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Dumbing down

The rise and fall of the Ro***   Cinema exhibition industry

The following essays are reflective of social views and are not documented as officially representing cinema history.   However we must accept that cinema is a reflection of society, which includes our social conditioning, good, bad, moral and immoral.   Therefore at the 'shadow level' as  Carl Jung   would say, cinema is also supplying an addictive medium that hooked the majority of the human population.   The social addiction to cinema attracted the interest of organised crime which gained a foothold from the wealth it created during the era of US prohibition and the following Great Depression.

Public Enemy No1 (James Cagney) Hollywood's obsession with glorifying organised crime can be humorously seen as a reflection of its involvement at a passive level.   The positive aspects of criminal management is its ruthlessness of control which initially helped the industry to thrive.   But this behaviour of control also turned the cinema industry into a partially closed shop at virtually every level   (production - distribution - exhibition).

In the 1930s gullible Australian politicians willingly sold out their own cinema industry, by giving US film distributors illegal monopoly rights and tax advantages for nothing more than the opportunity to be photographed with Hollywood stars.

The days of its tainted history are long gone,   but the reminisces of it being a closed shop has remained and sustained its isolation.   Blinded by tradition and internal conformity with dated management practices, resulted in its obsession with cost cutting and silly prices for popcorn.

The cinema exhibition industry's major problem is that it continues to aggressively defended itself from outside influences particularly the broader entertainment industry.   This brought about its first un-doing by failing to integrate with the emerging Television industry in the 1950s which resulted in large numbers of cinemas being closed.

Failing to learn from its history, the cinema industry wasted further resources in a futile attempt to block the marketing of VCRs in the early 1980s.   This can be seen as laughable when viewed from todays perspective.   But again along with the record companies they appear to refuse to learn anything from the past and remain blind about their need to integrate with the broader entertainment industry by investing in the future, but continue to waste effort and resources trying to stop DVD piracy and internet downloads.

It can be argued that the McDonaldized multiplexes caused further reduction of audience numbers which in turn resulted in further cost cutting which further escalated the downward spiral of audience attendance.

When asked of a senior director of one of the largest cinema chains   "What are your contingency plans for the future in the event of failing attendance attendance and home cinema?"   he responded:   "We don't have any".

Hi-camp culture

Film distributors and reviewers rarely if ever mention anything of honouring the individuals behind the technology in film production, exhibition performance, or formats in which films are shown.   Film reviewing is an extension of film distribution.   Reviewing and marketing is mostly biased toward emotional opinions and adorational worshiping of stars.

The technological marvels of 70mm wide screen and Cinerama during the 1950s inspired many people particularly children with vision and focus beyond themselves which led to putting man on the moon.   Whereas the marketing of celebrity worshiping has a negative influence on many people to think inward of themselves in comparison for goals that are un-achievable, re-enforcing consumerism.

Star worship behaviour also existed in ancient Roman times and later with Opera.   But with cinema this behaviour has become greatly exaggerated - why ?

The US had an appalling history during the 1950s of brutal marginalisation of those described as black, communist or gay.   Many talented people were only able to gain limited artistic freedom and economic security within the arts entertainment, and cinema industry,   in which it is said to be dis-proportionately represented.

As much as this subject is taboo in reference to political correctness, we have to accept that Gay culture has enriched our world with creative expression throughout recorded history.   Those of us that work within the arts industries are so accustomed to it as being natural we could not imagine it as being otherwise.

But cinema has uniquely created a separate Hi-camp culture, represented as neurotic, image driven, self-obsessed which is reflected in the fabricated infantile behaviour of Hollywood female stars.   This expression of extreme and vulgar narcissism served up as art, has undoubtedly offended a large percentage of the population.

The 1961 film of  'Breakfast at Tiffanys'  by Blake Edwards   launched the screen image of Audrey Hepburn as the iconic classic example of narcissistic art.   The real Audrey Hepburn is someone completely different.   These type of films and the genre they represent are ideally suited to 35mm and certainly would have no added economic value exhibited in 70mm wide screen format.

The Hi-camp culture of film reviewing reacted to 70mm widescreen and earlier Cinerama as if it were a threat.   David Lean who created   'Lawrence of Arabia'   was later singled out in 1970 after he completed   'Ryan's Daughter'   and was mercilessly attacked by star worshiping reviewers.   This action symbolised the end of wide screen.

One possible explanation is that hi-tech wide-screen innovation inadvertently represented an economic challenge, diverting mass attention from the artificially created celebrity stars, on which the economics of the industry that the Hi-camp culture was controlling were based.

However these events are also meant to represent a broader view of the public.   It is commonly believed that many people only relate to a film in how it emotionally effects themselves with no added capacity to externally view a film in terms of its music, cinematography or exhibition quality.   Hearing people describe their experience of the film  'The English Patient'  is an example supporting this point.

