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Will Digital Projection Convert Arthouses Right Out of Existence?

Will Digital Projection Convert Arthouses Right Out of Existence? (photo)

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While heading up the Northwest for the Seattle Film Festival, it was hard to miss the attention-grabbing headline of this week’s Portland Mercury, “Celluloid Cemetery,” noteworthy to cinephiles not only because of its subject matter, but because Portland is a place where passion for film is strong enough to land the wonky technological transformation of cinemas going from projecting physical film to digital on the front page of an alternative weekly. As it turns out, “How to Die in Oregon” doesn’t only refer to this year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner for Best Documentary, but could also easily refer to the arthouses in the state.

These are interesting days for exhibitors across the country who will soon come to a crossroads if they haven’t already of upgrading their projection system to digital or face extinction. For the large chains, the $60,000 to do so is a pittance and a convenience since they’ll no longer have to deal with transporting bulky film canisters, worry about prints wearing out and give them the ability to charge for extras such as 3D that come with the digital form.

But what’s left behind are the mom-and-pop operations, often in less densely populated areas with thin profit margins, that have already suffered the slings and arrows of potential audiences eroding first with the availability of DVDs before a film ever comes to their town and now the more immediate threat of video-on-demand.
(At a recent summit of VOD distributors, representatives from distributors including our corporate sibling IFC Films claimed that the increased growth of VOD hasn’t come at the expense of theatrical revenues, but in communities such as Portland, it isn’t hard to imagine theatrical runs being bypassed altogether in favor of a strictly-VOD run.)

Although it would be a major stretch to believe places like Portland would be left without the theatrical experience of arthouse cinema altogether, it’s isn’t so hard to imagine a future where they would be stripped of some of their most interesting theaters. In an era where the experience of moviegoing is becoming more integral to the audience experience than the movie itself, that would be a tragedy. As Anthony Kaufman noted in a recent piece for IndieWire, the arthouse successes of recent years have owed much of their good fortune to building a strong community foundation around a specific theater such as the growing Alamo Drafthouse chain out of Austin or Florida’s Enzian Theater, both of which offer amenties such as high-end food and drink as well as eclectic programming and since they’re newer, digital projection.

There’s a similar theater in Portland – Living Room Theaters, a six-screen theater that boldly states itself as “the first all and only digital cinema in the U.S.,” which will allow it to reap considerable rewards if many of the arthouses in Portland don’t make the conversion by 2012. The Portland Mercury‘s Erik Henriksen surmises that this is unlikely to happen in his neck of the woods, but that indeed is what the Mayans predicted may come true for quite a few American theaters – in Portland, the locally-made “Cold Weather” couldn’t screen at the Laurelhurst Theater since it was shot on digital and no film print actually existed.

It’s hard to root against the onward march of technology if it means more films like Aaron Katz’s brilliant mystery, which financially couldn’t exist on any other form besides digital cinema, but it’s an interesting trade-off where the decrease in the cost of making movies is potentially adding to the cost of distribution since the idea always was that digital would lower costs for everyone. Exhibitors have certainly had time to prepare, but that doesn’t make it easier to accept, especially considering it’s a medium given to nostalgia.

As Roger Ebert laments in this week’s issue of Newsweek, the experience of seeing quality cinema in general is “being abandoned” and it would seem it starts with the closure of some of our oldest theaters, which for arthouse films is still where the conversation and all-important word-of-mouth often begins. Instead, that conversation may have to reside online, just as the films filter through Internet and cable connections, which is contrary to what cinema, like all great art, aspires to do – to push something theoretical and intangible into reality. To find out that digital could do the reverse by steering some theaters out of existence where all we have left is the fond memories of moviegoing is a step in the wrong direction.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.