Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Never mind the quality, spare me the length


There is one thing that film folk do superlatively well these days, and that’s put together a trailer.
Time was, trailers simply told you what film was on the way and who was in it, with a couple of highlights to whet your appetite. Today, the trailer is an art form in its own right; one I’m happy to admit is going through its creative golden age. The trailer now is a mini-movie: exciting, superbly edited and scored and – best of all – including every single plot twist and development except the ending (which you can usually guess).
Those of you who remember Super 8 home movies will recall those wonderful seven-minute distillations of feature films that somehow managed to tell the entire story of Taste the Blood of Dracula or Bridge on the River Kwai in the time it takes to brown a tray of onion rings. Until you’ve seen Taste the Blood of Dracula cut to the length of a Tom and Jerry cartoon, in black and white and with no sound, you simply haven’t seen it at all.
Modern trailers have something like this expertise to them, and it makes them a godsend to people like me, who still nurture the guilty feeling that they should be paying some kind of attention to new movies but can rarely find the stamina to actually sit through the damned things. Now there is no need – I just go every now and then (usually when Drew Barrymore has something new out) and watch the trailers.
The only new films I’ve seen this year in old-fashioned full-length format are Music & Lyrics and Becoming Jane, but in the new, time-saving trailer format I’ve seen Premonition (a bit predictable but with some effective moments), Notes From a Scandal (characters in the grip of crises they have caused themselves and richly deserve, saw this one twice; it dragged a bit the second time), Meet the Robinsons (cartoon in the new Disney tradition: noisy, unfunny and with hideous computer-programmed animation), I Want Candy (grim British farce dedicated to the proposition that the adjective best describing the pornography industry is ‘madcap’; this one had the audacity to claim itself “proudly” presented by “Ealing Studios”) and many more.
The great thing about doing it this way (apart from the obvious boon of not giving over ninety minutes of valuable sleeping time to I Want Candy) is that as well as picking and choosing movies, you can also pick and choose cinemas. This makes it more of an event, and helps to take the sting out of enduring Broken Flowers or V For Vendetta.
So here I am at the Royalty, Bowness (“Cumbria’s Biggest Screen!”). This gorgeous three-screener was originally built in 1926 as a combined cinema, theatre and dance hall. The loss of the latter two functions provided the room for the extra screens, but authentic décor is retained throughout, and there are charming posters on the foyer wall of the line-up of films and performances on two sample weeks in the late-thirties. An authentic atmosphere is maintained throughout, right down to the splendid illuminated clock next to the screen and a real usherette that comes down the aisle and stands at the front with a tray of ice-creams strapped round her neck. I haven’t seen that since the late seventies.
It is just as handsome on the outside, looking – as old cinemas tended to do - considerably smaller than it actually is, and beautifully maintained in its original style. And needless to say, the location – within sight of Lake Windermere – could scarcely be improved.
Even the most rotten film would benefit from such surroundings; Becoming Jane, which was not bad at all, was a positive pleasure. The cinema is presently refurbishing: look sharp and you can get an old cinema seat for a mere tenner. I would have done so myself, if not for the obstacle of getting it back to London on the train.