The Big Picture: Variety's future looks bleak - The Los Angeles Times.
One of the happiest moments in my early adolescence was walking one day into the old St. Louis pharmacy on Lawrence Avenue near my Albany Park home and finding, on the bottom shelf of the magazine rack, a copy of Variety, a/k/a "The Show Biz Bible". I was already in love in movies and with the architecture of the Chicago's movie palaces, which offered a Cooks Tour, if slightly inauthentic, of many basic historical styles, from the French Baroque of the Chicago Theatre, to the Eastern Hallucinogenic of the Oriental, to the Ocean-Liner Deco of the Esquire.
|photograph courtesy of The Chuckman Collection (click images for larger view)|
|photography courtesy of The Chuckman Collection|
I stood, mesmerized, drinking a Coke (dispensed in a bottle from their Coke machine), reading my first copy of Variety, as I discovered its comprehensive weekly portrait of what was going on with those theaters, each of which had its own personality and booking policy. At a time when new releases still opened at a single, downtown theater, the Chicago was the prestige flagship at which the biggest, most prestigious films opened.
|photograph courtesy of The Chuckman Collection|
|Crowds stretch around the block waiting to get in and see the 1966 James Bond blockbuster Thunderball at the Oriental (photograph courtesy of the Chuckman Collection)|
Goodbye Charlie, a film directed by Vincente Minnelli and starting Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds, both big stars at the time, and Walter Matthau, soon to become one, opened, not in one of the big Loop movie palaces, but in a wide "Showcase" release to theaters throughout Chicago. No one noticed it at the time, but Goodbye Charlie could also have been named Goodbye Movie Palace. Already, urban population was spilling out in great torrents into the emerging suburban sprawl. Movie theaters followed - every shopping mall with any claim to importance had at least one. 1972's The Godfather was the last major Hollywood release that opened in exclusive run at downtown theaters.
|office tower proposed for the site|
of the Chicago Theater
Variety stopped publishing theater by theater grosses. Motion pictures became relentlessly Supply-Chained. The idea of a 10-show-a-week multi-year roadshow run, exclusive to a single theater, now seems insane. You book your film in as many theaters as you can get away with, especially for the big blockbusters. The Dark Night Rises is on 4,400 screens this weekend. At most multiplexes, you can choose from screenings scheduled every half hour.
Today, while we're seeing a resurgence of distinctive design to make a given multiplex more competitive, it's still pretty much all about supply chained, least-common-denominator efficiency. You take the risk out of exhibition by not having to choose which movies you book. You cram enough auditoriums into your multiplex so you can offer the public every major release on any given weekend. When designed and managed competently, each auditorium will offer a high degree of comfort and technical competence, but, other than size, each auditorium will be essentially identical. You no longer buy a ticket for the Orpheum, Fox or Pantages, but for Theatre 16, 2 or 34.
And so reporting success and failure in movies is no longer for insiders and their wannabees, but a promotional spectator sport, the weekend's grosses a hit parade boxscore promoted through every news and media outlet in the world. Who won? Who lost? It's a lot more efficient, but the commodization has killed a lot of the magic - just as it's killing Variety