Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"What Exactly Do We Owe To Movie Theaters?"

sed in Fiddler on the Roof:

Nachum, the BeggarAlms for the poor!  Alms for the poor!

TownspersonHere, Nachum.   Here’s one kopeck.

Nachum, the Beggar:  One kopeck?  Last week, you gave me two kopecks.

TownspersonI had a bad week.

Nachum, the Beggar:  So?  If you had a bad week, why should I suffer?

The joke comes to mind in connection with movie theaters, wherein the theater owners justify the exorbitant price of movie popcorn by citing the insufficiency of their split of the ticket sales money, which they divide with the companies supplying them with the movies. 

It’s the same issue.  If the theater owners are stuck with a bad deal, why should the moviegoer suffer, handing over a five-dollar bill for a “small” popcorn, and being asked for seventy-five cents more?

What’s going on here?  We are supposed to worry about the financial situation of theater owners such that, after paying an inflated price for our ticket, we are now required to submit to, among other overpriced refreshments, a bag of popcorn whose price is as big as the bag they fill up with it is little?

Think about it.  Is there any other business that demands of us a similar sacrifice?

Independent PharmacistWalgreen’s is killing us.  It’s twenty-eight dollars for toothpaste, or we’re history!

Supermarket Owner:  The suppliers are robbing us blind.  So it’s twelve dollars for a carrot.

Normally in business, it’s “sink or swim.”  Only in this exceptional situation do business people expect us to be concerned about their livelihoods. 

Theater Owner:  Our children can’t eat, unless it’s five seventy-five for popcorn scooped into a bag that wouldn’t hold two bananas.

Hey, theater owners!  Go into another business and leave us the heck alone!   By the way, are you concerned about my livelihood? You aren’t?  Then why should I be concerned about yours?

The standard justification for the stratospheric popcorn prices is that, if the theater owners go under, then we can’t go to the movies anymore.  No more romantic dates in the dark, or, if you’re extendedly married, “getting out of the house.”

A persuasive point.  But let’s stop for a second.  If the movie theaters go “bye-bye”, the studios will have no place to exhibit their movies.  Since the studios, therefore, have a powerful interest in keeping the movie theaters open, why don’t the theater owners go to them and, in the best interests of all concerned, petition them to renegotiate the profits arrangement? 

Theater Owner:  “We have raised popcorn to fifty-two dollars.  People are rebelling; they are sneaking in Trail Mix.  Please!  We need a more favorable split of the ticket money, before we’re gone and you’re showing your movies on a wall!”

That’s a reasonable solution, isn’t it?  Ask those guys to help you out!  Not the people who were gouged on the ticket prices on the way in!

Of course, the studios will blame the moviemakers.  “The budgets are skyrocketing; the profit margin is shrinking.”  This is a definite problem.  The conglomerates who now own the studios are losing their patience.  They bought the studios make money.  Now their only reason to be in the movie business is to meet actresses.

Worst Case Scenario – the movie theaters disappear.  With new distribution technology and bigger and better TV apparatus, you can see movies in your house, arguably more comfortably.  When you’re watching at home, you do not have to wear pants.

Leave us not talk about the quality of the pictures, though it comes to me sometimes, that, one day, just for fun, I wish the studio bosses and their crack team of executives would take some moments to pore over the libraries of their classic movies and ask themselves, “How many of these would I have said ‘Yes’ to?” 

Apples and oranges?  I may be crazy, but, to me, “quality” is a perennial apple.

Okay, so putting the pictures in the movie-going experience aside, what exactly are we going out to?

“Boutique” (Read:  Tiny) theaters.  A varying range of legroom, including not enough.  Sticky floors.  Earsplitting previews that send old people racing from the theaters to young theater managers who tell them the kids like it that way. 

Nearby moviegoers, talking and texting.  The guy behind you, kicking the back of your seat.  Couples saving babysitting expenses by bringing the baby to the movie.  And topping it off, a pre-movie program, featuring promos for TV shows, annoying commercials and a “quiz.”

And now, a new, hi-tech indignity, masquerading as an improvement.  The Landmark theaters will only allow you to buy tickets on the Internet.  (And get this!  They then charge you two-fifty as a “Convenience Fee”, pretending you actually had ticket-buying options and, for your own “convenience”, you selected that one.)  

How many times have we somehow messed up, our order is cancelled and we have to start again?  How often have we thought we ordered tickets but we didn’t?

“I’m sorry.  Your reservation says “Ponerantz”, which does not match your I.D.”

“I accidentally typed an “N” instead of an “M.”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to wait.  If no one named “Ponerantz” comes for their tickets, we will happily let you in.”

The Wave of the Future.

We had elaborate movie houses in Toronto, gargantuan and ornate – The Odeon, The Imperial (where you walked down a spiraling staircase to get to the theater), The Loews – both Uptown and DowntownThe University, and, closer to home, The Eglinton, where I saw Davy Crockett.

I would gladly have subsidized those movie Meccas, though back then I was not asked to, a bag of popcorn costing twenty-five cents.  (Admittedly, this was “fifties money”; still, the popcorn profit margin was undeniably less laughable.) 

I’d have pitched in to preserve the magic and memories of the movie theaters of Yesteryear.  But today’s no-frills mini-theaters?

Who’s gonna miss them

A special birthday shoutout to Mommy Rachel.  Mommy or otherwise, this day is still yours.



PG said...

Sadly, not one of those theatres is still around, which says something about your point of how things change, especially movie viewing. About thirty years ago, they were hacked up into small mini-screened multiplexes and then, in the past ten years or so, ALL have been demolished for condos. Except the beautiful art deco Eglinton which was converted into a party venue.
Weren't we lucky to have been able to enjoy them in their day?
I still recall seeing the weepy "Imitation of Life" at the majestic Imperial where my friends and I sat crying our eyes out till the ushers came and dragged us out.
As a film teacher for many years, I can attest to the fact that there was a huge decline in regular movie attendance in the younger generation in the past 20 years. Except for the occasional event-movie, kids cannot afford to go on a regular basis anymore. That's why they just steal the films from the net for free!
Hope the movie moguls are happy!

Keith said...

I have a projector and a 120" screen at home (~ $3000 + $300/yr for bulb). Since I watch 3-4 movies a week, it's paid for itself. I've only gone to the movie theater about 10 times in the past 10 years.

Ben Kubelsky said...

Excellent point about the quality of the FILMS. Look back 30 (or even 20) years and see what was playing... Tootsie, ET, Gandhi, The Verdict, My Favorite Year, to name a few. Today? The sequel to the reboot of the remake of a prequel based on a TV show based on a comic book. Zzzzzz And if you think this is just longing for "the good old days," I ask you: when was the last time you really got the urge to rent/watch the 2002 "Spider-man"? Or "The Punisher" (either version)? Or any of the "Star Wars" prequels? Or "Starsky & Hutch"? The offense rests.