John Carpenter, live

 

On Sunday night we had the great pleasure of seeing and hearing John Carpenter, live, at Colston Hall. His filmmaking and musical talents have long been admired by those of us here in the video shop – and not just now, but by former staff members in the years before our times, too.

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For me, it was also a first visit to Colston Hall. Despite its proximity to our shop I had never stepped inside. As a dedicated and stereotypical film nerd I tend to spend the big bucks I earn here at the video shop (ahem) on cinema tickets, fancy cheese and close to my body weight in red wine, but little else. So an outing to a venue with a large audience capacity was an unusual shock to the system.

It got me thinking. There must have been more than a thousand people sat around me watching, cheering and enjoying the audio visual show. But the man performing is also a filmmaker whose films would never attract anywhere near this number of people if screened even in the very same town.

Case in point: last month, as part of Scalarama 2016, we showed In the Mouth of Madness, at Bristol’s Cube Cinema, to an audience of around 60 people. The tickets to see the film were a fiver; attending Carpenter live was a little over thirty quid.

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So, my question is this: is it only the live appearance factor that makes people turn up in droves to celebrate a renowned musician/filmmaker or is there something about venues and perceived forms of entertainment also at play?

For example, does ‘Colston Hall’ suggest entertainment that you can’t miss owing to its reputation as a venue that attracts world class acts? And does ‘Cube Microplex’, as an artists’ collective, with highly reduced ticket prices, suggest something you could watch at home or in another venue, thus removing the prestige and scarcity factors? I wonder, too, even though the performance at Colston Hall was visual as well as audio – there were several clips packaged together of footage from John Carpenter’s films, albeit sometimes in incorrect aspect ratios – is the visual (on photochemical film or in a digital format) considered an insignificant element in weighing up the attractiveness of paying to attend an event?

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I ask because, even though I thought the concert was great and while I did have a splendid time, I still rate my best John Carpenter experience as when I saw Escape From LA (far from my favourite of his films) on a 35mm film print in the small but wonderful auditorium at Paris’ Grand Action cinema. And, as great as it was to see clips of his films set to live music, complete with his totally adorable dance moves, I would have loved to have seen those films shown in full, in the correct aspect ratio, with appropriate masking, on a big cinema screen, so much more.

I know I am often in the minority (I still think running a rental store is a good idea and I know it’s 2016), so some of these questions may indeed be rhetorical, but I’m keen to hear from other people on the issue. I would love to know about your perceptions of value entertainment, appropriate film and concert admission costs and the role of film as a form of entertainment both on its own as well as as a combined element in another style of live show. Please do comment below or send an email to my attention (Tara) at: info[at]20thcenturyflicks[dot]co[dot]uk

A bunch of John Carpenter films are available to rent at 20th Century Flicks and our Kino is available for hire if you want to get a group together and see something here. 

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4 thoughts on “John Carpenter, live

  1. I never heard about Scalarama. I would have went. I think the problem with a lot of this stuff is making people aware of it. I’m bummed I missed a screening of In The Mouth of Madness. Really the only movie to do Lovecraft justice.

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    • Scalarama happens every year in September – it’s pretty much just a celebration of cinema around the UK, more info here: https://sites.google.com/site/scalarama/
      and we host a regular monthly film night at Cube but their website doesn’t have a Flicks listing and neither does ours – sorry :/
      We try to get the word out but you’re right, we have zero as an advertising budget, so does Cube, and I’m sure Colston Hall have more than zero. Cheers for your comments.

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  2. Really interesting blog post Tara.

    Definitely agree with the point you make about marketing budgets.

    I think this will inform my dissertation, which is partly about how digital technology has changed and fragmented audiences over the past 50 years. That’s one of the things I think is going to be interesting about the social impact of I, Daniel Blake now, compared to the broadcast of Cathy Come Home on the BBC back in 1966.

    Anyway, I wanted to say that I think audiences are increasingly drawn to events because of their unique nature as much as the content. Technology has changed the way we look at culture with so much content being vacuum packed and served to us on demand by the internet. I remember the way a film had to be seen in the cinema or face an excruciating wait for it to appear on TV (or appear in the local video library). Even then it was a one-off unless we chose to record it, or paid the video shop to rent it. Now we are increasingly told we can watch whatever we want whenever we want.

    From an exhibition point of view, making a screening into an ‘event’ is often dismissed as making it Instagram-able or Tweetable, and therefore we get into discussions of whether or not mobile phones should be allowed (which usually shuts down the discussion quickly!). Either that or its about “eventising” something in a Secret Cinema fashion (interesting paper on that here: http://www.participations.org/Volume%2013/Issue%201/S1/2.pdf).

    I think this misses the point a bit though. Cinema audiences are passive. The lights go down and that’s it, you’re there to witness the film, but you are not in any way made to feel ‘special’. Personally I value that feeling but it seems that people will pay a lot more money if they are made to feel a bit special, and live events tick that box.

    Live events are social (in the sense that there’s a bunch of people present, rather than in any sort of “mingling” sense) and they are time-bound. Cinema screenings have always satisfied these criteria too, but the marketing budget has always been attached to the particular film, especially in the mainstream. It’s all about what’s on screen, rather than about your experience as an audience member.

    This in turn means that the conversation is about the film, rather than the screening. If we emphasise the film then the important thing is that you see it, not where you see it, or who you see it with. And no-one is really shouting about that, exhibitors are in it because “the work” is what is important, but I think more can be done to make people talk about the experience as well. Simple stuff like badge-making and themed bar offerings can go some distance towards personalising screenings. But ultimately its about perception I think, and if cinema can find a way to re-position itself as an experience rather than a platform for consumption of film then I think it’ll be onto something.

    Sorry for the length of this, super muddled thinking and most of it is really obvious but I’m really interested in this stuff.

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  3. Good post. Good questions. The ‘live’ experience is something I think about often, as a film maker and where my future might lie or not. I think its notable that a lot of indie film releases are accompanied by Q&As and adding an element of ‘live’ into a recorded medium, making screenings events rather than ‘just’ watching a film. I think there’s definitely added value (or perceived value) in the ‘event’ – people want to be in the moment, with that person, something unique I guess – even if the Q&A is the same old questions, there’s an element of scarcity (as you mention) that can’t be repeated like a film just showing (at a cinema or at home)

    What’s being created is a chasm in the middle ground – people want stuff cheap and accessible or on the other side they’re happy to pay for expensive, immersive, less accessible, luxury things. Hence seeing many standard cinemas loosing attendance, closing sites etc, but a chain like Everyman expanding countrywide with their expensive tickets, comfy sofas and table service popcorn and cocktails. It all feeds into perceived value. There was that Spielberg/Lucas article from a few years ago where they predicted in the future cinema tickets would be £50, just blockbusters (or something like that) because cinema would be a huge experience and not just a pop out for a few hours – but this means less lower/middle budget films – scarcity of cinema I guess.

    When i used to work at a multiplex I remember Pearl Harbour coming out and it was one of the first times, to my knowledge, of the distributor not taking the usual ticket % – because the film was so expensive they wanted a higher % (something like 40% instead of 30%) It was notable because it was the first time I realised film was one of the few things (also music) that the purchase price was disconnected from the production price – a film with a 500k budget costs the same to see at the cinema as a film with a 150million budget. Maybe in the future we’ll start seeing purchase prices fragment and be somehow aligned to production price – £10 for a low budget film, £30 for a blockbuster – not sure if this is good, but would definitely shape value perception.

    Regardless of any of this, an aspect ratio is an aspect ratio and that’s really bad for a place like that to get it wrong…

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