Movies

Who Killed Film Noir?

Who Killed Film Noir?

Film noir is dead. We, in our addiction to re-iteration and our blind political zeal, have managed to kill off what was probably the greatest—or at least arguably the most influential—American art form. But, before getting into all that, let me first define my terms.

 

Let’s start with what film noir isn’t. While many people confuse crime movies with noir, very few fit under that umbrella. In fact, most crime films, as exuberant expressions of unbridled strength and will, are the antithesis of noir.

 

The definition of noir can perhaps be summed up most succinctly via the title of a quintessential roman noir: You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up. Translated: Film noir is always and without exception a celebration—and a lament—of the chump. Its heroes always think they know the score, only to find that virtually everything around them is actively or blindly conspiring to do them in.

 

Noir is about total paranoia. It’s also about emasculation—more specifically, about the emasculation of white males. And, as such, it’s the antithesis of the myth of the American Dream. And, as such, it’s the thing that keeps us honest—real.

 

Or at least it did until the same regressive, Puritanical forces that have recently gutted so many other vital aspects of American culture got their hands on it. The rabid ignorati, in their bratty petulance, seem to have an unerring instinct for taking down the things we all need to remain balanced, (relatively) sane, and whole.

 

Of everything we’ve lost over the past few years, the demise of noir may prove to be the one we most greatly come to regret.

 

Noir could not be allowed to live, you see, because it was deemed irredeemably misogynistic. But let’s pause for a second to define misogyny.

 

If misogyny hinges on always seeing women as inferior, servile, on denigrating them in an effort to assert the superiority of the male, then that tag can never be hung on film noir. The female characters in noir tend to be sharper—certainly more dominant—than the males—to a degree that tends to put the male protagonists literally to shame.

 

And it also needs to be said that the characters in noir, both male and female, tend to display far more shades of gender identity than the characters in any other film genre, past or present. That this isn’t done within the narrow, sterile lanes of the current rulebook makes noir’s take on gender more relevant, not less.

 

But what about that great bugaboo the femme fatale? The whole point of noir is that everything is trying to do in the male protagonist—close relations, colleagues, strangers, institutions, objects, environments—everything. So why would the female the lead feels most strongly drawn to be excluded? Wouldn’t it be logical that, given his desire to feel whole, but fearing the ferocious power of sexuality unbound, he would come to see her as his greatest threat?

 

Again, to watch noir you have to understand that everything is a paranoid perception. There are no exceptions.

 

Given all that, explain to me how noir isn’t an evisceration of traditional notions of white male power, how it somehow empowers and emboldens the oppressor.

 

And just so this whole exercise doesn’t come across as an expression of my own paranoia, let’s talk some specifics. Who perpetrated this crime? Who has noir’s blood on their hands?

 

The list is long but I think the most telling example is the freshly recruited World War II bomber crew of hosts over at Turner Classic Movies. Carefully selected to address faddish ethnic and gender stereotypes but apparently not for their understanding of film, they recite dogma, smile, then wait for someone off camera to throw them a treat rather than offer any unbiased insights into the movies they’re presenting.

 

Essentially, TCM has become a school for political re-education, looking to so drastically rewrite history that it becomes impossible to see older films on their own terms but only through the lens of the current, borderline meaningless, standards. And given that film noir remains the most subversive of genres, it should come as no surprise that it’s the body of films they have most firmly fixed in their sights.

 

TCM guts noir by turning it into propaganda. Its mannequin-like hosts will tell you all that really matters about noir is its female leads, who are all wonderfully strong, independent, and assertive—in other words, role models. The day anybody goes to noir for positive life lessons is the day the trumpet sounds, the moon turns to blood, and we break the Seventh Seal.

 

But it’s hard to say who are the guiltier criminals here—the commentators or the so-called creators, the latter largely a herd of film-school replicants safely skating atop genres they don’t understand because they’re too damned scared to look beneath the surface, cranking out bright, nasty objects without life or soul.

 

I would posit that the labyrinthine and woefully misguided rules about what can and can’t be presented, how what can be presented has to be presented, and who’s deemed acceptable to represent and present have made it impossible to create anything resembling true noir. (I originally wrote “honest” noir, but what value would the genre have if it wasn’t inherently dishonest, the shabby, disreputable home of iconoclasts, tricksters, and other miscreants who no longer have a place in the contemporary world?) The only form that could possibly survive the current puerile gauntlet is faux noir—and who needs that?

 

We seem fated to a near future—and likely further—of makers and their Pavlovian subjects who believe embracing “dark” somehow wards off true darkness, little ornamental rituals of pain somehow inoculate them against true pain, and rigidly codifying and policing behavior can protect them from any and all transgressions—i.e., reality. Self-pitying masochism provides no basis for legitimate expression. Noir has nothing to offer any tribe that silly and shallow.

 

At a time when the paucity of new releases has led to more and more people being exposed to older films for the first time, it’s never been more important to approach classic movies with due respect for the way they were originally created and perceived. How anybody could look around at the fine mess we’ve made of current society and think we’ve advanced in any meaningful way, let alone in a way that would allow us to damn the past, would be laughable if it wan’t so grisly. No other film genre is as challenging or insightful as noir. Considering it with an open mind can provide a new, healthier perspective on the present. Approach it with blinkers on and you might as well go watch a Teletubbies marathon instead.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Warner Bros. Is Setting “Wonder Woman 1984” Up for Failure

Warner Bros. Is Setting "Wonder Woman 1984" Up for Failure

In case you missed the news late last week, Warner Bros. has announced that Wonder Woman 1984—its biggest film of the year—is finally locked in for a December 25 release after months of will-they-or-won’t-they back-and-forth. Interestingly—and completely in line with the studio’s inability to take a firm stance on anything this year—the movie is being released both in commercial cinemas and on HBO Max on the same day.

