By Jason Asbell
“It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever,” says Martin Scorsese.
Recently, in a New York Times opinion piece, Scorsese had to explain a comment he made in an interview for Empire magazine in October. His comment that “Marvel movies aren’t cinema,” had some people up in arms.
“What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.”
For Scorsese and his contemporaries “cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures.”
Our team at the Civic Theatre values the cinematic experience as Martin describes it, and we certainly understand his sentiment about the perilous nature of film exhibition. When the Nelson Civic Theatre Society took over the cinema seven years ago we were able to consistently offer a taste of complex stories with our weekly arthouse Thursday nights. We could work around the demands of opening Disney films on the break. We had more flexibility and greater opportunities to showcase thought-provoking independent films.
Seven years later distribution costs are lower than ever because we use re-formattable digital drives rather than film but now we find that Disney owns Fox, both demand three-week minimum runs, and even the most agreeable distributors restrict splitting the theatre with another film. This means our regular alternative Thursday offering is no longer regular or necessarily on Thursday. We have to change our strategy.
We have responded by trying to offer week-long runs of alternative films in slower weeks, and try to split the week with three independent titles. Ultimately, we screen close to the same number of alternative titles but attendance will be less until membership and fellow cinephiles navigate the changes with us.
If we manage to develop two more theatres our options open up again but in that earlier interview Scorsese pointed out something else about blockbuster films. He described it as “a chicken-and-egg issue. If people are given only one kind of thing and endlessly sold only one kind of thing, of course they’re going to want more of that one kind of thing.”
Well, The Civic won’t offer one kind of thing. And as Scorsese went on to say “still, I don’t know a single filmmaker who doesn’t want to design films for the big screen, to be projected before audiences in theatres.” The Civic Theatre will do its best to make the screen available to these artists.
I’m not sure what a single-screen in a small rural market can do in the grand scheme of things, but I do believe that if we value cinema as an art, as well as a big-screen thrill ride, we need to make an effort to see these works as they were intended. So, following up the current week’s independent selections, here is another filled with great independent and international titles. Here’s what we have opening this Friday.
Harriet, the story of heroic abolitionist Harriet Tubman and her escape from slavery and the dangerous missions she led to liberate hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad. Along with it we’ll play Bong Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or winning, Parasite. Punctuated by staircase scenes going from mouldy basements to top floors, it dissects the life of two families of different social backgrounds. And completing the roster, master Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar is back with his best film in years, the Palme d’Or-nominated Pain and Glory. A deeply personal work, Pain & Glory is pure Almodóvar: inventive and irreverent, poignant and exhilarating. Chronicling the existential odyssey of a filmmaker confronting the autumn of his life.
Empire magazine said Pain and Glory is “graced with career-best work from Antonio Banderas.” And the critique on RogerEbert.com concludes with “Art may be shaped by pain and life, but it also captures beauty and glory like nothing else.” Words that I’m sure Scorsese would appreciate.
Keep checking The Civic Theatre website, Facebook page and sign-up for our weekly newsletter and mark your calendars to come out to these and other cinematic works of art.
Jason Asbell is the resident bon vivant, cinephile, and program director at the Nelson Civic Theatre Society.