James Mason’s finest hour?

odd1Its always something of a surprise and marvel, that I still get to see for the first time so many ‘old’ movies that turn out to be very, very special- but markedly, how many of them are titles that I had simply never heard of before (which raises the question, what keeps them so secret?). Case in point- I finally watched Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out last night. I only learned of the very existence of the film from watching one of the special features on Indicator’s The Reckless Moment Blu-ray back in January. The Reckless Moment is one of my favourite films that I have seen this year and, as I wrote back at the time, its curious how one film leads to another- one of the docs on Indicators disc featured a clip of Odd Man Out which looked sufficiently intriguing to get me immediately ordering a copy of Network’s Blu-ray. But I hadn’t watched it until now.

I only just realised the reason why it took so long, and with it there’s a sudden appreciation of a before and an after. I think back to when I first watched The Reckless Moment and soon after ordered a copy of Odd Man Out and it seems like I was someone else,  something from another life. Which it really was: my Dad was still around, back then; it was just before the nightmarish whirlpool of events in February and March that led to the passing of my Dad, and all that has happened afterwards. Goodness knows what it will be like rewatching any of the films I watched back then, before everything that happened. Films have a way of becoming markers of time- when I first saw Jaws, say, or Alien…. I often mark the passing of years by the release dates of movies I watched, back at the time. Sadly, that’s for both good and bad, and this was one film caught up in that horrible period and which drifted out of sight and onto the shelf for a few months, waiting unseen.

Well, turns out that Odd Man Out is pretty extraordinary for reasons I don’t really have opportunity to dwell on here just yet. I’ll give the film a ‘proper’ review later, but suffice to say I was utterly amazed – quite devastated, in all honesty, by its ending. The cinematography, the locations, the script, the casting… what an amazing roster of character actors with such vivid, memorable faces, many of which looked life-worn and real in ways modern productions could never hope to match. There felt a kind of indisputable truth to it, even though the film overall had the sense of being more parable than drama, a rather adult fairy tale of one mans last few hours on Earth. There’s nothing particularly seasonal regards the film, but the later sections as the night takes hold and snow starts to fall nonetheless lent the film a feel of a Christmas Noir- a noir twist on Frank Capra’s Its A Wonderful Life, perhaps.

Was James Mason ever better? I don’t think so; his is an extraordinary performance, considering the limitations, physically, that the film put upon him. But the question lingers on- how do films such as this remain hidden for so long, so completely that I had never heard of it until at the beginning of this year? I’m sure that its well-regarded and popular amongst everyone that has seen it and its more a question of my own ignorance I suppose, but really, I can but hope that me posting about this film allows others to take heed and give it a punt. There are Great movies out there that I just haven’t had the pleasure of watching yet- its something rather life-affirming I suppose, so while when I think of this film and have feelings of regret regards the personal events that surround it, maybe there’s hope there, too.

An update

First, my heartfelt thanks to those of you who commented on my last post. I read and deeply appreciated the kind words and thoughts shared regards what has been going on.

Things have, unfortunately, moved on in ways that, yes, I had feared but, worse than that, progressed more suddenly than I or anyone in my family had expected. My Dad passed away late on Tuesday evening; it was, in the end, really quite sudden. While his gradual decline over the past week had been worrying we had still held out some hope (you cling to anything, frankly), but on Tuesday afternoon we were told Dad wasn’t responding to his treatment and that the doctors felt it was time to allow nature to take its course. You can never prepare for news like that, no matter how you might try. You have to suddenly get your head around the cold fact that there would be no ‘cure’ after all, and that instead we had to turn thoughts towards a Hospice and palliative care, and making what would be my Dads last days the best they could be, but as it turned out there was yet one last, cruel twist- Dad only had hours, not days, and the arrangements for transferring him to a local Hospice proved to be pointless (it seems any plans we made for the past few weeks never came to anything, each plan unravelling).