 

If you didn’t know any better, you might think this is a good move. It makes the comic-book blockbuster free-to-stream for anyone who subscribes to Warner’s premium over-the-top service; and on the surface, it seems like a more charitable release than was given to Tenet, which was foisted on commercial cinemas at a time when most of them were closed.

There’s just one problem: WarnerMedia simply hasn’t done the work required to make HBO Max a viable release platform for any first-run movie, much less one with this much potential. I covered most of the reasons why in my last rant about the service: The esoteric and labyrinthine signup process, the confusing nomenclature, the fact that on the eve of 2021 a major studio’s premier streaming platform is still living in 2015 by failing to offer 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos audio.

 

The thing is, conditions are actually much worse on the ground than I made them look in that column. According to Variety, as of late September, HBO Max only had a reported 9 million subscribers, give or take, as compared with 73 million subscribers for Disney+. That’s pitiful, but this is devastating: According to the story, 70 percent of HBO subscribers—who have access to HBO Max as part of their pay subscription—haven’t even bothered to claim their free HBO Max accounts.

 

Mind you, I’m sure Warner believes WW84 will give HBO Max a huge boost, and its cat-petting executives are 

probably counting dollar signs as they fall asleep, in anticipation of a huge influx of new subscriptions. But if you can’t get 70 percent of HBO subscribers to take an HBO Max login—for free—then how do you expect to con people into paying $15 for a service that’s only available in HD? And heaven help those poor souls who decide to sign up for a 7-day free trial right before the launch of the new Wonder Woman movie, only to discover how difficult it is to access the service. (Remember, it’s still not available on Roku, by far the most popular streaming platform in the world.)

 

Simply put, if you thought Warner Bros. set Tenet up to fail in the U.S. by overhyping it and then releasing it in the midst of a pandemic, imagine how much worse things are going to be for WW84. On the day Tenet hit cinemas, we in the Colonies saw approximately 47,000 confirmed new SARS-CoV-2 infections. IHME’s conservative model currently predicts we’ll see between ~365,000 and ~543,000 new infections on Christmas Day alone, if current trends continue.

 

The best-case scenario here is that people will be ten times less likely to go see WW84 in cinemas. But guess what the entertainment headlines will be the next day if that scenario plays out? “Wonder Woman 1984 Bombs at the Box Office!” Logic be damned, the takeaway for most people seeing those headlines will be that the movie just isn’t worth watching, and its fate will be all but sealed.

 

I would imagine Warner’s response to that will be, “But look how many new HBO Max subscriptions we picked up!” And I suppose that’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility. But given that Pixar is releasing Soul the same day to the much-more-popular Disney+, I’m betting that cartoon’s viewership numbers will be the far bigger headline in the streaming news.

 

So, what could Warner have done differently? Any number of things. The ideal option would have been to build HBO Max from the ground up to support decent audio and video quality and not make it so damned difficult to access. Barring that, I think a much better option would have been to release the movie to high-quality digital platforms like Vudu and Kaleidescape on Christmas Day for $20 or $30 or $40—in glorious 4K HDR—and announce that it would be hitting HBO Max for free three or four weeks later. And for goodness’ sake, skip the theatrical exhibition altogether.

 

That would have allowed those of us who actually value reference-quality audiovisual home cinema presentations to enjoy the movie Day One, plague-free; it would have netted Warner Bros. far more in profits; and it would have also made them look like the good guys for following up with a free-to-stream option so quickly thereafter.

 

Instead, I don’t think I’m going far out on a limb here in predicting the studio’s half-ass-it-and-they-will-come approach to WW84‘s release is ultimately going to be the thing that keeps it from performing to its full potential.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

The Cineluxe Ultimate Holiday Movie Roundup

The Cineluxe Ultimate Holiday Roundup

As with our roundup of Halloween films, the goal here was to select movies that, if you decide to enjoy an evening of holiday fare, will create a consistent mood of good cheer. Each of these films is meant to evoke the Christmas spirit without wandering into the more cynical and gratuitous offerings that have encroached upon what should be a time of affirmation and celebration. 

 

Sadly, far fewer Christmas than Halloween movies are available in 4K, but we’ve ensured that everything here will look and sound great on a quality system no matter the format. 

 

To read the original review for each film. click on the image or its title.

Klaus

AVAILABLE ON

Netflix (4K HDR/Dolby Digital+ 5.1)

Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special (1988)
PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE
CHRISTMAS SPECIAL

AVAILABLE ON

Netflix (HD)

AVAILABLE ON

Kaleidescape (HD/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1)

Amazon (HD) / Apple TV (HD) 

Fandango Now (HD) / Google Play (HD)

Vudu (HD)

COMING SOON

Elf (2003)
ELF
Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL
White Christmas
WHITE CHRISTMAS
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

A Different World

A Different World

The steady drip of announcements and events that could very well signal the demise of chain movie theaters continues unabated. On the heels of Mulan going straight to Disney+, the Tenet fiasco, and the latest Bond film being held until next April, we’ve now learned that Pixar’s Soul is going to follow the same path as Mulan, earning a Christmas release on Disney+; Dune is being pushed from Christmas to October 2021; and The Batman is being banished to the incredibly distant date of March 2022. And there’s speculation Wonder Woman 1984 could be going straight to HBO Max, which would be a huge change of strategy for Warner Bros., shifting from pretty much forcing theaters to reopen so they could lose their shirts on Tenet to dumping this once-prized ode to gym memberships onto a struggling streaming service’s anemic subscriber base.