A similar view of social non-discernment is of a low budget film made with 16mm grainy film stock, poor depth of field and colour, not well edited and exhibited on the narrowest screen format.   But contrasted with an excellently written story and exceptional acting, for which it gets 5 star celebrity worshiping reviews, with Oscar nominations, where nothing of the poor cinemaphotoghraphy and poor exhibition quality is mentioned.

Later directors including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas who were inspired by David Lean, produced high technological productions, successfully challenged the traditional marketing of fabricated stars and were able to become known in their own right   'Indiana Jones' and 'Star Wars' etc.   This reflects the duality of the cinema industry and society.

One of the positive aspects of reality TV is that stardom is now attainable to any non-talented person in the street.   This has positively undermined the effectiveness of Hollywood's ability to market its fabricated stars.

Historians often state that history is a subject written to justify the present.   Whether this view of Hi-camp culture had influence on previous directions and further demise of the cinema exhibition industry has any basis in fact, will remain unknown.   However it could be a good script for a film.

Dumbing down
audio compression

Dumbing down   is a term often used to represent films that are created for the lowest intellectual level in the belief that this will give the largest short term economic return.   As much as we wish to believe this is so, there appears to be no statistical evidence to support it.   However this is an alternate view as to what the term 'Dumbing down' can refer to.

Marshall McLuhan  a modern philosopher of the 20th centaury described in detail the effects of technology and communication mediums on human consciousness and coined the phrase   'The medium is the message'.   McLuhan's theory was that a medium affects the society not by the content it conveys, but by the characteristic of the medium itself.
Wikipedia Marshall McLuhan

A experiment was conducted on two groups of senior high school students, with the film   'Six degrees of separation',   a dialogue rich intelligently crafted play by John Guare.

Group A were shown the film with an excellent stereo sound system in an acoustically damped room.   The students were attentive, enjoyed the film and later were able to give an accurate account of the story.   70% stated they wish to view the film a second time.

Group B were shown the film with a cheap home-cinema sound system in a reverberant room and the audio track was dynamically compressed within 10dB.   Particular care was taken to insure the sound level was at the same loudness for both groups.

Group B experienced the film as boring, constantly agitated and miss-behaved during the screening.   When later questioned they were unable to accurately describe the story.   0% stated they wish to view the film a second time.

Not one person in each group made any mention of their awareness to sound.   This proved that sound quality has a large un-conscious effect on our experience of a film and directly effects our ability to understand the story.

Regardless of how well a script is written, excessive use of dynamic compression, poor sound system quality and room reverberation, makes the dialogue less intelligible and increases listening fatigue.

Without clear un-compressed dialogue it is difficult to attain intellectual depth or meaning.   Loss of intelligibility also causes the listener to misinterpret the dialogue and therefore not understand the story.   The problem is made worse when the background music and sound effects mask the dialogue, causing the sound to appear as a background wash of noise behind the picture.   How we often need to play back repeatedly to understand a word or phrase.

The misuse of excessive dynamic compression which has the unfortunate side effect to dumb-down films is driven by ignorance and trend;  not by educated understanding.   If anyone has come across similar research please email the information so it can also be referenced from this site.

Technical and creative skills

Traditionally, people on the visual side of film making are more technically skilled in their craft than the audio people are in theirs, and sound people are often poorly paid by comparison; but there are exceptions.   The division of quality in the professional skills of film making has resulted in limited communication and added conflicts within the film making process.   Sound recording people (sometimes described as 'Sound engineers') rarely have electronic or electro-acoustic knowledge.

The major problem is an appalling lack of quality education.   There is a high proportion of questionable audio recording schools.   Most schools focus on trends and audio jargon, rather than teaching the basics of the technology.   Time is often wasted on the superficial use of computer packages and twiddling knobs on mixing consoles.   'The good sound knob'   is described as the largest one on a dynamic compressor-limiter.

At the 1999 four-day international conference on 'Film Scores and Sound Design' in Melbourne, including later conferences, there was no mention of electro-acoustic technology or technical management of surround sound formats, nor the results of audience experience in excessive reverberant cinemas.   Many conferences and sound workshops are promoted by companies marketing their products.

Closing note

Our general interest is in the improvement of cinema sound.   The past problems of cross contamination of the A and B chains, including misunderstandings of auditorium acoustics, and failure to universally adopt a single full fidelity loss-less digital audio format had unfortunately been influenced from an industry that had difficulty in accepting sound fidelity as important as the picture.

The word   'cinema'   is now synonymous with the word   'home'   and has become trivialised as   'home-cinema'.   The traditional commercial cinema exhibition industry of multiplexes are unlikely to survive and may eventually be closed.

However from the ashes of the past we hopefully have a new opportunity with a younger breed of entrepreneurial management that will grasp the initiative, and invest sufficient capital to create large scale cinematic entertainment centres, where sound and vision will finally be brought into an equal partnership.

The dream George Lucas initially stated over 30 years ago of the importance of sound will eventually evolve with the future of digital technology, enabling the young in all of us, regardless of age   "to be beamed up and blown away".

End of Topic 10
Created: 16-Dec-2008