One Night Only at the Cinema

This week I took myself along to see the new Suicide Squad movie at my local Greater Union cinema in Wollongong. Unlike my previous cinema-going experiences I decided to this time channel my inner Marshal McLuhan and focus my attention primarily on the medium of the cinema, rather than the big-budget, cookie-cutter messages projected on the theatre’s walls. The aim here was to try and understand how cinemas are still desirable in the twenty-first century, and perhaps, to better understand my own bitter thoughts and feelings towards the silver-screen medium.

I was hesitant about paying money to go and watch a movie, particularly a Hollywood box office title such as The Suicide Squad. The $12.50 price of admission, coupled with my many previous underwhelming experiences with big budget US films, almost always persuades me to stay away. I still recall going to see the much hyped US comedy Nacho Libre in 2006, and falling asleep after the opening sequence. I was 15 at the time, but the overwhelming disappointment I experienced from spending $10 to watch Jack Black perform is a feeling that still haunts me ten years later.

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He sure is. Image courtesy Nacho Libre, Paramount Pictures

While reflecting on my disdain towards both Jack Black and the thought of spending money to go and see a film that I may dislike, it became clear that the cost of admission poses a significant constraint on my ability and or desire to attend the cinema. As I sought to understand the financial constraints attributed to the cinema experience I became aware that it may be explained by Torsten Hӓgerstrand’s 1970 thesis on Time Geography.

Hӓgerstrand devised a time-space path to demonstrate how human spatial activity is governed by limitations, or “constraints”. The time-space path was comprised of three categories of constraints: capability, coupling, and authority, each of which contains characteristics that explain the limitations on human movement due to physical or biological factors. The financial constraints imposed upon my cinema going experience can be attributed specifically to Hӓgerstrand’s authoritarian constraint. The authoritarian constraint specifies that an area is controlled by gatekeepers that limit access to particular individuals or groups (Schonfelder and Azhausen 2010). In this instance, the cinema plays the role of the gatekeeper and the cost of entry serves to limit access to people who are willing to pay the price of admission. This financial-authoritarian-constraint of associated with attending the cinema was difficult to overcome as I am still yet to recover from being ripped off by Jack Black in 2006.

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Greater Union Cinema, Wollongong Australia. Image by E Jurkiewicz

Authoritarian constraints are not, however, the soul limitations that governed my cinema going experience.  Hӓgerstrand’s Capability Constraints were also involved, albeit to a lesser extent than the financial restrictions imposed by the cinema gatekeepers. Capability constraints are described by Schonfelder and Azhausen (2010) as “limitations on human movement due to physical or biological factors”. Put simply, a human cannot travel instantaneously between two locations, so a trade-off must be made between space and time in order to facilitate an experience. Given that the Greater Union Cinema in Wollongong is located approximately 300 meters from my house I was relatively unperturbed by sacrificing my time in order to facilitate a trip to the cinema space. To put this in context, the time it takes for me to walk from home to the cinema was approximately 3 minutes. This is significantly less than the time it would take to (illegally, or legally) download a movie at home. Given the location of my house in comparison to the cinema, the capability constraint’s in this instance can be viewed as almost insignificant.

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Greater Union Cinema has both an expansive and expensive candy bar. Image by E Jurkiewicz

The third, and final, Spatio-temporal limitation at play during my cinema-going experience was of Hӓgerstrand’s “coupling constraint”. A coupling constraint refers to the need to be in one particular place for a given length of time, often in interaction with other people (Schonfelder and Azhausen, 2010). Greater Union Wollongong was relatively empty during the Monday afternoon screening of The Suicide Squad. The cinema was scarcely filled approximately 10 other people, all of whom I was sharing the space with. I don’t mind being coupled with other punters as I seek to be entertained; this phenomenon is fairly familiar to me as a fan of live sport and music. Going to the movies, however, offers a sense of intimacy that does not occur when watching a Carlton game at the MCG. Perhaps this is due to comparatively small audience afforded in the cinema space, or perhaps because the theatre is cloaked in darkness. Whatever the case I do not find the coupling constraints at play during a movie screening to be advantageous, quite the opposite in fact. At home when I watch a movie (or Simpsons re-run) I am afforded the freedom and autonomy to control my viewing experience. Sometimes I like to get up and have a drink or use the bathroom, at which time I can pause the movie and recommence when I am ready. This luxury was relinquished as I sat, coupled with a group of strangers in the cinema. This issue is unique to the cinema yet other forms of entertainment not devising solutions that accommodate viewers. Live sport, for instance, overcomes this issue by offering breaks-in-play where spectators can attend to their beverage and bathroom requirements without missing out on the show. For me, the coupling constraints at play during my cinema experience detracted from my overall enjoyment of the film.

In the end, I had a pretty good time at the movies. It is fascinating to see my cinema-going experience has a time-space path embedded within it. The Suicide Squad lived up to my underwhelming predictions and after the film was finished, I was back home before the credits had finished rolling. Overall the experience was relatively positive and has even assisted me on the path to overcoming my post traumatic-Jack-Black stress disorder.

References


Schonfelder, S & Axhausen KW 2010, ‘Time, Space and Travel Analysis: An Overview’, in S Schonfelder & KW Axhausen (eds), Urban Rhythms and Travel Behaviour: Spatial and Temporal Phenomena of Daily Travel, Ashgate Publishing Company, Surrey, p.29-48.

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