 

In another major sign of just how much things have changed, there are reports MGM tried to shop the Bond film around to Netflix et al. in lieu of a theatrical release only to find there were no takers. Is it really conceivable the latest 007 could end up 

so tarnished it could find itself in the streaming equivalent of the bargain bin?

 

It’s time for the studios to relent and take everything else they were going to hang onto until, when, Doomsday? and send it straight to the home market—something they should have done six months ago. It’s not just about the economics. In a world that bears little resemblance to the one that existed at the beginning of this year, do they really expect these movies to resonate with audiences today—let alone half a year, a year, or a year and a half down a very uncertain road? We now live in an in many ways worse and in some ways better world, but undeniably one with only a few tenuous connections to its previous incarnation.

 

The whole sad and in some ways silly tale of Tenet and the movie theaters is just another example of the kind of bass ackwards thinking that’s pretty much determined how everything has played out during the pandemic. To state what ought to be obvious (but there’s little evidence to suggest that’s so): We need to rethink our priorities. The economy isn’t some independent organism that must be fed at all costs, but a man-made and -controlled (when we want to be responsible for it) mechanism meant to serve the needs of people. In other words, it’s nothing but an artificial construct, a tool, a means to an end. Hell, at this point, I’d be happy to see us go back to the barter system—even potlatch—if it would spare us the spectacle of more human sacrifice on the mass scale.

 

Tenet has, rightly, become the poster child for everything that’s hopelessly balled up about the present moment. Something never felt right about that whole exercise in denial—even beyond the manifest irresponsibility of urging theaters to reopen in the middle of a pandemic, and Nolan’s Olympian hubris of thinking his ridiculously expensive little trifle was worth risking even a single person’s life.

 

Tenet tanked not just because releasing it was a brain-dead business decision but because it had been built up so much by Nolan, Warner Bros., and IMAX as something that had to be seen in a movie theater, that, viewed in the context of a global crisis, it ultimately felt trivial.

 

We’ve come—I believe, stupidly—to make huge emotional investments in movies, and especially franchises, when they’re almost inevitably the products of children of privilege indulging their extremely stunted emotional development.

 

Movies, honoring the hipster mantra, have become little more than diversions, distractions, one-note confections able to induce enough of a sugar high to get you to crave the next one but never able to supply enough nourishment to be in any meaningful way satisfying, elaborate yet ultimately crude devices that qualify as entertainment only in the most primitive way, and never as art.

 

I might really be dreaming here, but I’m hoping the current 

upheaval proves to be the ultimate Kryptonite or Death Star or whatever and finally frees us from the tyranny of the superhero movie. No matter how pretentious directors want to get about them, at the end of the day, they’re inherently adolescent, silly, and, worst of all, fascist (Goebbels would have loved Gal Gadot), exhibiting all the overheated excess of a form of entertainment on the verge of collapse. (Which helps to explain why they tend to lean so heavily on kitschy Late Romantic retreads for their soundtracks. Mahler, R. Strauss, and Wagner were harbingers of the imminent demise of tonality.)

 

The studios are willing to commit so much money to producing superhero movies and push them so ferociously not because they’re more entertaining than other genres, let alone because they’re more edifying and profound, but because they more readily lend themselves to merchandising and video games and they help keep the populace in an uncritical state of arrested development. At the end of the day, it’s an economic and marketing decision and never a creative one—not even close.

 

Now, I realize that decades of indoctrination have led to a culture of fantasy über alles, but I’d like to hang onto a slim hope that recent events will shake us from our stupor and get us to realize that almost every mainstream genre we’ve succumbed to since the Reagan era—and this would include action films and other heedless celebrations of war—are ultimately forms of oppression.

 

Just to be clear: The last thing I’d want to see is a world awash in earnest little dramas without flair, socially-conscious efforts that ultimately just reinforce rampant intolerance, and ambitious epics that show no understanding of the rudiments of cinema—in other words, Oscar fodder. If we’re going to reinvent the movies, let’s really strip them down and rebuild them from the ground up. And just to show that this isn’t just some vague and abstract wish, let alone an exercise in nostalgia, I’m hoping to toss out a few suggestions for reimagining in a future column.

Michael Gaughn

 

Disclaimer: My views are my own. They represent neither the general position of this website nor the opinions of any of its other contributors, who I’m pretty sure don’t much agree with me about any of this.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Sean Connery: Bond and Beyond

Sean Connery: Bond and Beyond

Sean Connery may be gone, but thanks to the magic of cinema his star will always burn bright. And quite a star he was. Connery was a classic leading man, akin to those from another era like Clark Gable or John Wayne. This, of course, is due in large part to the seven times he starred as James Bond. But he also sustained a long and successful film career beyond the Bond films. He remained a leading man for 10 or 15 years following Diamonds Are Forever and after that he became the go-to character man for another 15 years.

 

Whether he liked being associated as Bond or not, the perennial popularity of his 007 films kept his name well known to several generations of filmgoers. Featuring Sean Connery in your cast always indicated to the public that the film was an “A”

production. Just think of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

 

Although he always had a trace of his Scottish accent, the public easily accepted him in international roles. In The Hunt for Red October, he was Russian; in The Wind and the Lion, Muslim; in The Untouchables, he played Irish-American. This is no small trick, if you think about it. The reason audiences were willing to accept him in multi-faceted roles all through his career was that he simply possessed the charisma of a true movie star. Like Gable or even Charlton Heston and Gregory Peck, everyone accepted 

Connery as an archetypal hero. In the era of the anti-hero, more modern audiences could also find him believable as a well-meaning protagonist because he possessed a dark side that kept him from appearing too righteous or goody-goody.

