The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Less is more – musings from a queue

with 18 comments

Is the 3D concept going to fail once again?

It certainly looks like it if you listen to the current banter in blogs and podcasts. And to be honest I’m not surprised. Sure, the plastic glasses are more comfortable than the paper ones, but apart from this, it was basically the same thing once again. Nothing has changed. 3D still can’t save a bad movie from being bad. But they can certainly make an already bad movie worse, adding blur and darkness.

With most film buffs I feel a bit smug watching this. “HA! See there! People still think for themselves! We’re as easily manipulated with marketing tricks as you thought!”

But deep down it also worries me a little. Times are confusing and we don’t know where we’re heading with all the digital distribution, downloading and home-cinemas. What will happen to the real thing, the theatres I love so much, in the long run? I dread for the day when they’re not around. Perhaps 3D could have saved them?

So people look around for new hopes, new ideas to give the cinemas a unique selling point, something you can’t get watching a downloaded copy of the movie at home. Is 4D the miracle we’re waiting for? Will gimmicks such as smell and water splashing in your face make you keener on going to the cinemas? I wouldn’t think so. I guess there’s a market demand for one smelly movie every ten year, but that should cover it. And splashing water and vibrating chairs belong in theme parks, not in theatres. It’s fun for about ten minutes.

A different experience
Last weekend I had a very different movie going experience. I found myself in a long queue for tickets outside a cinema and I don’t know last time that happened. And it wasn’t 3D, 4D, 5D or whatever D that had attracted us. It was something far more basic, something I hadn’t expected to be so popular. We were waiting for a silent movie – Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant.

The show was a part of a yearly event in my city, a one day arts and culture festival with all sorts of performances going on all over the place – film, theatre, music, dancing and exhibitions. Our oldest cinema participated, running a program with silent movies every hour throughout the evening. As opposed to most other arrangements during the festival it wasn’t free of charge, and I would have expected the ten dollar entrance ticket to deter most people except from a handful of geeks.

But I was so wrong. There was constantly a huge line outside waiting for the ticket sales for the next show to start.  When I finally reached the front of the queue, it was sold out and I had to wait yet another hour to get one of the 130 seats.

It was amazing and unexpected. There aren’t any Ds in Charlie Chaplin movies. We were watching a movie from the cinematic Stone Age, a movie without sound. How was this possible?

As I watched I began to understand. I saw why people of all ages queued for this and why they kept coming back for more year after year.

Live music
Normally I’m not one of Chaplin’s biggest fans; I think slapstick and clownery is more painful than fun to watch. But there was a huge difference about this showing: the music was performed live. A pianist, lightened by only a candle, was playing it to us, gently interpreting everything that happened on the screen into music. 

The atmosphere was fantastic. It was as if we all suddenly rediscovered Chaplin, entering a time machine bringing us almost a hundred years back in time. People were really into it, they were laughing all the time, and suddenly I found myself giggling too as I watched I watched Chaplin struggling to stay on his feet while the boat was tipping from side to side. It was strangely entertaining.

The trip back to 1917 only lasted twenty minutes, but it was so enjoyable that I’d love to do it again. Even if it means I’ll have to queue for it.

Does this mean that I suggest theatres to go for a big scale silent movie concept in order to gather the masses? To be realistic: no. A part of the charm of this event is no doubt it’s exclusivity. It’s only available once a year. I don’t think silent movies is the given success concept for theatres anymore than 3D movies are.

Nevertheless the success for the silent movies is worth some consideration. Maybe the new technology with multiple D.s isn’t the one and only road forward. We’re already over stimulated as it is.

Perhaps we actually want the opposite – small and simple pleasures.

A candle. A pianist. A silly little man in a hat. They all reminded me of the fact that less actually can be more.

Like a cup of coffee. And a few drops of single malt, since it’s Friday night.

For an enjoyable weekend: Cheers!

Written by Jessica

September 16, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

18 Responses

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  1. Jessica, you make a great point about the Chaplin film and audiences’ interest. There was a showing of The Birds a few months back in St. Louis. It was free and sponsored by TCM, but I arrived 45 minutes early figuring that was plenty of time. There was a line of several hundred people, and I didn’t even get in. This isn’t the same as your example, but it still was stunning. This was a Monday night too. I’m guessing a lot of the people there rarely ever go to movies, especially 3D ones. There’s an untapped market that’s not being served by the current fare. Nice post!

    Dan Heaton

    September 16, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    • Thank you Dan! It sounds awesome to see The Birds at a cinema. I think people actually feel that seeing old movies in a proper theatre has a certain freshness over it.
      This autumn I’ve joined a movie club giving me access to one or two movies a week, of which many are old. The showings are in the same oldfashioned cinema that ran the silent movie. The last one I watched was black and white and from 1966. And it was so great to watch it like that – on a big screen, not on my small TV. It really adds a lot imho.


      September 17, 2011 at 12:03 am

  2. The allure of the past … there is an analogy I think here in the world of theatre. I have been fortunate enough to attend three performances in The Globe Theatre in London (the one they rebuilt as a replica of Shakespeare’s actual theatre). For two of those perfomance I stood in “The Pit” – with me elbows actually resting on the stage. And I have to say, one of those performances (The Merry Wives of Windsor) is at least the equal of anything else I have ever seen on stage and screen. And seeing an evening performance of King Lear was exceptional too.