Those last hours were not good; its impossible to immediately comprehend all the myriad implications of what we were being told, the finality of it and the suddenness of it. Bad enough being advised that Dad wasn’t ever coming home, but for it then to dawn upon us as the afternoon slipped into evening that we only had hours, minutes, not the days or weeks of this new scenario. I  take some consolation that we -my two brothers and I, and my mother- were with him at the end. I’m certain that, if Dad had to decide upon his final few hours, he would have wanted it to be with his family around him.

As I type this a few days have passed but the dim unreality of it all remains. I don’t think it has sunk in at all yet. Although Dad had been ill for several weeks it had never seemed so serious that we might lose him, and indeed only several days ago, confined to his bedroom as he was due to his back pain, he was able to chat and joke with us, and nobody could have thought this might lie ahead. So this past week or so since his stroke changed everything feels… well, obviously it feels unfair, unjust, but its such a major shift in what our lives were and what they will now be, its difficult getting a grip on it. What is life going to be like without him? Attention has inevitably turned to taking care of mom, and our focus is on that, and settling Dad’s affairs.

My earliest memory is one of my Dad. I must have been two years old, I think, maybe not even that. My Nan used to live near a big park and my Dad took me to play in the woods there (somewhere that he played in his own youth) and while we were playing Dad hid behind a tree. Running around, laughing, I suddenly realised that my Dad was nowhere to be seen and that I’d lost him and I vividly recall the horror of it (I’m sure we all have childhood memories of ‘losing’ our parents in crowds etc) and I burst into tears, and I remember Dad poking out of his hideaway assuring me everything was fine, but I was so upset he took me back to my Nans house and mom. I’ve been thinking of that day often, now. It feels like I’m back in those woods and Dad has disappeared behind that tree but, this time, he’s really gone and never coming back, he isn’t ever going to poke his head out from behind that trunk again and tell me everything’s going to be alright.

I may be awhile

I don’t know where to start.

I think I’m typing this down with no intent of actually posting this, or maybe I will.

I’ve been posting updates here on my blog in spite of Things. Or in defiance of Things. I haven’t really been able to watch much (maybe regular visitors here will have noticed my increasingly infrequent posts over the past few weeks), and when I have, I’ve really struggled to find the heart to write about them. Sometimes its helped. Gets my mind off Things.

When the darkest of noir films still seems something of an escape, one has to wonder.

In fact, its had me wondering what the purpose of films are- if they are a form of escape, of getting away from reality, then is that necessarily healthy? While it seems reasonable to ask, ‘where’s the harm?’ is there a case of watching just too many films than one really should? Maybe we should consider WHY film-lovers enjoy watching films so much, perhaps wonder if its a Good Thing of not. I don’t watch any television soaps, but I have heard them described as an opiate for the masses. Maybe its true of films and books too. Depends on the film, of course- I don’t expect Come and See could ever be described as a soothing respite from anyone’s reality.

So what brought me to these ruminations?

Let me go back a few weeks. First, my mother-in-law fell while walking her dog, and broke her shoulder. Since Claire is an only child and her Dad passed away a few years back, and that her mom couldn’t be left alone, Claire spent a week of nights over her moms, looking after her. Following this, her mom went into hospital for an operation on her shoulder which meant a week there, and the complication -well, annoyance, really-  of hospital visits with Covid controls etc. The operation seemed to go well and she was brought home with a carer organised in the mornings and with Claire driving over to take things up later each day (like walking the dog that inadvertently caused all this in the first place, but hey…) . Her mom is 80 years old, and recovery could be a long road.

But lets go back a bit.

Four days after Claire’s mom had her fall, my Dad had a heart attack. My Dad hasn’t been well for some years: COPD, a disintegrating hip, a ‘silent’ heart attack that no-one was really aware of which apparently happened a few years back, two bouts of cancer (one of which ongoing), blood clots… that isn’t the all of it. I often say with grim mirth worthy of Robert E. Howard that it would be easier and quicker to list what’s right with Dad than what’s wrong with him. So, a week of us worrying, him in hospital, us unable to visit (he was in a different hospital to Claire’s mom, one which at that point hadn’t been cleared for any visiting at all) and an operation to fit a stent.