 

In most of his best roles (including the Bond films), you were never quite sure if he was on the verge of violent action. This probably had more to do with his tough and rough upbringing in Scotland than acting chops. But the combination of great

looks, hyper masculinity, and innate intelligence made him the perfect leading man for the mid and later half of the 20th century.

 

Even though his films were mostly mainstream and action-driven fare, you felt a suggestion of classical stage training. It seems a shame he never made a film that was Shakespearean or more literally epic. In that way, he never came up to the likes of Sir Lawrence Olivier or Richard Burton. Perhaps he never found faith in the right director to venture into more challenging territory. Or perhaps the era of the sophisticated epic or truly literate cinema had passed. If he had made A Man for All Seasons-type film or even his own film version of Macbeth, he might have won a Best Actor Academy Award. It seems he never found the definitive power role that would surpass his James Bond image. But as it is, he did manage to land a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Untouchables. It was certainly a well-deserved Oscar considering his lifetime of fine and varied performances.

Sean Connery: Bond and Beyond

He did work steadily with director Sidney Lumet and their five film collaborations produced some fine features and performances, most notably The Hill, The Anderson Tapes, and Murder on the Orient Express.

 

It must be noted that in 1964, during his James Bond era, Connery also starred for Alfred Hitchcock in Marnie. It’s a good fit, and it’s a shame they didn’t try another project together. It’s easy to see why Hitchcock cast him, especially after viewing From Russia with Love. Released in 1963, a year before the Bond formula was firmly cemented with Goldfinger. From Russia with Love is the most Hitchcock-like of all the Bond films. It’s a bit short on action, but it’s layered deep with suspense, romance, and mystery.

 

Another film from that era that shows a unique side to Connery is the nearly forgotten A Fine Madness. It’s a gorgeous Technicolor black comedy. The cinematography is by Ted McCord just off his The Sound of Music job and Greenwich Village 1966 looks fabulous! In it, Connery portrays Samson Sillitoe, a nearly insane poet genius. The role enables him to cut loose in a very non-Bond way.  His co-stars are Joanne Woodward, Jean Seberg, and Colleen Dewhurst, and there is no Pussy

Sean Connery: Bond and Beyond

The Man Who Would Be King (with Michael Caine)

Galore in sight here! Today, it’s great fun to watch because of its zany mixture of genres, but in 1966 it was just a little too anti-Bond to be accepted by the critics and public. But it’s a superb example of Connery’s untapped acting range.

 

Speaking of comedy, Connery’s wry sense of humor, which comes through in most every one 

of his films, is one of the characteristics that made him unique as a leading man. Seldom does someone so masculine and sure of himself let his sense of humor shine through so effectively. That rare mixture of physical threat, sexuality, and humor is what has made him, for many, the cinema’s first and only true James Bond. Even though for years Connery resented the super-spy image he created, it did allow him to play many varied roles including Robin and Marian opposite Audrey Hepburn.  Some of his most successful films like The Man Who Would Be King and The Name of the Rose prove that he had as amazing a film career as any great star from Hollywood’s Golden Era. In fact, you could say he was a “Platinum Era” star. Darker, sexier, more knowing than his predecessors but nonetheless made up of a sturdy and rare precious metal.

Gerard Alessandrini

Gerard Alessandrini is a Tony Award-winning writer/director of musicals, best known for the long-running musical satire Forbidden Broadway and the Hamilton spoof Spamilton, both of which have been performed in theaters around the world. He has been the lyricist (and sometimes composer) for over a dozen musicals, including Madame X, The Nutcracker & I, Scaramouche, and the Paul Mazursky musical of Moon Over Parador, and has won numerous accolades, including two Lucille Lortel awards and seven Drama Desk awards. His voice can be heard in Disney’s Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas. He’s also written special-material songs for many stars, including Angela Lansbury, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, and Barbra Streisand.

Disney Turns Christie’s Big Announcement Into Old News

Disney Turns Christie's Big Announcement Into Old News

In his story about Christie Digital’s recently announced cinema-to-home movie-distribution technology, John Sciacca posed a simple question: Is this “a good or bad thing for commercial theaters“? Not to be completely contrarian here, but I think that’s the wrong question. What I wonder is whether it’s relevant at all.

 

And look, I don’t mean to dismiss Christie Digital’s technology out of hand here. To get a sense of what that technology is, exactly, and how it works, I downloaded the patent application and read it from beginning to end. What’s found within is an explanation of some pretty cool tech. What the patent makes clear (and Christie’s announcement doesn’t) is that this new distribution method won’t require the use of Christie hardware on both ends. From the patent:

As described below, these systems and methods provide a hardware based technological solution that enables the mirroring of movie theater content and the insertion of targeted advertisements to offsite locations and devices (e.g., a remotely situated projector, a user’s television or mobile device, etc.). 

In other words, once this new system goes live (assuming it actually does), you’ll be able to log into a website or an app on your phone or smart TV (or, one would hope, your streaming media player) and reserve a viewing of a film. According to images embedded in the patent, it should work just like buying tickets for a show at your local cineplex: You pick your movie,

pick your start time, then sit back and watch all of the attached trailers and promo spots for the concession stand that you would see if you were actually sitting in your local IMAX, along with a few additional ads targeted at home viewers.

 

The one extra step required (if my reading of the patent is correct) is that you may also have to select your playback resolution, as it says 4K streams may cost more than 2K streams (each of which, by the way, would be transcoded to Ultra HD [3,840 x 2,160] or HD [1,920 x 1,080] resolutions from 4,096 x 2,160 or 2,048 x 1,080 to account for the differences between digital cinema and home video formats).

