The Price Is Right (Shame About The Venue)

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Come on down! Plebs need not apply.
Come on down! Plebs need not apply.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate my Twitter feed for a number of things: I’ve met people and made new acquaintances, both physical and virtual, it’s allowed me to articulate the general insanity of my inner monologue in a way that people cannot ignore – apart from all the ones that blocked me or reported me for spam – and it’s generally the first thing to alert me to the important events of life, which these days are a mixture of instant tributes to famous people dying or details of new food products. What it was full of today was a succession of people expressing their views about the two decisions made regarding press screenings for the London Film Festival.

If you don’t follow a large selection of people who are either professional journalists or hardcore bloggers, then you’ll have missed a day’s worth of indignation of various levels of righteousness. The two decisions announced today are that: (1) rather than having this privilege for free, anyone wishing to see press screenings will need to pay £36 for said privilege, and (2) that the press screenings have been moved to the Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue in the Trocadero. One of these decisions is a non-story and one is a travesty, and you can probably guess my views on both.

In case you can’t, then Twitter has had plenty of views of its own. The general consensus on the former seems to be that it’s only doing what other festivals already do, that the BFI is a charity and not a profit-making organisation, that anyone working as a journalist probably ought to claim this back and anyone else should consider themselves lucky to get such a large amount of entertainment for such a small amount of money, given that from what I can tell they have no documented commitment to write reviews for everything they see off the back of it. By general consensus, I mean that of those people I happen to agree with, of course. But everyone is entitled to their opinion, and when it all comes down to it whether or not a bunch of people who would probably run over hot coals if it meant seeing some decent films might have to pay the price of a moderate night out for two weeks of previews, it’s probably of little consequence.

What’s more disturbing is that, of all of the fine and varied cinemas in the West End, the BFI have chosen what’s widely considered as the worst cinema in London to host press screenings this year. I would possibly dispute the worst label – last time I was in the Odeon Panton St, it smelled heavily of pee, and I’m just glad the film was only an hour and a half – but I can testify from personal experience that quality of a Cineworld is inversely proportional to its distance from Piccadilly Circus. I’ve been to them as far north as Runcorn and St. Helens, and as long as you stay outside the M25 they’re pretty decent. By the time you get to the likes of Enfield or West India Quay, the seats are lumpy and / or hard, the projection’s occasionally iffy and security guards have to regularly circle the screenings. By the time you get to Haymarket or Shaftesbury Avenue, the screens are scratched, the seats are atrocious and a standard Cineworld card just won’t cut it.

There’s an easy solution to this – spend all of the money from the subs on tarting up that dive in the Trocadero – but that’s not likely to happen. Still, the purist in me would like those arbitrating on whether or not Joe Public should part with upwards of £15 a ticket for the actual festival to not be distracted by the poor quality of the surroundings that they’re having to watch the films in. It’s also made me think about how much money I invest into the production of this blog. I moderate comments on the blog, simply in an effort to filter spam, but the only time I rejected a comment was when someone accused me of being a wannabe film journalist. What I’ve actually done is attempt to channel my passion for, and extensive spending on, cinema into something more productive by helping others to filter the cinematic wheat from the movie chaff.

This was brought home to me most clearly on a visit here, while working away:

Reel Cinema PlymouthThe Reel Cinema in Plymouth, seen here in 2008, and very much looking like it does today, although the paint is a little more flaky and the stair carpet a little more worn. Some of the fixtures and fittings may pre-date me, and that’s saying something, but the staff were friendly, the concessions reasonable, and I could even overlook the fact that I was sat at an odd angle to the screen as it wasn’t the same width as the seating when I discovered that the Wednesday night special ticket that I purchased was £3.40. That wouldn’t even buy you a scoop of Pick ‘N’ Mix in the West End.

I like to delude myself into thinking that I get reasonable value for money, but by sheer volume cinema is still a heavy investment for me. Last year I saw 200 films, around half of which were thanks to my CIneworld card – around £180 for the year – and I also did FrightFest for a day (£54), an all-nighter (£30), forty-two films at the Cambridge film festival (somewhere around £200), plus my memberships for the Picturehouse chain and the Prince Charles Cinema and the other forty or so tickets I paid for in cinemas across the land with no membership at an average of around £9 a pop. I make that around £850 – 900, and that’s without food or travel to any of the venues. You could get a decent car or a weekend break or two for that sort of money, but I plough it into my hobby for the sheer love of it. (It would also explain why I’ve never got any money.)

And that’s what it all comes back to – that, and indeed this blog, are ultimately a hobby. I could never see myself applying for accreditation for writing this, even if I have as The Movie Evangelist churned out 450 posts at an average of 1,000 words a time (that’s the equivalent of around five novels in the past three and a bit years) in the name of trying to encourage you, the reader, to see your films in a cinema. Somehow the fact that this is just a part time undertaking has always made me feel that even applying for such a thing – with the likely suspicion I’d be turned down anyway – would be a bit of a cheat, especially as each of my reviews now reflect on the cinema experience, and if I’m not doing that as a paying punter, it all becomes a bit pointless. That unwillingness to apply for accreditation either makes me (a) wonderfully principled, (b) hopelessly naive, (c) really not especially clued up as to how I should go about writing a film blog or (d) all of the above. Either way, I’ll see you in the stalls with my full price ticket come the festival. The Movie Evangelist – reassuringly expensive.

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