Films about cinemas
There have been many films about film-making. My personal favourite remains François Truffaut’s La Nuit Américaine (Day for Night, 1973). Even the title refers to the medium’s deception. But I am hard-pressed to think of many films about cinemas, the exhibition end of the film chain.
Even one of the most cinéphile nations, France, has tackled the theme sparingly. Truffaut makes several autobiographical references to cinemas, notably in Les Quatre Cent Coups (1959) and again in La Nuit Américaine. In a restless dream in the latter he remembers his childhood self stealing lobby cards of Citizen Kane through the shutters of the cinema. Jean-Luc Godard has a scene in Les Carabiniers (1963) in which one of the gunmen naively leaps onto the stage to see where the pictures are coming from. However, the subject of that film is not the cinema, except to the extent that all Godard’s films are about the cinema.
Two films from either end of a spectrum of views about the cinema. At the joyful end Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988), with its evocation of the child-like magic of moving pictures. At the sad end, The Smallest Show on Earth (Basil Dearden, 1957). The depressed atmosphere of this light comedy must have been poignant at the time. Cinema in the UK had already gone through a decade of decline that was yet to have its onset in continental Europe, athough it was then imminent. The theme is essentially the same as in You’ve Got Mail (Nora Ephron, 1998)—itself a sort-of remake of The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940). The little local cinema cannot survive against the shiny super cinema. For the regular cinemagoers who still turned up at the box office, watching this film must have been rather like contemplating the move into an old people’s home. Of course, even many of the shiny super cinemas disappeared over the coming years.
Both these films—and the previous references—were nostalgic about the cinema’s past, or cinemas of the past. So too was Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo, where the scenes on the screen and in the audience become confounded in true metafictional manner. (More on metafiction upcoming in this place.) Perhaps film-makers do not consider cinemas as attractive thematically as their own studios (or do I mean navels?). Even multiplexes could be interesting. You’d think that if films are reckoned to influence public behaviour, people in films would be shown going to the cinema more often—pour encourager les autres.
What have I missed or forgotten?