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Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017

Is Marshall Cinema Dying?

Posted Tuesday, November 18, 2008, at 12:06 AM

Do you want to see the new James Bond in the theater?
I've been publishing this blog on the Marshall Democrat-News website for almost a year now, republishing my own reviews from my A Penny in the Well blog site that I've been publishing on my own for several years. I pay attention to the state of cinema. Its trends. Its patterns. I've worked as a manager of a movie theater. I know a little bit about the exhibitor's side of the business. I began this blog because I wanted to stir more interest in cinema in Marshall. I am concerned about the Marshall Cinema.

My fears were heightened this weekend when B&B Theaters--the parent independent theater chain that manages the Marshall Cinema--failed to provide our local theater with a print of the latest James Bond thriller "Quantum of Solace". In its place, the citizens of Marshall and the surrounding communities have been given the opportunity to screen "Appaloosa", a western that was released nationally a month and a half ago, will be available on DVD in another two months, and has not preformed well at the box office.

It isn't that I don't want to see "Appaloosa". I'm a huge fan of the western genre and can't wait for the chance to see this passion project of actor/director Ed Harris. But I would guess I'm in a very small minority of people in this area who even know who Ed Harris is by name alone. What really disturbs me is the passing up of a chance to show one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Not only has James Bond been pulling in box office bucks for over 40 years, but also "Quantum of Solace" has been tearing up the European box office for the past couple of weeks.

It just seems to me B & B is passing up on the chance to screen a movie that might actually bring them some money. They have done a very good job for the past few years of making sure a good deal of the summer blockbusters get their chance in Marshall. But Hollywood has two blockbuster seasons a year, and their big winter releases tend to bring in as much money as their summer fare. I can understand justifying a pass on the award contenders that are also released quite heavily during the winter months--they just don't raise enough interest with ticket buyers in an area like this one--but to pass on such a surefire hit as the latest James Bond well, I just don't get it.

Knowing what I do about the movie exhibition business, it is quite possible that Sony was asking a ridiculous amount of money to secure a print of this particular movie, but I noticed that the B&B Cannonball in Lexington got a print of it. And although the rental fee on "Appaloosa" was probably much less than "Quantum" to begin with--and even cheaper since the movie has been in wide release for well over a month--I can't imagine its ticket sales will even begin to pay the cost of having the theater open this week.

But that's really what it comes down to; can the Marshall Cinema make enough money to even justify its own existence? From some of the crowds I saw during those big money summer blockbusters, I would think not. I took my son to a matinee screening of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" on a dreary Memorial Day afternoon and we were the only ones in the theater. The movie was four days old at that point and has been one of the biggest moneymakers of the year so far.

It is difficult, however, to blame audiences for not wanting to see movies in the Marshall Cinema. In the big theater the projector sits too far from the screen for the entire picture to fit and for a long time there were major problems with the sound. Plus a dubiously timed price hike to $8 for an adult ticket that coincided with the highly anticipated release of "The Dark Knight" could make for an expensive night out.

It does seem that the sound issues were solved at some point this fall. And the staff of the Marshall Cinema is always friendly and courteous. Improvements with the ticketing system have made buying tickets and concessions a one-stop convenience. So, the cinema isn't entirely to blame for diminishing interest. Home theater systems have become much cheaper since the popular acceptance of the DVD format, and the high quality picture and sound they provide in the comfort of your own home has taken its toll on theatrical exhibitors across the country. But a home theater experience can never replace that of a cinematic one.

Audiences are also to blame for exhibiting a great deal of apathy for the theatrical experience. I hear people complaining about the fact that we don't have a decent theater in this town all the time. How could we? If no one goes out to the movies, who in their right mind would build us a better cinema than the one we have. Until Marshall attendance numbers improve, the Marshall Cinema will forever be a low priority on B&B's theater improvement schedule.

A cinema is an interactive experience. This is what makes it better than the home theater. But the cinema needs to know it has an audience. And in order for that audience to be pleased with their cinema, the cinema needs to know what that audience wants. With the economy in the pits, people will be less willing to go out of town for their entertainment. And even though tickets now cost $8 a pop, it is still less than gas to Kansas City or Columbia.

