We picked a really funny time to open a movie theatre.
Maybe not “funny ha ha,” but film exhibition sure is in a strange place here at the end of 2012. This business is on the crest of a big change and many small cinemas are in serious danger of being left behind.
I often tell people the story about how when our cinema was built in 1927 it was designed with the possibility in mind that this new talking picture thing was just a fad, so behind the screen is a space that could very easily be made into a vaudeville house. Because of course vaudeville wasn’t going anywhere. While movies are pretty clearly here to stay (gosh I hope so) Sun-Ray is in the process of updating its projection equipment to meet the changing presentation requirements (I hesitate to call them standards for reasons I’ll go into later) of the 21st century. I suppose in some ways it’s been a long time coming. Though presentation has certainly improved as new technology has become available over the last hundred odd years, the format in which we’ve watched film has not changed. Until now.
While there is some TEENY TINY debate on which format is better (digital is not there yet!) this is clearly being hastily brought about due to the $$$ signs in the studios’ eyes. It costs some serious moolah to strike 35mm prints and ship them around but to create a digital print on a harddrive and ship that is way cheaper. The problem with this is that they are not swapping out a standard that can last as long as film has lasted us. They are forcing all of us to spend quite a bit of dough on new projection equipment that will be outdated in 3 years. Remember how your Betamax tape was the best ever format, then Hi-Fi VHS came along, then DVD then, and then and then and then? Creating more and more junk. On a 35mm projector we can project the same film from 1920 as P.T. Anderson’s The Master. We don’t create things that last any longer.
This discussion could go on forever, and we would be glad to chat further — try Tim for sure, he’s got some super perspective on it — but we’ve got an interesting little “case in point” right here at Sun-Ray for the next two weeks.
Leading up to the release Paul Thomas Anderson’s new I’m-gonna-have-to-watch-this-twice-more-at-least THE MASTER we received I don’t know how many emails and phone calls asking if we will play the film in the highly hyped 70mm. There are only a handful of these prints and while I think the promotion of their existence is a little gimmicky it’s a gimmick I would certainly go for if I lived in one of the few burgs that has a chance to experience it so of course I’m disappointed to have to say no.
But then I get to say this:
Sun-Ray Cinema is the only theater in Jacksonville playing THE MASTER on film.
Yes, it’s 35mm film. My joke that I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing is that all you have to do is see it twice to get all 70mm of PTA goodness. But every other theatre in town is screening this film digitally.
When we convert to digital in the coming months it will broaden our opportunities to play films, and ultimately allow us to continue. Studios are striking less and less prints and not to burst anyone’s First Coast Forever bubble or nothing but Jacksonville, FL is not on the top of any distributor’s priority list when it comes to a limited print count. However it is keeping our 35mm rig, and indeed expanding upon it as we pick up extra gear that others are tossing, that truly distinguishes us from theaters that will no longer be able to screen classic (or just campy) films that haven’t been digitized. And, of course, when playing a film that is worthwhile to screen on 35mm — my love of 21 JUMP STREET is strong but not much would have been lost with a digital print — we have the option to do so.
And don’t just see THE MASTER because it’s in the soon-to-be archaic 35mm here. Do see it because it is an absolute blast, a glimpse into what drives us as human beings from the perspectives of several slightly warped and totally delightful characters, and of course because it is positively gorgeous to look at, anywhere, anytime. But here you get to eat one of our delicious handmade pizzas and drink a frosty, frosty beer while you enjoy the one of a kind experience we continue to offer.
Not to toot our own horn (toot toot!) or nothing….