I thought about going to see a film in Leeds later this week. I generally prefer British independents or subtitled films but I like to have a choice. When I looked through the cinema listings for Leeds I discovered that every single film on offer was in English – and virtually every one was a mainstream American or British film. Leeds is a major city. It has suffered from the lack of a specialised cinema such as those that once formed part of the BFI’s Regional Film Theatre network. The council still own the 1914 Hyde Park Cinema which often has excellent programmes (as attested by many of Keith’s posts) but with only a single screen it is sometimes dominated, as in this week, by a film like Rush. The Vue in the city centre usually has something different on offer such as a British independent or a Hindi film, but not this week.
Leeds has been promised an art cinema/specialised cinema for some time and at one point it looked as though a City Screen might open but it didn’t. Then earlier this year Everyman opened a three screen cinema in the new Trinity shopping centre. As expected, it is an expensive cinema (i.e. for the region at £11) but we did expect it to show some decent specialised films. The offer today is Diana, Rush, Insidious 2 and About Time. What a joke! The original Everyman in Hampstead was where I first saw most of the 1960s canon of art cinema. I weep when I think of what the name means now – stuffing your face with pizza watching Hollywood.
So with a population of 800,000 and something like 43 or more cinema seats, Leeds can’t offer a film in any other language than English tonight. The nearest sanity is in Bradford (The Great Beauty, Wadjda at the National Media Museum and several Hindi titles at Cineworld or the Odeon) or Sheffield for the Showroom. I read a comment somewhere in the last few weeks suggesting that subtitles are ‘difficult’ with the implication that cinemas find it hard to programme foreign language films. With this kind of attitude I seriously fear for the diversity of cinema in the UK. No doubt we will return to this topic.
Last week in the foyer of a specialised cinema I stumbled over a large standalone promotion for the new Meryl Streep film Doubt. About 8ft high, 4 ft wide and 18 ins deep, the cardboard construction struck me as physical evidence of what’s been happening to specialised cinemas in the UK. I won’t name the cinema since I’m sure the situation has been forced on them – and anyway, something similar is happening across the country.
Since the start of the year, it has been difficult to find new foreign language films on any kind of significant release (i.e. more than 20 screens across the UK). I’ve seen one film in the French Institute and half a dozen booked for my own courses and events. I’ve also been to a special event on Cuban Cinema, but in the general film programme the films with subtitles that I’ve seen have all been UK/US productions (Defiance, Slumdog Millionaire and Che). The screens I would have visited are filled with other American product – The Wrestler, The Reader, Revolutionary Road, Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Frost/Nixon and now Doubt. These films are all showing in multiplexes, so why are they on specialised screens as well? As far as I can see, there is no reason to think that they are ‘art films’ as such. To turn it round the other way, what should have been an important release – Tokyo Sonata, a Cannes prizewinner with a growing critical reputation, opened on just three prints. The only foreign language opening (discounting Hindi and Tamil films) with more than three prints has been A Christmas Tale with seven.
In these circumstances, cinemas have no choice but to put on the American films. OK, it’s all about getting Oscar-nominated films in front of the public, but this doesn’t wash. Where is Laurent Canet’s The Class? It is scheduled to open after the Oscar ceremony on February 27. My only other hope is Kim Ji-Woon’s The Good, The Bad and the Weird – a film I’m looking forward to seeing soon. This looks like a wide release – into multiplexes. I’m trying to find out if all the prints are subtitled.
So, am I getting paranoid? I don’t think so. True there are more foreign language films getting a release in the UK now, but when you investigate, it’s only one or two prints in order to bolster the DVD release. I don’t have anything against the so-called American ‘independents’, except that most of them aren’t – and they are crowding out what I want to watch.