When Dad came out, we were hopeful for the best but there were some complications- on return home, Dad was in such desperate back pain, which we believe was a trapped nerve, that he had to stay upstairs as they only have an upstairs loo and he was physically incapable of getting up or down stairs, even aided. So Mom and Dad have been living upstairs for the past few weeks, my two brothers and I taking turns (I’m Tuesday, Friday and Saturday) staying over sleeping in the back room to help mom with him- even getting him from bedroom to bathroom was an ordeal, and the chronic pain meant long nights of broken sleep but it did, gradually, get easier…

I’d love to go back. You know? Jump into a Time Machine, set it for six months in the past. Or anytime in 2021. Because I could do without ever experiencing 2022.

I’m having a bad time typing this down, it was worse experiencing it, believe me, than I could possibly express here, and I certainly didn’t have it the worst. A complicated regime of differing medications for pain relief, given at certain times, rigorously followed and recorded, with nurses and doctors visiting and assessing him. Family spending time over there to support my mom and break the monotony of life essentially trapped in a single room. TV put into the room with a DVD player, lots of films on the go (one afternoon for instance I watched the two Equaliser films starring Denzel Washington with him, and I absently worry that I’ll never be able to re-watch them without remembering that afternoon. I mean, its a Good Memory, sitting with him, but there’s all that attendant worrying at the time etc…).

I could write about the long odyssey of a stairlift, waiting for it to be authorised and fitted. But not here. The black humour and irony of it being finally fitted yesterday is just… too… noir.

One has to remember, my brothers and I each have fulltime jobs on the go. Of the three of us, I could be the most flexible, as I’m still working from home – two years, now- so as somebody had to stay with my Dad at all times, when mom needed to go anywhere, such as the Bank, or for shopping, Claire would stray with Dad and I’d take mom out, and I’d arrange my work-hours around it, no great hardship; I’m fortunate I can do most of my job just as easily at midnight as at midday.

OK. You’re possibly wondering where this is all going.

On Tuesday, my Dad had a stoke.

It happened just around breakfast; he’d had his cereal, and mom was going through the long list of tablets that he has to take. My brother who had stayed over the night before hadn’t long left, everything was going along what had become, over a few weeks, the new routine.

I’m working in my back room at home. I get the phone-call. Drop everything, race over there. Ambulance is till there so I park in the street. I dash into the house, expecting the paramedics to be still upstairs with him, but my mom is down in the living-room sobbing her heart out and my dad is in the ambulance I’d just walked past. I’m trying to comfort mom and find out what’s going on and the ambulance departs.

As In write this, a few days later, my Dad is very ill. But he’s still here. The stroke has taken his speech, and also the muscles in his throat which has resulted in him being nil by mouth with the complication of a lung infection (Dad’s muscle problem meaning that saliva/fluids can now pass down into his lungs, and typical of Dad’s run of luck, he picked up a chest infection inside of three days). Damage to the left side of his brain means he can recognise us but can’t understand what we are saying, or where he is or what’s happening.

Remember what I said about the darkest noir film being a pleasant escape?

Dad is in a very bad way. We have been advised that, due to all his other ailments, the hospital staff will not attempt to resuscitate should he suffer another heart attack or stroke or whatever else might befall him. In my darkest moments over the past few days I dare the unthinkable and consider that might not be a bad thing. And the guilt is terrible.

I have been suffering some very dark nights of the soul. At times it feels like a nervous breakdown. But we have to be strong, remain positive, fear the worst, hope for the best. Support mom the best we can.

