Thursday, 16 June 2016

Cinema - A Craft or a Crafty Business?

by Cicely Podmore

Scene from 'The Bicycle Thief'

The commercialisation of cinema is an increasing and saddening trend. Supposedly 'new' films merge together into a formulaic blur with undistinguishable, predictable plots in rapid succession. Trying not to sound overly cynical, I find that producers stick to genres which are tried and tested, known to bring in shockingly high profits at the box office. Sequels are a classic example of greed without creativity which prey on the gullible nature of the public who continually fall into the trap of watching a part two, part three and sometimes even part four of a premise which barely had enough content to last an hour, let alone six or seven.

In a world where blockbusters are released on an almost weekly basis, films are distanced from their creators and are rarely forms of expression or demonstrations of artistry in the traditional sense. Films are funded, admittedly understandably, based on their financial viability in terms of profit generation. This means that modern cinema is focussed on drawing in as large an audience as possible by trying to impress with graphics, animation and CGI whose prevalence is to the detriment of plots and characters. There are also the high profile advertising campaigns, drumming up wild hype months or years in advance of a release date (take the imminent 'Finding Dory' which has been anticipated since 2003.) Time and time again, the same American voiceover on radio adverts announces how obscure critics have given a film 'five stars' or branded it 'the comedy of the year' until I have become entirely dissuaded from going to see it.

There has been a polarisation of genre preference with the quaint simplicity of the earliest low-budget, minimally technological motion pictures, such as those of the 1940s neorealist Italian movement (including the classic, 'The Bicycle Thief'), depicting everyday occurrences whilst modern films centre on excess. No longer will you find a simple film. Instead, there are multitudes of characters, expensive shoot locations, the very best equipment and the most attractive actors and actresses. What's more, whilst viewing the film, all senses are stimulated to the optimum level with 3D and even 4D technology. Modern cinema seeks to be a medium of total immersion and escapism, often into the future, dystopian lands or a rose-tinted modernity. This is rather dispiriting as low-budget productions are unable to compete and are swept aside, often shown at quiet one-night screenings in independent cinemas.

Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman
to win Best Director Oscar
The inclusivity of cinema has diminished as a consequence of this favouring of big-budget extravaganzas and cinema has become a fiercely competitive sector. Thus an elitist system has developed with a tight-knit group of producers, actors and actresses repeatedly spewing 'successful' films. There has been much outrage at the fact that only one female director, Kathryn Bigelow, has ever won the Academy Award for Best Director since its origin in 1927. This year, discontent for the hierarchical system has also been shown, especially for the lack of racial diversity at the Oscars. This traditional awards ceremony faced criticism, predominantly on social media (with the trending hashtag: #oscarssowhite), for the fact that all twenty nominations for the best actors/actresses were white skinned (for the second year in a row), something which generated lower viewing figures and several cases of boycotted attendance. In contrast, the recent Tony Awards were commended for their demonstration of a variety of skin colours, perhaps showing how theatre has yet to become such a narrow, money-oriented culture.

Even the price of cinema attendance has been altered from the once universally affordable and therefore regular means of relaxation to a cost which, for a large family, can now total to the same amount as a day trip. This is not to mention the surprising price of the obligatory snacks and refreshment selection once you have crossed the threshold into a cinema. Suddenly water costs as much as £3.00 which smug cashiers know you will be forced to grudgingly pay simply to quench the awful thirst from having eaten an extra-large salted popcorn (upgrading from a medium to large popcorn has an average of 49% more popcorn at a mere average cost rise of 8%) which you feel obliged, nay challenged, to finish after having also spent such an extortionate sum on glorified corn kernels.

To conclude, the mainstream modern film industry is overly focussed on profits with increasing numbers of anonymous and forgettable films which lack the passion and inclusion of cinema's roots and purpose.

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