Remember these words from “Back To The Future”? Lightning struck the landmark clock tower and authorities are threatening to take it down, so Marty McFly had to spare a dime in order to save it (and get rid of the lady collecting money). And as it turns out, we have a clock tower of our own to save.
The State of Cinema
We live in a deeply polarized, paradoxical world. Just days before the rich and powerful and beautiful (and if not beautiful, see the “rich” part of the description) meet in Davos for the World Economic Forum, we’ve learned that the the top 1% on the planet own as much as the next 99%. Inequalities and hegemonies are lurking around every corner, and we ought to be more careful than ever about them.
The situation is not so different from our parallel world of film. As Steven Soderbergh stated in his landmark State of Cinema speech (transcript here, video there) nearly three years ago, the gap is widening between blockbusters and smaller, more singular, independent film. As you could hear the hissing of dollar bills all the way from Los Angeles as we learned the box office records of the new Star Wars movie (the new New Hope, as some people have dubbed it) and the groundbreaking year the US box-office has had in 2015, it turns out that independent film has also been thriving: with more films being made for micro budgets (such as the Sundance breakout Tangerine), many iconic independent filmmakers making new movies, and a Raindance Festival (the 23rd) that broke box office records itself, we’ve had plenty to be happy about.
Having said that, how are we supposed to watch these films when there are few cinemas left to enjoy them in? It’s not a rare complaint that we’re stuffed with nonsensical blockbusters and that popcorn is an all-too-obvious allegory for the non-nutritious-yet-strangely-satisfying cultural products we’re given in identical multiplexes all over the globe. Is there truth to that? Sure. It does not mean that what we’re given is visually illiterate: if it were, it would not even qualify as entertainment, argues Steven Apkon in his 2013 book “The Age of the Image”. Give Michael Bay some credit. (The amazing “Every Frame A Painting” series did.) And while multiplexes thrive, smaller cinemas that show small, independent films are left to die. Or to be torn down.
That’s what’s happening to the Curzon cinema in Soho. It obviously is dear to us as a champion of independent film and as a former festival venue, and we wouldn’t want to see it taken apart, even for all-too-noble transportation reasons. (More info on the topic here.)
It took more than plutonium to save the clock tower.
Two very different reactions spurred in defense of the cinema. One was a petition (which you are more than welcome to sign here, if you haven’t already) which follows the tracks of the Save Soho! campaign. The other one was the Curse for Curzon: a ninety-second short uploaded directly unto the Curzon Cinemas YouTube channel, with various people riffing of famous foul-mouthed quotes (most of them from Tarantino films, obviously) and daring (double-daring, even) developers to take down the cinema.
It’s a terrifically creative way to make a point, yet as it could feel antagonizing to some due to the profane nature of the language, it might backfire. The goal of this campaign is infinitely laudable, and an offbeat, fun voice is always a good way to send a message. Remember last year, a video was released called “F-bombs for feminism”. It was funny as feminism is a (sadly) sensitive word and seeing little girls in princess dresses cursing is the the thing e’d all been waiting for. Yet many were disturbed by all the cursing -especially coming from children.
Yet as campaigns work better if they put a positive message out there, that might garner a wider audience than those who are already acquired to the cause. In the last few months of 2015, a man pitched an idea for a new installment in the Die Hard franchise, of which he was -dare I say it?- a die-hard fan. (It’s an obvious one, but it still works, and I’m always one to sacrifice truth or difficulty for a laugh.) He didn’t get to write the next Die Hard movie, but his horror script got optioned instead. That’s not bad. The point is: he said “here’s my idea and it’s good”. He didn’t say “The last movie sucked, here’s how to improve for the next one, you [insert any Tarantino expletive here]!!!”
Chances are that if you recognized the references in the “Curse for Curzon” short, you have already signed the petition. And if you don’t get any of them, chances are you might not want to sign it after having seen that.
Independent film is thriving, but business models are mutating and heading towards uncertain futures, as more and more films are released directly on demand or on Netflix. Independent filmmakers always had to face some difficulties: it used to be about making the film, now it’s about distributing and getting people to see our films. Places that have some cultural value are threatened in the face of the far less original mainstream: that’s the case for Soho in general as well as for the Curzon in particular. Celebrities have lent their voices to support the preservation campaigns, so should we on our level, and so should you, dear indie filmmaker, on yours. All the better if the message is constructive. That’s how they saved the clock tower in Hill Valley. (They also went back in time, but that story took three movies to explain.)
Despite all this uncertainty, it’s also necessary to look at the positive things happening: Curzon is opening a new cinema in Lewisham, which was one of the two boroughs in London without a cinema. More precisely, it’s on the Goldsmiths campus, a university that Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor-Johnson, and Alfred Hitchcock attended. That’s quite auspicious, isn’t it?