My work colleagues have been good, I wasn’t able to do much this past week. Frankly, seeing Dad on Thursday, for the first time since the ambulance rushed him away, threw me in a tailspin, and since then my heads not been much good for anything. He seemed to recognise me, I could hold his hand. Back home, every time the phone rings its something of a nightmare tension creeping up my spine. Anxiety seems to be a constant state of mind.

And Claire’s mom, on her own slow road to recovery, still needs our help, although Claire has shouldered the majority of that this past week.

Has anyone seen the news here in the UK lately? Massive fuel and energy price rises, the cost of living going sky high alongside inflation, our PM seemingly  having a defective honesty gene (or at least one gone AWOL), there’s a war in Europe… I mean its like Everything, EVERYTHING,  has gone to shit. Will Smith tried to punch Chris Rock’s lights out at the Oscar ceremony for goodness sake. And its all like background noise, happening on some distant planet.

Films seem very silly, inconsequential. Its hard to focus on them when I try to watch them. Maybe I need them more than ever, I can’t decide. Maybe this blog can help, if only by distracting me, making me focus on something else (at the minute, its failing miserably). Which is, all of this, me saying I may either be away for awhile or I may not be away at all. Its impossible to say, as I don’t know what the next day might bring. Normal feels a long long time ago. and so very far, far away.

Bollocks. I finished with a Star Wars reference. What a –$$££$%% geek.

(February 1978, I’m twelve years old and Dad is taking my brother and I to go see Star Wars… )

Raider of the hidden book collection

bolland2 (2)I’ve been having a clean-up; an early Spring Clean, if you will, albeit one probably a year late (“two years late” according to Claire). My backroom den, which has been my Covid-enforced office space for close on two years now, is currently the subject of a clear-out and tidy-up and its been a sobering experience. I’ve too many books, too many  CDs, too many DVDs and Blu-rays. More on the latter perhaps in a post tomorrow.

But I’ve been unearthing lots of books that were hidden behind the towers of life-debris; some old favourites I know so well, and some surprises, half-forgotten. The odd one or two I’d totally forgotten.

The scary thing is when I have picked up the odd book and found either a receipt tucked away in the back of it, or have made a curious query on my Amazon account and discovered with a yelp of incredulous horror how long ago I bought it. For instance, one of the books that caught my eye was The Art of Brian Bolland– its a fantastic book, by the way, absolutely essential for anyone remotely familiar with his art- and I found that I bought it in 2013. Years have a way of sneaking past you, I know, but I have had that book approaching nine years now, and for the last few years its been out of sight, almost forgotten.

bolland1Mind, on the subject of years getting past you, alongside The Art of Brian Bolland were a few gorgeous hardbacks of artist-themed collections of Judge Dredd strips which IDW publishing released around the time I bought that Bolland book. One collects Bollands Dredd work, while another collects some of the best of the late Carlos Ezquerra‘s work (including his complete Apocalypse War epic) and another two volumes contain the best of Cam Kennedy’s Dredd work – which I remarked upon in this blog back in the day. Why I mention these books in particular, is that browsing through them yesterday (really, its  a wonder I got anything done, how much stopping to read stuff I was doing), I was looking at the dates the stories were originally published in 2000AD. Bolland’s mostly dated back to 1978, 1979… Ezquerra’s Apocalypse War ran for 26 deliriously exciting weeks in 1982, and Kennedy’s sublime work from around 1984 onwards. Some of this stuff is 40+years old or awfully close to it, and I can recall reading most of it like it was yesterday. Those early days of 2000AD; there’s never been anything like it since. I still recall meeting my mate Andy in school every week to discuss the latest events as that Apocalypse War unfolded. Drokk it, as if I didn’t feel ancient enough the way the world is going lately, I have to have my head spinning with memories of the Apocalypse War, role-playing games and Blade Runner: 1982 was like some very fine wine, I just didn’t really appreciate it at the time (does anyone, when so young?).

