here) about the future of repertory and whether or not digital projection is in the cards. We can be sure that won't be the case for NYC's Film Forum, which continually sells out screenings of new 35mm prints of classic films.
- Anthony Kaufman has written an excellent op-ed piece on moviegoing (on FilmCatcher, via his blog), in which he defends the theatrical experience better than I ever could: "The intimate environs of your living room are not sufficient for films that excavate human intimacy; on the contrary, intimacy is more profoundly felt in a large theater, where viewers can absorb the actors' every glance and grimace. "We can wait for that on DVD," say filmgoers. No, not really. Waiting to see a film in your living room is hurting that film, insulting it; it's like saying to a good friend, "You're not good enough to meet me for dinner; how about we just catch up on the phone, or via computer screen, instead?... Of course, there are plenty of films that should be relegated to such a space. Just not the good ones."
- Even better, though: Observer (UK) critic Philip French's ode to cinemas and growing up on moviegoing. Here's a sample: "Dad gave in and took me to the cinema that very afternoon. I was entranced by the vast auditorium and by the imposing commissionaire, his waxed moustache bristling, the ribbons of his Great War medals on the chest of his uniform, and by the usherette who showed you to your seats in the dark if you arrived late and was there with her tray of chocolates, ice-cream and cigarettes in the breaks."
(Photo courtesty Christian Razukas, aka hellochris, from his flickr page)