So if you want to see a movie, go see it now--in theaters. If there's a movie you know is coming and you want to see it in the theater, let the staff of the Marshall Cinema know about it. If there's anything wrong with your experience, let them know that too. Improvements to your theatrical experience can't be made if you don't even see movies in the theater.

My review of "Quantum of Solace" will appear soon.

Showing most recent comments first
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Oh, I completely agree with you about local support. It's as true with the local movie theater as with other local businesses. If we don't support them, they'll be gone. It's not possible to get absolutely everything locally, of course, but doing so whenever possible is the key to getting NEW businesses going and keeping the existing ones alive, too.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Sun, Dec 14, 2008, at 9:47 AM

I wonder if the presence of the movie "Fireproof" this week is the result of a demand by the Christian churches and organizations in the Marshall area. If so, that would go a ways to disprove some of my fears. For those who do want to see it, be sure to see it this week. It has been in release for quite some time and will probably only be in town for a week so they can make room for some of those blockbusters I mentioned.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Fri, Dec 12, 2008, at 5:16 PM

Yes, they've planned their Thanksgiving fare well, and will probably do their best rolling toward Christmas by keeping good family fare in the theater. "The Tale of Despereaux", "Bedtime Stories" and "Marley & Me" will be vying for those all important family bucks over the next few weeks. So I would look for those to play. Also "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Yes Man" promise to rank high in the box office. B&B does a good job in the lucrative summer months and during the holidays, but in those in between blockbuster seasons, they don't seem all that interested in giving Marshall the best chances to make money.

But I wasn't only wagging my finger at the cinema. I was also calling for the people of Marshall to support their cinema. If they don't, they'll lose it. I hear people complain about it all the time, but unless its a holiday or one of the biggest releases of the year, I don't see a whole lot of those people going. It's kind of like voting. I don't see how you can complain, if you don't participate.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Fri, Dec 12, 2008, at 12:31 PM

Here's what I find interesting. For the last week or so, three top movies have been showing at the Marshall Cinema (Twilight, Four Christmases and Bolt) - they finished 1, 2, and 3 last week in the race for cinebucks. So why any complaint about the movies they show? Why would anyone drive to a theater that's 60 miles round trip to see the same movie, when it's right here in town?

It seems to me that although there are some movies that never get here, there are plenty that do. I'm not a big movie fan and rarely go, so maybe I'm missing something in the "movie experience?"

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Thu, Dec 11, 2008, at 9:10 PM

"An American Carol" will be available on DVD Dec. 30.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Sun, Nov 30, 2008, at 10:33 PM

Now, I'm am only speculating, but "An American Carol" was a bit of a unique situation for a movie. I don't know if it played in other B & B markets or not, but it was a film that kind of entered the market without a whole lot of pre-release hype. The studio only pushed it during the week or two prior to its release, and many audiences and even exhibitors were unaware of it in advance of its release.

Perhaps this is because of the movie attacks some liberal views and the movie industry tends to bend toward a liberal agenda (although, I don't believe this is true of studio executives. They're trying to make a buck). But I suspect the lack of advance notice on this movie had more to do with the filmmakers pushing this film out quickly before the elections. The Zuckers don't seem to have quite the timing that Michael Moore (the primary subject of ridicule in the movie) does for these things.

For such a small cinema as Marshall to secure a print on a film with little advance advertising would be a considerable business risk I should think. But if there is a demand for any movie and you make your wishes loud and persistent that you would like to see it, B&B might be inclined to listen.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Sat, Nov 29, 2008, at 11:03 AM

I wondered why the Marshall Cinema never played An American Carol released on October 3. I have tried to call to ask but only get the recording.

-- Posted by marty-m on Fri, Nov 28, 2008, at 7:03 PM

You seem to be missing my point. Maybe I need to put this in different terms.

