The announcement by Warner Bros that it would release its entire 2021 film slate through HBO Max it’s new streaming platform, and simultaneously to theatres reminded me of a delightful British comedy film made in 1957, ‘The Smallest Show on Earth.’
Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers play a married couple (they were married to one another in real life) who inherit a Cinema, The Bijou. They are dismayed to discover on arrival at the Cinema that it is…(sorry, I can’t put this any other way)…..a fleapit. Worse still it is competing with The Grand, a nearby large Cinema that has all the mod cons of the era; luxury seats, a large screen and a projector that doesn’t break down, so unlike theirs. The Bijou’s receptionist is played by Margaret Rutherford, and a heavily disguised Peter Sellers plays the projectionist. The big question is how can they compete with the changing landscape? One method they employ is when their movie is showing a desert scene in scorching heat, they turn up the heating. At the interval the patrons are left gasping for refreshments. On that note I will not add anything further other than to say if you have not seen it, check it out.
The challenge of theatres today is not dissimilar. Since March audiences have luxuriated in their homes with Media Centres and various devices receiving fabulous content at a comparative low cost all without the hassle of braving the elements, travelling, parking etc.
The decision by Warner`s really is disastrous for Cinemas. In fact the share values of several chains including AMC have subsequently fallen. It means that you can watch ‘Wonder Woman 1984’, ‘Suicide Squad’, ‘Dune’ and ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ in the comfort of your own home as soon as they are released. There has been widespread dismay in the industry about this decision. A very vocal opponent has been Christopher Nolan; all of his films have been made by Warners since 2002.
I was privileged to hear Virginia Mc Kenna speak at the Media Lunch Club run by Gareth Owen last year. She remembered ‘The Smallest Show on Earth’ fondly and listening to her thoughts was like going back to another time.
Will we feel that way about Cinema in an even shorter time scale? I certainly hope not.