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September 2001, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 18 Sep 2001 22:16:05 +0100
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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Apropos [log in to unmask] remarks:

You can find good theatrical presentation, bad theatrical presentation,
good DVD transfers and bad ones.  It's impossible to make generalisations
based on a single theatre or disc.

A modern multiplex in the hands of a good projectionist and an operator who
values presentation quality (i.e. one who invests in training
projectionists and providing realistic technical staffing levels) is likely
to offer high-quality presentation.  These buildings are specifically
designed to house cinema auditoria and nothing else, so acoustics, sight
lines and so on will all be good.  The equipment will all be reasonably new
and high quality, because these people want to avoid expensive downtime and
repair bills, and have as much routine maintenance as possible done by site
staff (rather than bringing engineers in).

There are drawbacks, though.  Many operators cut corners by reducing staff
levels (e.g. one projectionist to cover 20 screens), and because of the
nature of these beasts the technical expertise available will not always be
focused (excuse the pun) on high quality film handling and presentation.
Simply put, your multiplex projectionist is likely to be far more of an
expert on the air conditioning system than on winding film without
scratching it, because a hot and stuffy auditorium will always elicit more
complaints than a knackered print.  And your average multiplex is very
unlikely to have the lenses and aperture plates needed to show rare and
obsolete film formats.  With the US cinema exhibition industry in recession
and one chain filing Chapter 11 after another, I can't see this situation
getting any better on your side of the pond, somehow...

City centre cinemas and rep houses start with a greater handicap.  Very
often the buildings are converted from ones originally designed for another
purpose, or are large auditoria which have been 'twinned' or 'tripled', so
the acoustics and sightlines may well be less than perfect.  Without the
backing of big business, the projection equipment probably won't be state
of the art.  I've worked both as a projectionist and a service technician
in some of these places and some of the home made 'solutions' I've seen in
them are amazing.  The staffing situation can be even worse - quite often
the projectionist is also the person who also sells the tickets, sells the
ice cream and generally does everything.  I remember advising one such
person that a projector's intermittent unit needed its oil changed - three
months later I came back to find a bottle of supermarket vegetable oil (the
sort you'd fry eggs in) sitting on the porthole sill!

The only thing I'd suggest is that if you are constantly subjected to bad
presentation at a particular venue, meow and hiss at the manager to do
something about it, and if that doesn't work, meow and hiss at his or her
boss.  Bad presentation will only be fixed if management believes it's
costing them customers.

Dr. Leo Enticknap
Director, Northern Region Film and Television Archive
School of Law, Arts and Humanities
Room M616, Middlesbrough Tower
University of Teesside
Middlesbrough  TS1 3BA
United Kingdom
Tel. 01642 384022
Brainfryer: 07710 417383

Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite