On my way up the tube escalator, I stare at the posters that line the walls. Charity fun runs, exclusive estate agents, gyms offering extraordinary weight loss in an improbably short period of time. Then something catches my eye: rows of people sat in front of a cinema screen, the London skyline lit up behind them. It looks brilliant. Watching a film on a cool summer night with a spectacular view of iconic London landmarks. The magic of cinema transposed into a modern urban setting. Gone are the plain out of town multiplexes in shopping centres, instead this cinema in the heart of a global city. The event was probably very expensive, even considering the outrageous prices charged by some cinemas, but worth it for the experience.
I am the target audience for this event and others like it. I fit into the correct consumer demographic; someone who describes themselves as "passionate" about film in consumer surveys. I am young, urban, liberal, interested in culture, professional, modern, with no children and in possession of disposable income. I am someone who values experience over possessions, who thinks being well travelled is more important than owning a good car. I am a cliché of the late twentysomething, early thirtysomething Londoner, writing this blog post on an Apple product in a chain coffee shop.
A range of products and experiences have risen to cater for this lucrative demographic, one of the few that feels wealthy – or, at least, is not concerned about personal debt. These products includes secret cocktail bars, immersive zombie survival theatre and restaurants with unusual themes. All have the inflated prices that comes with urban chic. Rooftop Film Club is just another example of this.
Do not mistake any of the above for a criticism - these events are a lot of fun and usually put on with dazzling creative flair and attention to detail. They are experiences perfectly crafted to make you feel like you are a part of something exclusive, something special. Life would become boring if it only consisted of the same pubs, TV shows, books, etc, and these unusual events provide the variety which keeps life interesting. London is an expensive, crowded, noisy, dirty place to live, and these unique experiences make life in the capital worth living, they remind you how magical London can be. I feel very fortunate to be in a position (in terms of time and money) to experience some of them.
A lot of these experiences include new ways of exhibiting film. I am certainly in favour of deconstructing what a film screening is and taking it in new directions. Film screenings should not be confined to multiplexes or the basements of independent DVD shops. The ways of experiencing film should be as diverse as film itself. Also it is a great idea to combine the screening of a film with complementary experiences, from meals to immersive theatre. This process of bringing the film to life while still keeping the immersive experience intact is a fantastic new way to experience cinema.
You can probably sense a rather large ‘but’ coming in the near future. Changing the way we exhibit film is a positive thing but the films on offer are becoming increasingly generic. These new screening events typically choose successful films from the 70s, 80s and 90s - Star Wars, Back to the Future, Shawshank Redemption - great films from the heyday of blockbusters, when they were still fresh and original. Alternatively they show the most mainstream franchise blockbusters from today, the Marvel shared universe, the DC shared universe, reboots of classic films series and TV shows - Mad Max, The Avengers, The Man From UNCLE. The ways of exhibiting films are getting more interesting while the films themselves are getting duller.
This is a process we are seeing across mainstream cinema as a whole. The multiplexes are investing in new projection technology and sound systems to make the cinema experience more immersive. The range of food and drink being offered is expanding beyond popcorn and Galaxy Minstrels. New and exciting ways of watching films are starting up from curated online streaming services like MUBI, to events like Hot Tub Cinema. The multiplexes have never been shinier but Hollywood's rising levels of risk adversity means our choice of film is getting narrower. We can choose between different competing superhero franchises, actions movies into embarrassingly high number of sequels, or formulaic vehicles for stars and directors who should have retired a long time ago to make way for new wave of original cinema. There is a limit to how fancy you can make a multiplex to cover up how uninspiring the films are.
Events like Rooftop Film Club, Hot Tub Cinema or Secret Cinema rely heavily on the good films from the past. This partly due to the cost of acquiring prints of new films and the fact that if you are going to spend north of £50 on a cinema trip, most people would prefer to know they will enjoy the film. Still, this reliance of successful blockbusters of the past only underlines how humdrum modern blockbusters have become.
We are drowning in sequels, remakes and adaptations and there is barely an original film in sight. This is partly why events like Rooftop Film Club are popular, as they are a way to breathe novelty back into the cinema-going experience in an age where novelty is too risky for the big budgets of mainstream blockbusters.
There is nothing wrong with events such as Rooftop Film Club, which I have perhaps unfairly focused on in this article. The cinema experience these new film exhibitions offer is interesting and innovative. Seeing a classic film on a hot summer night with one of the world's most iconic skylines around you is a once in a lifetime experience. My source of disappointment is that events like this are necessary to keep people like me passionate about cinema because the regular cinema going experience is so devoid of passion.
I would prefer more original films in regular, boring, cinemas to boring films and original ways of showing them. I would happily make that trade to have some more variety from Hollywood. Rooftop Film Club and similar events are fantastic ways to enjoy film as well as injecting some originality into the medium. However, they are, at best, a temporary fix to the problems of Hollywood becoming increasingly risk adverse. As films become increasingly similar and fans are offered less choice, people will turn away from the medium and interesting ways of showing films will not stop this. As much as I enjoy original ways of screening films, I would prefer some original films.