Consigned To History: The Concept of Shared Entertainment
More than half of British homes no longer have a dining table.
While I hate having my predictions proved correct, it does now seem that the future of western entertainment will be in the home, not the cinema. Netflix has announced its slate of 70 major motion pictures, more than any studio slate could ever offer, and Warners and Disney have already abandoned cinemas for streaming.
Exhibitors were safe in the knowledge that no-one could replicate the sensation of film. Digital technology and improvements in home systems levelled the playing field, and the idea of shared entertainment has now faded. Families don’t even eat together. More than half of British homes no longer have a dining table.
Part of the appeal of shared entertainment was clearly the audience itself. In Edwardian London theatres, boxes sometimes had telephones connecting them. Audiences were less raucous than they had been in the 19th century (nobody threw a dead cat on the stage anymore) but they would still hiss and boo a poor performance.
The 20th century phased out smoking and rowdiness and opinions in theatres and cinemas, encouraging silence and stillness. Lockdown has returned a certain amount of shared experience to the home, but when we can’t agree on a programme out come our separate devices. Debate is discouraged.
It seems likely that in the future people will be discussing last night’s TV drama rather than last week’s tentpole film. The market is organically dividing itself by demographics once more; TV segments for all, chain cinemas for the young and indie cinemas for older, more discerning audiences.
I’ve just finished my stint of watching Bafta films, and am ready to vote. What’s interesting this year is that without a qualifying run in cinemas the floodgates have been thrown open. As there were no tentpoles released other than ‘Tenet’ and ‘Wonder Woman 85’ the number of world films and documentaries has risen. The result is an embarrassment of riches.
The real surprise, though, is the number of quality Netflix movies in the running. Initial fears that it would become just another trash service seem unfounded, at least at the moment. Check out ‘White Tiger’ and ‘I Care A Lot’.
Experts keep saying that cinema has risen above challenges before, but this time it’s not facing outside competition; the change has come from within. The biggest film in the world right now is ‘Demon Slayer: Infinity Train’, a shrieking Japanese fantasy anime that won’t make a jot of sense to anyone who has not read its 20-plus books. As the box office crown passes to the other side of the world, Japanese cinemas at least are booming.