It’s no surprise being a lifelong lover of the moving image and anything deemed cinematic, that when I ever I broach the idea of seeing an older film on the big screen, any of my non-film friends look at me like I have two heads? Paying good money to sit in a theatre and watch something that I probably already own on DVD/Blu-Ray or could easily stream and even torrent? “Why” they say; looking at me like I am a dinosaur from a strange land, but here’s the thing…I’m not, at least it doesn’t look like I am.
Last night I got the chance to take in one of the TIFF Cinematheque showings of Blade Runner: The Final Cut, originally booked at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in their Cinema #3 which holds 221 people. Due to high demand and healthy ticket sales, it got moved into cinema #1 which holds a capacity for 523 people and there couldn’t have been more then 20-30 seats free.
Granted there will occasionally be retrospective screenings that have 10-20 people but with the work that is going on not only at places like the TIFF Bell Lightbox, The Bloor Cinema, The Royal Cinema and the Market Square and Cineplex chains around the city are proving that there is unquestionably a market for retrospective cinema, and the smaller crowds are becoming further and fewer between, because these events are being presented the right way, creating an experience that make it worth the dollars.
Cinema owners and chains face increasing challenges to get patrons in the seats. With the evolution of video on demand and streaming services like Netflix, those who just want the content and not necessarily the theatrical experience have a myriad of options at their finger tips but it is never quite the same as sitting in a darkened theatre and then the flickering lights on the screen fire up and transport us to another realm, and going forward that is what every screen in town is going to be counting on in order to survive.
For those who say to me that retrospective cinema or even the cinematic experience itself is dead, you might want to check that pulse again because it is coming back with a vengeance, if only because it realizes that in order to maintain something going forward it needs to embrace the past.
Granted with the recent boost to the box office of the recent release of Star Wars: Episode 7: The Force Awakens, and the unique Roadshow 70mm presentation of The Hateful Eight we’ve seen that audiences aren’t ready to ditch the theatrical experience quite yet, provided they get something unique and at the very least interesting.
Much like many other centers around the globe, the TIFF Bell Lightbox shows audiences of Toronto a myriad of unique and entertaining retrospectives from the likes of Wim Wenders and Seijun Suzuki to thematic series looking at everything from action movies to the best that our fair country has to offer. These events in concert with festivals and strong first run programming from across the globe featuring some of the best foreign, art house, independent, documentary and even Hollywood films that don’t necessarily fit into the corporate mold of the multiplex with great success.
The dedicated documentary house The Bloor Cinema along with the Royal Cinema follow a similar mold of first run programming (either specialized or at the end of its run) along with retrospective events to keep audiences engaged as much as humanly possible, keeping the art of not only alternative cinema but some of the classics that have come before us, alive and well. While the Rainbow Cinema & Magic Lantern chains are adding special one off events along with a liquor licence to make going to the cinema at least feel a little bit more like a night out on the town.
Even the major chain Cineplex has caught on with more and more VIP screens popping up at newly renovated theatres in concert with their special Event Screen series that shows old films, live concerts, events from the National Stage and so very much more. This along with the Great Digital Film Festival that will be taking over several Cineplex locations in the month of November that shows a myriad of action, sci-fi and genre favorites at a low price always tends to get a good crowd out to the theatre even in the yucky Canadian winter.
The cinema is part of our genetic lexicon and in spite of all the naysayers out there in the universe I seriously doubt that anyone out there will ever reminisce fondly about the first movie that they ever streamed on Netflix. For that content to keep coming down the pipe, for the art of the moving image to thrive, the cinematic experience is vital and these venues realize that in order to genuinely survive, especially in the off months of the studio release schedules that they need to begin some innovation and look to the past in order to secure their future because even the most cynical of souls would rather watch something projected gloriously on the big screen, rather than on their iPad in bed.