I keep returning to that Art of Brian Bolland book; I can’t keep away from it, its exquisite. Its a large-format book printed on heavy-stock paper, with all of Bolland’s elaborate, detailed inks perfectly reproduced. Every page is a new marvel to linger over.

Unfortunately, and much to Claire’s annoyance, my backroom clear-out is taking much longer than expected….

Another dream palace gone

showc2Recent news that the Showcase Cinema where I’d watched films throughout the 1990s (starting with Batman, The Abyss etc in 1989) has closed forever has had me getting nostalgic. At the time it opened in 1989 the multiplex was a revelation, with state of the art seating and projection and sound a far cry cry from what excused for film presentation in our then-current haunts of the old ABC and Odeon Cinemas in town. Once I saw Batman at the Showcase I never went back to the old ABC and that cinema itself closed not long after. The Showcase too would eventually fall behind the times, superseded by newer, better cinemas and its been decade or more since I ever went there, but yeah, its awfully sad. I have some great memories from going there:

A late-Saturday night preview showing of Total Recall that remains the craziest, wildest cinema screening of my life. When the film began, with that incredible Jerry Goldsmith title music blasted out loud, the palpable energy of that testosterone-fuelled audience was something I don’t think I’ve experienced since, it was almost like some kind of rock concert. 

Watching The Abyss and then coming out to the carpark in a wild storm, rain hammering down sideways in a gale just like the storm portrayed in the film, one of those strange moments that felt like a film bleeding out into reality. Those moments are the best: I remember coming out of a screening of Cocoon, of all things, and seeing a sliver of crescent moon hanging in the sky just the same as in that film’s poster. Its like the film has come out with you.

Sometimes, back in the dark days when I was unemployed between jobs I’d go alone to watch cheap afternoon screenings to escape my lot (Fantasia, Always, for example), one of which was my worst cinema-going experience ever, the execrable Naked Lunch– the one film I very nearly walked out on.  

I remember going on a blind date there, with my cousin and his girlfriend and a girl she knew -where we watched, of all things, Jacobs Ladder, which confused the shit out of the three of them (“it was something to do with Vietnam, wasn’t it?” I was asked) while I came out buzzing, confident I’d seen something extraordinary and spent an hour in the pub afterwards trying to explain the damn movie to them (I never went out on a second date with that girl).

Going there every week with my future-wife during our courting days, when we’d go and end up watching whatever was on that took our fancy, some good, some bad (one of the baddest, The Flintstones).

A midnight Saturday preview of Alien 3, when we came out in the early hours of a Sunday morning wondering what we’d just seen (I actually liked it, because it was more like Alien than Aliens, which I really disliked with a passion, but my cousin was a fan of Aliens so anyway, our discussion was like a microcosm of the next few decades of Alien 3 discourse). Christ, I haven’t seen/spoken to that cousin in twenty years or more (and no, that’s not because of Alien 3).

So anyway, waxing so nostalgic about those Showcase Memories had me thinking about those other cinemas too, like the ABC in town where I saw Blade Runner and many others (my folks took me to watch John Carpenter’s Elvis there, and I saw loads of films in the 1980s there, like Superman II, Someone to Watch Over Me, Outland, Howard the Duck, Life Force, Legend, Batman…), and the Odeon cinema across town where I saw Star Wars, Close Encounters and Empire Strikes Back etc. I remember the threadbare seats with holes, stuffing coming out of them, in the Screen 3 in the ABC where I saw Howard the Duck. Indeed its funny what you remember: I recall a tramp in there sheltering from the rain (considering how bad Howard was, he probably regretted not staying out in the rain). Or the time me and Andy saw a double-bill of Outland and Blade Runner, and after watching Outland one of the other patrons walked out just as Blade Runner started, and Andy and I just sat, gobsmacked at this blatant and unforgivable affront to the Greatest Film Ever Made- I mean, here I am almost 40 years later and I still vividly recall the guy just getting up and walking out to our dismay. Much fancier a cinema was the luxurious Gaumont in Birmingham which must have been really something in its heyday, where we queued for hours to watch Return of the Jedi back in 1983, and I remember the film looked amazing on its huge screen (one of our group, a friend of my brothers, sat down in the front row and surely couldn’t have seen half what was going on, the screen was so wide most of it was out of his line of sight) but even that cinema closed just a year or so later.