Say B&B Theaters is Ford Motor Company. Now they've got factory workers in Lexington (i.e. Cannonball) producing F150 pickups, and in Marshall (i.e. Marshall Cinema) they are producing the Focus. They all work for Ford (i.e. B&B). Both factories are hitting their production quotas, not falling behind, not having any major accidents. Yet Ford is selling more F150s than Focus. The big wigs at Ford go to Washington for a bail out because the company is losing money. When Washington tells them no. Instead of going back to headquarters and figuring out how to streamline their expenses (e.i. limiting travel on corporate jets, lowering executive bonuses that are more than any of their factory workers' annual salaries), Ford decides to close the Marshall plant because the Focus just isn't moving as fast as the F150s. All those people are out of a job despite what a good job they've done. It isn't the factory workers' choice to stop making the car, and now the public can't buy the Focus anymore. That's what I'm afraid is happening to the Marshall Cinema.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Thu, Nov 20, 2008, at 12:33 PM

B&B Theatres and the staff of Marshall Cinema are one and the same. B&B owns Marshall Cinema, therefore the staff of Marshall Cinema are part of B&B.

-- Posted by Owl12345 on Thu, Nov 20, 2008, at 11:03 AM

I didn't go into the politics that studios play with exhibitors, because they are often too complex to summarize in just a few sentences. I have no doubt that Sony's demands for "Quantum of Solace" played heavily into B&B's decision not to screen it here in Marshall. I'm sure their decision had much to do with the highly anticipated "Twilight", which will be screening here in Marshall starting with a midnight showing on Thursday. I am also sure that the proximity of the guaranteed audience family releases "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" and Disney's "Bolt" (which will open here on Friday) made scheduling tight for the month of November.

But I also suspect some laziness on B&B's part in terms of booking the films, evidenced by the closing of Cinema III during the weeknights. Let me be clear--it is B&B that books Marshall Cinema and I feel the staff of Marshall Cinema is in no way to blame. They are just playing the cards that are dealt them. But B&B is a large chain with many theaters, and therefore has the ability to book multiple prints at one time and shift them around between their various markets.

Now it is quite possible that the Marshall Cinema could not have met Sony's demands for "Quantum", such as a print must have at least two showings a day and four on weekends, but throwing "Appaloosa" into Marshall didn't cost them a dime, nor did it likely make them one. Why not give us something that has a chance at some revenue, something that might encourage enough audience to keep all three cinemas open. When a theater can't keep three screens going, it seems like it is in trouble to me. I just don't want Marshall Cinema to suffer the same fate as Carrollton's, which was also a B&B property.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Wed, Nov 19, 2008, at 11:19 PM

I for one feel that the people at B&B Theatres, and at Marshall Cinema, do the best with what has been handed to them. Perhaps if some of you knew the economics of the theatre-going experience you would understand why Marshall Cinema did not receive Quantum of Solace. The studios dictate to the exhibitors how long, on what screen, and at what times a movie can be shown. When a studio binds you to a contract that would eliminate possible other sources of revenue from highly anticipated movies that are upcoming, would you choose possible other sources of revenue or be stuck with the same film for weeks on end? With a theatre-going crowd such as yourselves, why would B&B desire to build a nicer theatre, when you complain about the beautiful, historical home of the Marshall Cinema.

-- Posted by Owl12345 on Wed, Nov 19, 2008, at 10:42 PM

I agree with Michael Scarn. The facilities here are horrible. And....they only show what they want to. I have traveled to Sedalia to see movies that do not make it to Marshall. B&B Theatres you guys are missing the boat!

-- Posted by tommob on Wed, Nov 19, 2008, at 12:47 PM

marshall cinema charges a full priced ticket but does not provide a full priced movie going experience. generally, poor facilities without the most current releases = discount theater.

-- Posted by SecretAgentMichaelScarn on Wed, Nov 19, 2008, at 11:35 AM

when I was younger they always had one night a week that was like 1/2 price. Maybe if they started this back up they could get people interested again. A few people coming is better then none.

-- Posted by fitzgibbon on Wed, Nov 19, 2008, at 10:04 AM

julio and brendan fraser must have joined forces to keep people away.

-- Posted by SecretAgentMichaelScarn on Tue, Nov 18, 2008, at 3:36 PM

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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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