    But while that works in The Globe, I don’t quite see turning every theatre into a semi-outdoor arena working 😀

    But if you are ever in London and can manage standing for a few hours, I truly recommend the Globe.

    Lewis Maskell

    September 16, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    • I’ve been to the rebuilt Globe, but only seen the museum and the scene as such – not a live performance. I imagine it’s a fantastic experience. I’d totally love to do it provided I managed to plan long ahead and get tickets.


      September 17, 2011 at 12:06 am

  3. Unfortunately, I just don’t see anything saving the classic theaters outside of a few throwback and art house style places in mostly urban areas. The only way to save theaters is to alter the economic model they are currently operating under and I don’t see that happening.


    September 16, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    • That’s not an optimistic view on this. 😦 But maybe realistic. I don’t know. I really hope they can sort this out the next few years. I’d absolutely hate see classic theatres go away.


      September 17, 2011 at 12:07 am

  4. Lets just see what Spielberg, Scorsese, and Coppola can do.

    Then we’ll make our presumptions.

    Sam Fragoso

    September 17, 2011 at 3:04 am

    • You think they’re the saviours? Hm. Got to think about that.


      September 17, 2011 at 4:11 pm

  5. word 3D remind me my impression after one of those movies: “3D picture, 2D story. I prefer reverse”.

    Chaplin, the kind of his humor is what I normally call “stupid american humor”, it was copied so may times it become no fun. But it’s still fun when performed by Chaplin. May be because it’s a tool for him, not a goal. His stories are not that plain. I like his movies, even without live music.


    September 17, 2011 at 10:29 am

    • You’re spot on. 3D is definitely best for the story, not for the picture.

      I think the fact that the movies are old and in black and white, that I know it’s history, adds a little something to Chaplin as well. It wouldn’t be the same to watch someone doing the same thing recorded in 2011.


      September 17, 2011 at 4:13 pm

  6. It all has to go too fast. We just bought a DVD player a few years ago and are happy with it. Finally, we succumbed and also bought a new flatscreen TV. Then along comes a Blu Ray player: hey, you can now watch your movie in more detail! But I’m not convinced, it just looks like a way more expensive DVD to me. And before we even have a Blu-Ray player, along comes the 3D Blu-Ray player and 3D TV. Wait a minute, we just bought a new TV two years ago and haven’t even gotten a Blu-Ray player! Do you seriously expect us to drop our two year old TV and buy a new one?

    They keep on innovating so they can keep on selling (both home entertainment & cinemas) but I’m wondering about the speed of it all, do you really need to push a new technology every few years? I’d rather see something amazing every ten years (video cassette > dvd, analog tv > digital). And in the end, those gimmicks don’t matter, just give us great movies. Decades old movies can still be great, no matter the technology of the time.


    September 17, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    • Oh, don’t get me started on the player issues. Brilliant way to sell us the same stuff over and over again, isn’t it? I don’t have Blue-Ray yet. Even if I love movies, I’m not ready to buy every generation of players, as little as I buy a new computer whenever there’s a new OS coming out. The DVD will have to do for a while more. However I watch as much as possible in theatres anyway. Nothing can beat that.


      September 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm

      • Ah yes, you have that movie on DVD but you haven’t got it on Blu-ray…


        September 18, 2011 at 12:02 am

  7. I think that 3D is just an extremely stupid reason for cinemas to force us to pay even more for the tickets. Especially when you can´t choose, when it´s 3D or nothing. In small cities it´s more often the opposite, it´s 2D or nothing – and I start to envy them 😉

    A candle, a pianist and a silly little man in a hat isn´t so bad after all 🙂


    September 18, 2011 at 12:42 am

  8. There was an outdoor showing of Sällskapsresan in a park in my home town this summer. Really outdoors, as in no cars, bring your own blanket to sit on. Not a “real” projection cinema either, it was on a huge LCD screen.

    They expected at most 400 people to show up, close to 3000 came. I guess most showed not to see the (in my opinion) rather crap movie, but for the novelty of it and because it was a rain-free summer night.

    I think we want variety, that is why we queue to these rare showings of old and not-so-old films.


    September 19, 2011 at 10:14 am

    • Wow. That was quite a lot of people, especially since it’s not that a good movie. While I’m a fan of Lasse Åberg as a person, I’m not all much into his films. But as you say, it’s probably the change of place and format that many find attractive.


      September 19, 2011 at 8:14 pm

  9. Sounds like you had a great time Jessica!! I wish I could have experienced that!!

    3-D is not going anywhere I am afraid. Although bloggers, and filmies alike are ANTI it matters not as the studios and film makers are completely behind it…You can say it is just a ploy to get more money, you can say it is just there to stop piracy and you you would be probably right for the most part. But after going to a debate about 3-D where we we told about how far the tech had come and had still to travel, it is not going to be abolished anytime soon. It is almost time to stop fighting and accept it.

    Don’t get me wrong I am not a 3-D lover, far from it. I prefer story to tricks. But I am bored of pointlessly fighting against something I have no power to stop and would rather just TRY and enjoy the ride.

    Great post as always my friend

    Scott Lawlor

    September 19, 2011 at 10:45 am

    • Thank you! Well I would be completely with you if it was only film buffs that were sceptical. But I listen to my daughter and she’s not a fan either, thinking it’s just expensive and not that much better. I’m not so sure about their commercial success everywhere. At least where I live, the 2D showings of HP were constantly sold out, which the 3D weren’t…. But let’s wait and see what happens.


      September 19, 2011 at 8:17 pm

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