That Showcase Cinema getting demolished feels all kinds of wrong; when a cinema which opened in 1989 (and you still feel like its ‘new’ because 1989 isn’t all that long ago, really, is it? Is it?) is getting torn down, you know you’re getting old. The place where I visited other planets and visited the bottom of the ocean etc is going to be a giant second-hand car retail outlet or something by the end of the year. I recently texted my mate Andy paraphrasing Roy Batty’s speech: “The films I’ve seen, in cinemas you wouldn’t believe…!” 

Walk in the park… and then a doze.

IMG_20210423_110211836_HDR (2)Weather has been unusually fine of late, so plenty of Spring chores in the garden have taken our time, but we took the opportunity this morning to take Ed for a walk in a nearby park that he loves. Usually we follow the paths through the gardens and around the woods and fishing pool, but this morning adventure is in the air- we find a trail  leading off into the woods. Ed takes to this new territory with relish – he takes the lead and dashes ahead exploring the territory, as if he’s the first dog to ever follow this trail through a wilderness winding through the trees (well, its certainly a first for him, which is all that matters). He takes us up one pathway that leads through the trees and then winds down to a woodland pond, where two ducks on the opposite bank regard him with suspicion before wisely waddling off to the safety of the centre of the pond. A grey squirrel hasn’t been paying attention and leaps up startled when Ed sniffs in his direction; Ed suddenly yanks me on his lead as he dashes in vain pursuit until I pull him back in. I do wonder if Ed thinks he can also clamber up trees like a squirrel given enough of a run-up. Undeterred at me spoiling his fun, Ed finds a trail on that opposite side that winds up a grassy bank up into the trees, and we are off again…

 

This afternoon having gotten home and had lunch, we resume our chores in the back garden tidying up the patio (hopefully for a lazy summer chilling with books etc. but you know, English summer = plenty of rain, its like we never learn). Ed stretches out on the grass looking at us as if we are fools- its obviously far too warm for any such exertions.P1100366 (2)

He decides that its time for a doze on the cool grass. Its a dogs life.

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Oscars?

They’re doing the Oscars this year? After the year we just had? Millionaire movie-people, gigantic ego’s and beautiful celebs etc are going to give themselves awards and congratulate themselves on jobs well done etc.? Oh boy, Tenet made more sense than this does. Why? I always figured Hollywood was some other seperate reality to my own, but I guess this proves it. There’s a bonfire of the cinemas going on in most towns and cities all over the world but the millionaire creatives gotta party and celebrate how cool and great they are (socially distanced on Zoom or something from their mansions in Beverly Hills etc. obviously).

Moody walk this morning

IMG_20201207_105919502_HDR (3)Took Ed to the vets today for his annual booster. He was as nervous as ever, which only made us all the more anxious about what most dog owners treat a routine visit. Not that Covid restrictions helped, its turning everything into something out of a biological disaster movie; you have to call from the carpark to gain entry, three pets in the premises at any one time, one owner per pet, distances dictated on the floor; I don’t think I will ever get used to wearing a mask and must confess to being curious why dog’s don’t even seem to notice. Ed of course was eager to get in there but terrified once he realised where ‘there’ was, and as usual turned a quick injection into a bit of a drama. Terrified terriers can be such charmingly endearing wimps.

Anyway, as a reward/apology to Ed, on our way home we took him to a local park. Shrouded in an Autumnal fog that refused to fade away, it resulted in a  damp, cold and moodily atmospheric walk that felt a very different landscape to the walks of the past. Everything seemed to fade quickly to grey in the middle-distance, lost in murk, the world suddenly very small around us, and strangely quiet too. I was quite entranced by the spectral trees, branches bare of leaves reaching up into the sky and fading away in the mist, and took this quick snap with my phone. 