 

While a cinema can have any number of “virtual” screenings, and while they don’t necessarily have to be tied to the start times of in-person screenings, the schedule of these streams will still be dictated by the cinema. So, hypothetically, if you want to start watching Dune at 7:45 and your local cinema is only streaming it at 6:30 and 9:00, you’re out of luck. (There is, buried in the patent, a provision that would allow cinemas to reserve an Integrated Media Block [IMB] and Secure Content Transcoder [SCT] on their end for single-ticket VOD purchases, but I hesitate to speculate what that luxury would cost. At least in terms of server and hardware commitments on the part of the cinema, that’s effectively the same as letting you rent out an entire auditorium, since you and you alone would be consuming the output of one virtual screening system.)

 

If all of this had come out a year or two ago when we were all still speculating about how day & date would work, you could have easily argued that Christie’s solution to first-run movie-viewing at home was the simplest and most likely to succeed.

 

Fast-forward to this dumpster-fire of a year, though, and it all seems too little too late. We’ve already seen day & date work, and it doesn’t require this convoluted Rube Goldberg reliance on someone at your local cinema pressing a button that allows you to start watching at their convenience. We’ve seen films like Onward hit Disney+ as well as other digital platforms like Kaleidescape and Vudu. We’ve seen Bill & Ted do the same. We’ve seen movies like Enola Holmes go from being prospective commercial cinema tentpoles to Netflix exclusives.

 

While we’ve seen so many potential blockbusters get pushed back and back and back again, we’ve seen others—like Hamilton—get moved forward in the release schedule and dropped right into our laps at home. And, of course, there’s Disney’s risky gamble with Mulan, which reportedly paid off big-time. So much so that the company is restructuring its media and entertainment divisions and doubling down on its commitment to streaming as the future of cinema.

In other words, Hollywood has proven to us that commercial cinemas don’t have to play a part in a viable film release. The fact that they continue to do so with certain films is a choice, pure and simple. And much like this country’s broken private-medical-insurance scam, it’s a choice that doesn’t benefit the end user in the slightest, instead benefiting only the racket-like middleman we’ve all been conditioned to believe is essential to the process.

 

When things finally go back to normal, or when we finally arrive at a new normal, and are able to safely attend mass gatherings, I have to wonder if audiences will return to commercial cinemas in anything approaching the same numbers as before. Sure, the pathological extroverts will flock to those sticky floors, busted speakers, and overpriced concessions like moths to a flame, since their own laughter and cheering is meaningless to them unless a few dozen of their closest strangers are there to affirm their emotional reactions. And it would be unfair to overlook people who don’t have high-performance AV systems at home. They benefit from a trip to the local megaplex, as well.

 

But the rest of us have been to the promised land, and we’ve learned from experience that the horse-and-buggy method of film distribution isn’t necessary anymore. And I just don’t see many of us tolerating the vestiges of a dying model (locked-in start times, forced commercials, etc.) when we know it doesn’t have to be that way. You can’t blame Christie for trying, since they have a vested interest in the success of commercial cinemas. But all of this seems to me to be a solution to a problem that doesn’t have to exist.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Is Christie’s New Patent a Theatrical Lifeline or Another Nail in the Coffin?

Is Christie's New Patent a Theatrical Lifeline?

We’ve been covering the dire circumstances surrounding commercial cinemas here at Cineluxe for some time. From the slow and methodical release-date pushback of summer blockbusters, to the eventual anemic, dismal rollout of Tenet here in the States (where I personally rented out an entire theater to watch it), to the numerous direct-to-streaming releases, to the PVOD experimentation by various studios, to Disney’s subscription-within-a-subscription trial with Mulan, to the nearly complete evaporation of any Christmas blockbuster releases—which ultimately led Regal Cinemas (the second largest chain in the US) to shutter all its cinemas in the US and UK, and then AMC (the largest chain in the States) recently announcing it could run out of cash before the end of the year—we’ve kept abreast of it all.

 

For theater owners, the hits just keep coming, and they’re all terrible. (Who would have guessed that Bond’s 00 ultimately meant he was licensed to kill a theater chain?)

 

Here at Cineluxe, we love movies and experiencing them in the best manner possible. And if you have a state-of-the-art Dolby Cinema or IMAX near you, watching a movie on a giant commercial screen can be an exhilarating experience. I think I speak for all of us when I say that, while I love watching movies in the comfort, safety, and convenience of my own

home theater, I also don’t want commercial theaters to fail and have the opportunity to have that experience go away.

 

With that preamble, Christie Digital made an announcement on Thursday (10/15) that I’m not entirely sure is a good or bad thing for commercial theaters. The company had been issued a patent “on September 22, 2020, which enables exhibitors to stream movies directly to [a customer’s] home using their current technologies in a way that supplements their existing business model.”

 

It’s interesting to note that while this patent was issued recently amidst all of the crises the theatrical-distribution model has been facing, Christie actually filed for the patent back in 2018, so it wasn’t a kneejerk reaction to recent events. Also, it seems you could certainly read something into the fact that the company held making this announcement public for nearly a month, perhaps not wanting to pile on more potentially perceived bad news for theater owners.

 

This patent means that by using Christie’s patented hardware and software packages, along with the company’s streaming and networking products, its cinema partners can “deliver content over IP networks to those at home in real time, directly from the cinema to the sofa.”

