Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Where’s The Master?

A few readers have wondered what’s happened to The Master. Newspapers in the country next-door reviewed Paul Thomas Anderson’s picture this weekend, but it is nowhere to be seen in our own cinemas. Actually, the situation is odder. Folk in …

Sun, Nov 4, 2012, 19:23

   

A few readers have wondered what’s happened to The Master. Newspapers in the country next-door reviewed Paul Thomas Anderson’s picture this weekend, but it is nowhere to be seen in our own cinemas. Actually, the situation is odder. Folk in Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh are asking the same question. Entertainment Films, The Master’s distributor in these territories, has decided to return to a quaint practice that has not — so far as I can recall — been regularly employed by any other company this century. The odd film opens in the UK before coming here (and Bognor). Some pictures still expand gradually after emerging in major cities. But the idea of opening a film in just one central London cinema before sending it out to the world went out with sound (well, not really, but it hasn’t been around for a while).

Entertainment has done this with three recent films: The Artist, Untouchable and, now, The Master. All are films that — in theory at least — should profit from word of mouth. The trick may have worked for those first two films: The Artist hung around; Untouchable ¬†gradually accumulated decent figures. Then again, without a control sample, we can’t tell if those films would have done equally well if released simultaneously throughout the territories. Anyway, The Master will be with us on November 16th. So we can’t really whinge all that much. In the olden days, you occasionally had to wait a month for a film to make its way from Leicester Square to the Mulingar Empire (and sometimes close to a year for it to move from the US to Ireland).

An amusing tale from a London press screening of The Master. In recent years, we film critics have found a new reason to whinge about digital projection: it’s much less reliable than projection from prints. Now, this sounds counter-intuitive. The celluloid has to be wound into two projectors. The reels have to be changed. The film can jam. It can break. The reels can be screened in the wrong order. Surely, just turning on a computer is less fraught with peril. It seems not. In recent years, press screenings have often been cancelled when the “digital key” fails to kick the print into action. At a rough stab, I’d say three times as many press screening are now being cancelled at the last moment as used to happen in the olden days (which, to be fair, is still only about once every two months or so). We have also had to sit around for 40 minutes while major films are debugged. Sometimes the subtitles don’t work. And so on. I really am not a technological luddite — digital does mean more consistent quality — but there seems little question that the old method is more reliable.

Well, just when you think you’ve got it sorted, some anecdote pulls the rug. That Leicester Square run of The Master is in lovely 70mm: wide gauge for a nice old-school image. Sadly, the projector failed to function at the press screening and the London hacks were forced to watch the film in a digital version. Grr! I still stand by my comments above.

Of course, much of this passion for film stems from sentimentality. Proof that I’m not the only one to retain irrational affection can be found in the opening seconds of Ben Affleck’s much-discussed Argo. What are those scratches over the credits? Ahh, he’s faking an old-school image. How quaint. Another reason to go and see that fine film when it opens here later this week.

 

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