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

edasleep

But Ed isn’t impressed. Every year he watches us put up the Christmas tree with abject horror. I suppose most dogs are creatures of habit and routine, and Ed is no exception. I’m pretty certain he thinks our home is his kennel, basically, and he prefers things left as they should be- he certainly doesn’t appreciate his owners suddenly erecting a tree blocking his view through the window. Well, what’s a dog to do other than sulk? Ed can sulk like a champion, especially when his Christmas telly is ruined.

Ah, well a bit of explanation is in order about Ed and the window. He is obsessed with it- I don’t know, maybe its a Terrier thing, because he seems to be all territorial with everything beyond the window. We’re lucky, we have a field outside our front window, so that we overlook a central green of fields and pathways, which affords a really nice view of the seasons changing and people walking their dogs to and fro – naturally Ed knows most of them from encounters on our walks, he gets along famously with some, gets along less so with others. The ones he doesn’t get along with so well… well, Ed treats the fields as his own private space, naturally, and tells any miscreants off with passionate wild barks. Boy, Westies can bark (after two King Charles Cavaliers, its something of a culture shock).

We’ve taken to calling the window Ed’s television: we open the blinds in the morning and tell Ed his breakfast telly show is on, and he leaps up onto the sofa and surveys his territory eagerly… and if he goes too wild barking at some nuisance collie or huskie (two breeds he has a particular disgust at) we threaten him that we’ll switch his telly off and close the blinds. “Thats it! Telly’s off!” we’ll declare, shutting the blinds. Very often when I pop downstairs from working in the backroom and I see Ed still sitting in his usual attentive position looking out the window, I ask him if its just another repeat show (dog-walkers are creatures of habit too, and very often you could set your clock by them walking first one way, then back twenty minutes later) and late in the evening I’ll tell him its time for closedown as I close the blinds for the night. I don’t know. Maybe we’re going a little bit crazy.

Alas, we’ve gone and put up our Christmas tree today, blocking most of Ed’s usual television screen. Hence the sulk. Hopefully he doesn’t pull it down overnight…

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Bonfire of the Cinemas: The Sequel!

dune2There you go, I have a rough week at work and am unable to do any posting here and suddenly all hell breaks lose. In honour of grand Hollywood tradition, let it not be said that I’m loathe to ignore opportunity for a sequel, so after Octobers post about cinema woes, here comes a totally superfluous post. Bear with me though, I’ve just done a twelve-hour stint at my work laptop so my eyes are blurry and my head fuzzier than normal. Yeah, doesn’t bode well, does it, but the same is true of movie sequels isn’t it? I guess that’s my way of suggesting its not wise to expect this post to be The Empire Strikes Back or Godfather Pt.2 of blog follow-ups.

So what’s been happening? Well news broke late last night that Warner Bros has announced that its entire slate of films for 2021 are now going to debut on streaming channel HBO Max on the same day as each films theatrical release. This includes films such as Mortal Kombat (hey a reboot I was blissfully unaware of till now), Godzilla v Kong, Matrix 4 (I thought this had been pushed back to 2022, maybe I was wrong) and of course Villeneuve’s much-anticipated (by me, anyway) Dune; the list totals 21 films in all.

I honestly thought it was internet hyperbole but I woke up this morning to find it confirmed on the BBC. Fairly ugly news for movie lovers really, on the face of it, but rather than The End Of Blockbusters As We Know It (which it still may be) I have to wonder if this is more a Studio move to dismantle the current distribution network (in the States, at least) by destroying the current cinema chains in order to just move in and replace them in a year or two. I believe that, in the old Hollywood glory days, studios had their hands in the theatrical pie but were litigated out of it, therefore having to share cinema takings and profits with the vendors/cinema chains like AMC etc. I suppose that’d be a bit like Netflix having to share its subscriber money with the Internet Service Providers that carries its content into peoples homes.