 

After a “we have to say this”-feeling intro in the press release about how much the company loves the cinema, how great the commercial experience is, and how the company hopes to see more people returning to the theatrical experience, Christie executive VP, Brian Claypool, added, “We are under no illusions as to the many challenges that exhibitors face. This technology enables exhibitors to securely show customers premium cinematic content on their own terms, opening an additional potential revenue stream, in these difficult times. Offering premium content direct to consumers is now a reality and Christie’s patented approach places the dynamics of when, how and for how much that content is made available to consumers directly in the hands of exhibitors to decide.”

 

Instead of the direct-to-home PVOD streaming where the studios keep all the revenue and commercial cinemas are completely cut out of the equation, this appears to be a potential lifeline thrown to theater owners, allowing them to not only have cinematic releases they can show to any butts they can get in seats but also capitalize on streaming titles for those who don’t want to have the commercial experience.

 

Also, since most commercial cinemas’ revenue comes from concessions—especially during a film’s opening weeks where the revenue sharing is heavily swayed in the studio’s favor—how much this would actually help cinemas is unclear. Even with them taking some piece of the streaming pie, would this option just further cement people’s habits into staying at home instead of venturing out, ultimately killing the theaters in a death by a thousand cuts?

When, in what form, and at what cost and availability this hardware/software package will arrive is also unclear. The announcement did mention “working with Christie’s integrated media block,” which is a Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI)-compliant device that ensures end-to-end security of the theatrical digital content, and said “the system will distribute high-value content to streaming devices that comply with Christie’s strict security and quality specifications.”

 

Whether these “streaming devices” will require new, proprietary hardware or could be software incorporated into something as mass-market as an AppleTV or Roku is unknown.

 

Kaleidescape is certainly known for its robust storage and data encryption—as well as having a safe-and-secure movie store for delivering high-quality digital content now supported by every major Hollywood studio—but whether Christie’s solution could be adapted and approved for use on Kaleidescape hardware is also unknown.

 

With the words “streaming,” “networking,” and “switching technologies” used in the release, it is even possible this might include something that doesn’t just sit on the network but that possibly is the network, where Christie would be in charge of the content and data stream at the router level.

 

Any concerns over quality were addressed in the release’s final paragraph, which stated it will support “from compressed H.265 streams at 4Mbps to uncompressed 8K at 120Hz at 100Gbps, with unprecedented performance and zero latency over affordable Ethernet components.”

 

That “when, how and for how much” these titles will cost is “in the hands of exhibitors to decide” would also likely result in a wide range of pricing and availability variances. Also, it’s important to note that just because Christie was awarded a patent, it doesn’t mean this technology will actually be developed or that any studios will sign off on its use with their films. However, this announcement certainly represents another piece in the constantly evolving and ever-changing landscape of film distribution, and how all the players involved are looking to adapt.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

The Movie Theater is Dead–Long Live the Movie Theater

The Movie Theater is Dead

I realize that’s a really obvious—even dopey—title, but how many chances do you get in a lifetime to write something like that and actually have it be true?

 

There’s been such a delicious, grisly irony to events as of late that it all has a premeditated, End Times kind of feel.

 

The most over-hyped director in Hollywood irresponsibly insists on having his film released in theaters—and it becomes possibly the biggest tentpole turkey of all time, causing the movie theaters, operating at a loss, to go sour on the other new 

films waiting in the wings. In fact, Tenet tanked so badly that Warner Bros. finally blinked and opted to not send The Witches to theaters but straight to HBO Max instead.

 

Then, when MGM decided to hold the release of the next installment of the seemingly interminable Bond series for another six months, the owners of the Regal chain, sensing that the latest Wonder Woman dumbshow likely won’t be enough to sustain them until then—assuming it even makes it to theaters—decided it’s time to close their doors, maybe forever.

 

Like it was all that hard to see any of this coming. And like it wouldn’t have been a lot more responsible—and possibly profitable—for the studios to have sent their theatrical slates straight to the home market—like, to the place where people are actually watching movies instead of to the place where they wished they were watching them. (Disney made that work, big time, with Mulan—but why would they want to listen to Disney?)

 

You have to feel bad for any lower-echelon people who might be losing their jobs because of all this, but civilization did just fine in the wake of the arrival of the automated loom, and there’s no reason to think this will be any different. But you can’t feel bad for the owners of the theater chains. They had all done a lousy job for decades of making their properties suitable for actually watching movies. And when they finally woke up to the threat posed by radically improved home viewing, it was way, way, way too late. All the pandemic has done is accelerate the inevitable.

 

But I don’t want to dwell on that very steep downside because the future, oddly, couldn’t look brighter. That is, if you’re talking about the future of watching movies—and about the future of movie theaters, if you’re willing to call any home space that can match or exceed the experience of a commercial cinema a movie theater.

 

As I was writing up a review of The Shining to post later this week, I realized we’ve reached a tipping point with luxury home cinema. We’ve all sensed this coming for a while, and we’ve frequently documented the various developments here on the site. (Vide the sidebar to the immediate left for a sampling.) But the proliferation of big-screen displays capable of cinema-level performance, the 4K release of what would have normally been theatrical titles straight to the home market, and the rush to meet the increased demand for home viewing by upping catalog titles to 4K HDR has created a world where having a movie-theater-quality experience at home is shifting rapidly from being the exception to the rule.

 

As the rise of that market continues to accelerate, you can expect to see the number of older titles receiving the 4K HDR treatment accelerate as well. Sure, every new format has meant seeing the studios shine up their catalogs so they can trot them out yet one more time. But no previous format could match that movie theater experience. This one can. And that changes everything.

