Goodbye Piccadilly Tube, Farewell Odeon Leicester Square
Look on Metacritic or Apple Trailers right now and all you’ll find is a ragbag collection of B-movies elevated from direct-to-video. The only potential blockbuster being trailed is Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’, only because he’s insisting it goes into physical theatres come what may. For the first and only time in its history, cinema has effectively died. Films were still produced during wartime. This goes far beyond that.
TV streaming was already in line to start replacing cinema when format lengths were set free, although there’s a risk now that Netflix has started falling into the trap of behaving like a studio, throwing money at bad passion projects like the unfunny ‘Space Force’.
The relationship between theatrical exhibitors and studios has long been a fractious one. The pandemic has completed cinema’s perfect storm, and it seems unlikely that the giant movie houses will ever fully recover. Audiences have had time to compare their home viewing experiences, and large cinemas will be found wanting. The small luxury brands like the UK’s Electric and Curzon were already self-isolated by wide seats and cocktail delivery services and will survive as high-end venues.
Theatre is irreplaceable because it has no alternative equivalent, but cinema is not. The studio-to-theatre problem has deep roots. Cinemas were never just about seeing films. They were a social event, a dating choice from an era before online hookups. I love the physical experience of seeing a movie on a big screen that fills your peripheral vision and resonates through your bones with ominous low notes, but it’s now only necessary for a handful of films a year.
London’s West End will now carry memories of its recent time as a no-go plague zone. Currently the thought of squeezing out of Piccadilly Circus tube to queue at an overpriced refreshment stand in the Odeon Leicester Square (even with its lovely Wurlitzer) is unappealing. If that means watching an MCU movie in comfort at home or in a specialist screening room, fine by me.