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The New Entertainment Paradigm: How Coprophilia Stormed The Movie Market
With the new VOD paradigm in place, people now have a more readily available way to choose the alternative cinema they used to have to order from overseas or chase down at special interest movie houses.
I haven’t been to a movie theater since the price around here went up to $9.50 for a matinee. If that’s the matinee price I can only imagine what is being charged for a regular engagement. The last time I went to a cinema screening was for the John Travolta vehicle From Paris With Love, a delightful little kernel of International espionage that proved exactly how lax the popcorn machine is in story structure. There I was paying ten bucks to hear Vincent Vega make reference to Ye Olde Royale With Cheese and instead what I got for my money was an admittedly enjoyable but very peculiar Afrocentric performance by Travolta as an ass-kicking energy drink swilling womanizing bruiser fond of “keeping it real” via sudden paroxysms of B-boy zealotry. But that’s not all. What I was really paying for was an entirely unbelievable action premise and an unconvincing Englishman's portrayal of an American (from the usually great but totally lost Brit actor Jonathan Rhys-Myers) anchored by Travolta’s brutal and brutally funny shenanigans.
Was the film worth seeing? Absolutely. Who could resist that kitschy self-referential “Royale with Cheese” line? (Which, of course, we had already seen for free in the TV spots) Or the opportunity to see a heavily blinged-out Travolta throw down John Woo-style with a gang of puny Asian street thugs? And this is to make no mention of a high-octane mucho-choreographed fight sequence in which it, more or less, rains cocaine! Could I have waited until this intellectually-vacuous and all-too-predictable suspense buddy comedy came to DVD where I could rent it for five doll hairs? Yes. But I was roped in by the trailers which promised an ultra-cool movie.
The trailers didn’t lie, Travolta was cool. And I guess that’s why they call them star vehicles, because aside from its star From Paris with Love had little to offer in the way of cinematic titillation. But had I had any sense about me, if I was acting responsibly frugal, I would have put it in my Blockbuster queue and waited it out.
This is why we arrive at a crossroads, both with technology and convenience, where we must question our entertainment standards and how we’re going to get that fix. With the bankruptcy of the major video chains sending said outlets out of business and with the rising popularity of Red Box installations and mail order movies (NetFlix, Blockbuster By Mail, Etc.), it seems more and more unlikely that you will see lines around the block at movie theaters. And even if you do it will only be for those Hollywood spectaculars where the CGI spectacle is so massive that the audience won’t want to miss it in a theatrical environment. Indeed, there is a special allure to sitting in the dark with Surround Sound and having your mind and ear drums blown out by big explosions and fanciful computer techniques.
But the little movies will never pack a house and I guess they never have. So why wait? As DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes says in Scorsese’s The Aviator, “It’s the way of the future, the way of the future, the way of the future…” Let’s get on the bandwagon and save ourselves plenty of loot in the long run.
I say, “Drive the movie theaters into the ground by abandoning their stadium seats. And if they close up they close up. The smart ones will get desperate and start lowering the prices on ticket sales and concessions. Nobody should have to spend forty bucks to eat a little popcorn and watch Bruce Willis put his foot up someone’s ass.” I say this because I just saved myself a twenty dollar train ticket, a twenty dollar cab ride and a twenty dollar box office transaction by ordering the IFC film The Human Centipede on cable’s Video On Demand service. Sure, it was $6.95 instead of the usual $4.95 by virtue of the fact that the film is still playing pricy art house theaters while I’m watching it in the comfort of my couch cushions. But for that $6.95, versus the thirteen plus I would have spent at a mainstream theater or the eighteen I would likely spend at a niche theater, I get to watch it in the privacy of my own home, at my own leisure, with the ability to rewind if I don’t catch something, AND I get unlimited free replays for 24 hours after I’ve placed my order. In a recession economy any other deal like this would either be unheard of or too good to be true. Where are the hucksters with the bait and switch? What’s the gimmick?
There is no gimmick. Unless that gimmick is for smart distributors to arm themselves with an alternative strategy of distribution that benefits not only the home viewer but also the hard-working, underpaid indie filmmakers who struggle to get their films seen in a market that usually obscures originality in the process of over saturating pop culture with its cardboard cut-out remakes and formula flicks.
A few years ago if you had told me that a movie about a mad German doctor stitching people together ass to mouth was going to be readily available via U.S. distributors AND that the same movie would be an immediate runaway cult phenomenon I would have told you, “Stop playin!” But it’s true. In the short time that The Human Centipede, Dutch director Tom Six’s English-language debut, has been in circulation it has received a preponderance of press, mostly positive and all awestruck, and has grown into a pop talking point even among those who haven’t seen it. And this is all due to technology’s legitimization of the Underground Film.
With the new VOD paradigm in place, people now have a more readily available way to choose the alternative cinema they used to have to order from overseas or chase down at special interest movie houses. Now, instead of traveling from far and wide to places like the Angelika or the Waverly, you can stay at home, tune to channel 500 and pick from special lists of releases from Magnolia Pictures, IFC and other independent companies specializing in special movies.
‘Centipede’ alone is accessible on Demand nationwide from Comcast, Cablevision, Cox, Time Warner, Bright House, Insight and Charter. That’s a lot of support and a lot of programming behind one low-budget HD production. And that is to make no mention of the film’s sequel, which is already underway, faster than the speed of light. That is because a new model has emerged that offers convenience, and any little Indian man running a 7-Eleven location can tell you that convenience sells.
So why charge $40 for a movie ticket and a box of Raisinets when a convenient little package like this can net you tons of moviegoers with loyalty to the concept? Well, the rent on those big movie houses can’t be cheap and that is to say nothing of the price of film prints on 35. But lest we shed a tear for the poor old movie theater owner. It is better that we ruminate on what lies ahead.
Some will be afraid that this new format will do away with the theater-going experience altogether, sending it the way of Drive-Ins. That may be a scary thought, but one can take some comfort in knowing that home theater systems are getting more and more insanely expansive and if Tarantino has one in his house today, chances are, with the fluidity of the technological market, sooner or later, you’ll have one too. Surround Sound speakers. Ginormous Plasma screens in HD. Most of it is already in your neighborhood P.C. Richard & Son. Now it’s just a matter of waiting until the price tag drops when the next wave of players comes out and renders the initial batch obsolete. You gotta love it. “Feed her!”