 

Both the gear and the playback have gotten to be so good that even putting together a basic system for a secondary room can result in performance that can at least match your local theater (when it’s open). And what you can achieve with a professionally engineered and calibrated system can blow any commercial theater out of the water.

 

We do need some commercial theaters, but only a few, and 

only as revival houses and for savoring the occasional (increasingly rare) film that really deserves a big, big screen. As for chain theaters, who needs ‘em?

 

At a time when it can be damn hard to find an upside to anything, we can at least look forward to a flood of titles once meant for theaters heading straight to the home, and an increasing profusion of older titles looking better than they ever have. All of it to be enjoyed comfortably, on our own schedule, and on a personal system that puts any cineplex auditorium to shame. As a temporary refuge from the raging nuttiness of the outside world, I’ll take that any day.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

The Cineluxe Ultimate Halloween Movie Roundup

Reviews: Halloween Movies

We’ve gathered films that, if you decided to pluck out 2 or 3 or 4 and make an evening out of them, would create the perfect Halloween mood. We’ve opted for thrills and scares over sadism, steering clear of gratuitous atrocities, while maintaining a certain twisted style. We’ve also opted for quality presentation, selecting films that, when viewed together, will maintain the illusion you’ve settled in for the night at your favorite movie theater.

 

To read the original review for each film. click on the image or its title.

Alien (1979)

AVAILABLE ON

Kaleidescape (4K HDR/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1)

Amazon (4K HDR/5.1) / Apple TV (4K HDR/5.1)

Fandango Now (4K HDR/5.1) / Vudu (4K HDR/5.1)

Google Play (HD/5.1) / HBO Max (HD/5.1) 

The Birds (1963)

AVAILABLE ON

Kaleidescape (4K HDR/DTS-HD Master Audio stereo)

Apple TV (4K HDR/stereo)
Fandango Now (4K HDR/stereo)

Vudu (UHD)

Amazon (HD) / Google Play (HD)

Castle Rock

AVAILABLE ON

Hulu (4K/5.1)

Amazon (HD/5.1) / Fandango Now (HD/5.1)

Google Play (HD/5.1) / Kaleidescape (HD/5.1)

Vudu (4K HD/5.1)

Ed Wood

AVAILABLE ON

Amazon (HD/stereo) / Apple TV (HD/stereo)
Google Play (HD/stereo) / Fandango Now (HD/stereo)
Vudu (HD/stereo)

It (2017)
IT (2017)

AVAILABLE ON

Kaleidescape (4K HDR/Dolby TrueHD Atmos)

Fandango Now (4K HDR/5.1) / Vudu (4K HDR/5.1)

Amazon (HD/5.1) / Google Play (HD/5.1)

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

AVAILABLE ON

Amazon (HD) / Apple TV (HD)

Fandango Now (HD) /  Vudu (HD)

Psycho (1960)

AVAILABLE ON

Kaleidescape (4K HDR/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1)

Apple TV (4K HDR/5.1) /  Vudu (4K HDR/5.1)

Fandango Now (4K HDR/5.1)

Amazon (HD/5.1) / Google Play (HD/5.1)

The Shining (1980)

AVAILABLE ON

Kaleidescape (4K HDR/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1)

Apple TV (4K Dolby Vision/5.1)

Fandango Now (4K HDR/5.1) / Vudu (4K HDR/5.1)

Google Play (4K/5.1)

Amazon (HD/5.1)

Beetlejuice

AVAILABLE ON

Kaleidescape (4K HDR/Dolby TrueHD Atmos)

Apple TV (4K Dolby Vision/Dolby Digital+ Atmos)

Vudu (4K HDR/Dolby Digital+ Atmos)

Fandango Now (4K HDR/5.1) / Google Play (4K HDR/5.1)

Amazon (HD/5.1)

Dracula (2020)

AVAILABLE ON

Netflix (4K Dolby Vision/Dolby Digital+ Atmos)

Eraserhead

AVAILABLE ON

Amazon (HD/stereo) / Apple TV (HD/stereo)
Google Play (HD/stereo) / Criterion Channel (HD/stereo)
Vudu (HD/stereo)

The Invisible Man (2020)

AVAILABLE ON

Kaleidescape (4K HDR/Dolby TrueHD Atmos)

Apple TV (4K Dolby Vision/Dolby Digital+ Atmos)

Vudu (4K HDR/Dolby Digital+ Atmos)

Fandango Now (4K HDR/5.1)

Amazon (HD/5.1) / HBO Max (HD/5.1)

Jaws

AVAILABLE ON

Kaleidescape (4K HDR/Dolby TrueHD Atmos)

Apple TV (4K Dolby Vision/Dolby Digital+ Atmos)

Fandango Now (4K HDR/5.1) / Vudu (4K HDR/5.1)

Amazon (HD/5.1) / Google Play (HD/5.1)

HBO Max (HD/5.1)

Midsommar

AVAILABLE ON

Kaleidescape (4K HDR/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1)

Apple TV (4K Dolby Vision/Dolby Digital+ Atmos)

Vudu (4K HD10 /Dolby Digital+ Atmos)

Amazon (4K HDR10/5.1) / Fandango Now (4K)

Google Play (HD)

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

AVAILABLE ON

Kaleidescape (HD/Dolby True HD stereo)

Amazon (HD/stereo) / Apple TV (HD/stereo)

Fandango Now (HD/stereo) / Google Play (HD/stereo) 

Vudu (HD/stereo)

Stranger Things 3

AVAILABLE ON

Netflix (4K Dolby Vision/Dolby Digital+ Atmos)

The Films That Made “Star Wars,” Pt. 3

The Films That Made Star Wars, Pt. 3

633 Squadron

If you wanted to, you could spend years watching the westerns and samurai flicks that in one way or another influenced Star Wars, but there is another essential element of this pop-culture collage we can’t overlook. Namely: World War II movies.

