Barry's Response to Mark Cuban's New Theatres
by Barry Wurst
May 11, 2007
In response to Alex's article titled Mark Cuban and Landmark Trying Again to Reshape the Theatrical Experience.
There is a considerable difference between seeing a film in a so-called "art house" theater, with serious film buffs, and seeing a summer blockbuster in an auditorium full of teenagers. I personally prefer the company of enthusiastic teens when seeing The 40-Year Old Virgin or Batman Begins, as they are a vocal, enthusiastic bunch and you get the vibe of whether they loved or hated the film immediately after the ending credits start. On the other hand, seeing something challenging, like The New World, The Fountain, or Solaris in a theater full of bored, text-messaging, giggling, cell-phone-using, gum snapping high school-age filmgoers is a painful experience.
I won't take the snooty route and declare that art house audiences are superior. In fact, they can be a lot scarier - city filmgoers are a lot more unpredictable and certainly stranger. On one hand, they're usually quiet once the trailers start, have their cell phones off and are militantly courteous (must be the expensive ticket prices). Yet, art house movie goers (who consider themselves serious film aficiandos) are so annoyingly pre-movie chatty, they are known to not only discuss the movie you're about to see out loud (as they sit behind you) but spoil the plot points before the theater lights fade to black!
I've seen some unsettling behavior from city audiences (not "urban" audiences, but a much wider spectrum - I hate the term "urban" audiences, anyway - it stereotypically means "people who paid to see Big Momma's House 2"). I'll never forget the fistfight I saw breakout when two ladies couldn't agree who was at the front of the line waiting for Lady in the Water and I saw a chick fight go down in the lobby of a classy art movie house, showing A Tale of Two Sisters! Audiences can be tough and a nuisance, no matter if you're seeing Finding Forrester or Finding Nemo, but a semblance of order and being a mecca for serious filmgoers is what art house theaters shoot for (unlike the teen-baiting mega-plexes, which have more of an overtly carnival atmosphere and allure).
Mark Cuban's vision of an art theater that courts adults and offers a swanky pre and post-film experience is more in line with what the most upper-crust art theaters (or for that matter, the magnificent Arclight in LA) offer audiences. I'm someone who will not see a B-level horror film (like The Messengers) unless it's at the local mall theater. I won't see a highly anticipated summer blockbuster unless it's in a packed-out, opening night movie house flush with fans and high school freshmen on awkward first dates. I won't go see the next gotta-see-it art house film unless it's at Landmark's The Mayan, The Chez Artiste, The Esquire or Kimball's Twin Peaks (the best of both Denver's and Colorado Spring's art house offerings). I won't suffer through some so-bad-it's-funny catastrophe (that was a hit anyway) unless it's at the local dollar theater, The Picture Show. I won't put myself through some idiot summer sequel-nobody-asked-for unless it's at the Fort Collins Drive-In. I embrace varying film experiences and share Quentin Tarantino's enthusiasm for grungy "grind houses" (and the glorious crap they screen there). So hey, Mr. Cuban wants to offer me an upscale time at the art theater, with sleek atmosphere to go with three hours of a Turkish melodrama in subtitles? GREAT! As long as I can still go and see Firehouse Dog on 50 Cent Night at the dollar theater, I'm not complaining!