Part of the reason why Disney has its Disney+ is so that eventually there will be a Brave New World in which the only way to watch a Star Wars, Disney, Pixar or Marvel movie will be to pay up monthly for its streaming channel. In such a world without physical discs on shelves, it’d just be digital streaming (not even digital downloads) as the only way of watching its content, and ultimately only through its channel, if subscriptions are successful enough that it no longer needed traditional partners like the TV networks, satellite and cable TV providers etc. that it currently sells its content to. If Disney could also own its own cinema chains to monopolise that part of things too, all the better. Clearly the intention is not to share any of the revenue with anybody. And hey, without any competition, and with a captive audience having no alternative, Disney could go all Star Wars Evil Empire and raise its prices to, well, whatever it wanted. Add premium charges for new content, restrict ‘star’ movies to PPV only, downgrade the low entry-price subscription tier to films/content six months old. Hey, if I can think up things like that after a twelve-hour shift, you can be sure the execs at Disney can.

The reason why Warners seem to have jumped into this fray are the woes being suffered by HBO Max, a streaming network in the States owned by Warners’ parent company AT&T which is currently languishing as an also-ran in the the streaming wars currently led by Netflix, Amazon and Disney+. They seem to think having a big Hollywood movie hitting HBO Max will get subscriber numbers soaring, but I do wonder if its a dangerous gamble, certainly for Warners. How in the world they think they can get enough money that way to pay for the huge budgets of some of those movies is beyond me, really. HBO Max may suddenly get a bigger share of the streaming audience and more numbers in, but surely that’s never going to be anything like the $1 billion numbers of the big blockbusters from old-fashioned cinema takings. Unless I’m under-estimating what the revenue streams of business like Netflix are (which is possibly what Disney and the other studios are looking at).

I suppose playing the long game, the studios may intend to pick up all those empty bankrupted cinemas and return to the old distribution model (but owning all the distribution, theatrical as well as streaming), but once punters get used to films being beamed day one into their homes for a monthly fee (that remember is supposed to pay for all of a months content, other movies, doc and tv series, not just Warners’ latest movie), is there a risk it will diminish the public’s sense of worth of said blockbusters? Goodness knows many people astonish me enough by still buying/watching DVDs, so the idea they will go out and pay more for a cinematic experience may not be as reasonable as the studio execs think once they get used to Wonder Woman 84, The Matrix 4 and Dune beamed to their screens on Day One. Disney+ will surely be following its own similar move with Mulan with some of its other films still waiting in the wings (Black Widow seems to be the next likely suspect), all further dismantling the perception of newly-launched films being worth premium ticket prices in cinema multiplexes.

I wonder what James Cameron thinks of all this, with four Avatar films on the go. Its like his franchise just hit a proverbial iceberg (oh the irony).

From my own perspective, my immediate concern is the fate of all these movies from this year and next, the James Bonds etc, and where all this will leave them- particularly Dune, whose performance predicates us ever getting the sequel that completes its story. It could be a magnificent adult space opera, Star Wars for adults, as  Villeneuve himself has hinted, which gets decimated by this Bonfire of the Cinemas and the streaming wars. Its already been pushed back a year, which means any Part Two is at least, what, four years away now? How can its performance be properly judged in this crazy Covid world, never mind what any post-Covid world might look like? The film cost $200 million to make… how does it ever get the financial remuneration to ensure execs think its worth another $200 million punt? Will such $200 million ‘punts’ even exist in this future world- returning to my earlier note, might this indeed actually signal The End Of Blockbusters As We Know It? Would that necessarily be a bad thing? Is the era of huge paychecks for directors and actors over?

And if I had shares in Cineworld, would I possibly get any sleep tonight?