 

In editing the film’s final space battle, Lucas famously cut together footage from old war pictures to inspire the special effects team at Industrial Light & Magic, specifically to give them the sense of pacing and movement he was looking for in the dogfights. He would also go on to splice these scenes into the working print of Star Wars to serve as animatics and editing placeholders. If you’d like to see some of the films he used, I would recommend The Dam Busters (which was a huge inspiration for the trench-run attack on the Death Star), as well as The Bridges at Toko-Ri and 633 Squadron.

 

These can be a bit tough to find in good quality, but The Bridges at Toko-Ri is available on Kaleidescape (in standard-definition only, sadly) and you can find 633 Squadron for rent on Amazon. The Dam Busters has been released on Blu-ray in Europe, but I’m not aware of any HD release available to American viewers.

For a fun look at the parallels, check out this YouTube video mashup of the imagery from 633 Squadron combined with the soundtrack of Star Wars (and ignore the unnecessary potshots at The Dam Busters—it’s still a relevant influence).

 

Needless to say, if you want to fully understand the roots of Star Wars, you 

also need to consider the influence of classic science-fiction on the film. Again, Star Wars is most decidedly not sci-fi, but it certainly looks like it in places.

 

To see where Lucas got the inspiration to attempt space battles the likes of which no one had ever seen onscreen before, look to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick practically redefined what was possible with the special effects in this film, and Lucas would go on to borrow many of the technicians who made that possible.

 

Stuart Freeborn, who created the apes at the beginning of 2001, would go on to create Chewbacca, as well as many of the creatures found in the Mos Eisley cantina (as well as Yoda in the next film). Lucas attempted to hire 2001‘s effects supervisor 

Douglas Trumbull but Trumbull turned him down, likely due to his commitment to work on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Dune

 

If you want to experience 2001 in its best form, I cannot recommend the Kaleidescape 4K/HDR release highly enough. The film is also available on most digital retailers in 4K, but the highly detailed cinematography really deserves the pixel-perfect transfer available on Kaleidescape.

 

Speaking of Dune, we can’t overlook the influence that sci-fi epic had on Star Wars. The similarities are, at times, striking. Desert planet? Check. Fascist galactic emperor? Check. Youthful chosen one with magical abilities? Check. Hell, Star Wars even calls its elicit substances “spice” as a homage to Dune. Of course, it bears repeating, Star Wars is not science fiction, and it could not be narratively or thematically more different from Dune. But Lucas certainly stole elements from the original novel where he saw fit. And there’s also reason to suspect that he was, in some ways, influenced by the mid-’70s film adaptation of Dune that never got made.

 

Check out the excellent 2013 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune for more details on this, but the short story is that Jodorowsky created a massive illustrated bible and script for his adaptation that was shopped around to every major studio in Hollywood in an attempt to secure the last $5 million needed to flesh out his budget. He failed in that respect, and the film never got made, but you can see 

elements of his storyboards and designs in everything from Alien to Prometheus to Mike Hodges’ 1980 Flash Gordon film to, yes, even Star Wars.

 

Whatever you do, though, please avoid at all costs David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Dune (which, by the way, he directed after turning down the chance to helm Return of the Jedi). It remains to be seen how successful Denis Villeneuve’s new adaptation will be, but for now, the only good Dune movie is the one about why a good Dune movie was never made. 

Jodorowsky’s Dune is available on Kaleidescape, as well as most other digital movie retailers.

 

Two last influences you can’t overlook if you want to understand Star Wars (more from a storytelling than cinematic point of view) are the works of Joseph Campbell and J.R.R. Tolkien.

 

The Lord of the Rings was 

not, of course, adapted to film until well after Star Wars was made, but the book certainly had a powerful influence on young George Lucas, which you can see in the numerous parallels between them. Consider, for example, the similarities between the overall narrative arc of Fellowship of the Ring and A New Hope: Young lad raised by a relative (second cousin once removed in one work, uncle in the other) befriends a mysterious wizard and goes on a quest to defeat evil. You can also see direct correlations between specific scenes, such as the sacrifice of Gandalf/Obi-wan so the young lad and his party can escape. And if you want to extend this to the entire trilogy, there are even more similarities. Compare, for example, the death of Anakin Skywalker in Return of the Jedi to the death of Théoden in Return of the King.

 

While Lucas only had the original book as inspiration, we of course have Peter Jackson’s epic cinematic trilogy to enjoy (which, coincidentally, was itself inspired in parts by Star Wars). You can read more about that adaptation here.

 

Lastly, you can largely thank Joseph Campbell for Lucas’ ability to look at all of these disparate works of inspiration and pull from them exactly the right elements he needed to craft something that felt new and fresh, while also being evocative. Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth is a fantastic PBS series from 1998 that explores the author’s work on mythology, namely the common elements of all myths and how they serve as metaphors for the human experience. You can purchase all six episodes of this incredible interview series on Amazon, but if you’re itching for some deeper reading, I also recommend Campbell’s seminal work The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Without this book, there would be no Star Wars as we know it today. And if you need proof of that, just check out J. W. Rinzler’s comic book series The Star Wars, an adaptation of one of the last drafts of the original film before Lucas discovered Campbell’s work and transformed his own story to fit the template of the monomyth. It was between this draft and the final script that Star Wars would transform from light science-fiction into epic fantasy, and the differences—narratively, symbolically, and thematically—couldn’t be starker.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.