An Empty Cinema

As a child in her prime from the 90’s to the noughties, I would always look forward to the day when I could go where want and do as I please without needing permission. Being a young whippersnapper had its drawbacks at times and as a result of the many restrictions I faced, going to the movies was one of my most beloved childhood endevours. But as a now ‘adult’ of sorts (and I use the definition of adult very loosely here), the once novelty of movie-going has slowly faded into a constant weighing of pros and cons (with cons usually winning). Which brings me to the question: has going to the cinema become a thing of the past? And if so, why?

The work of Torsten Hägerstrand can help us in regards to answering this question as he illustrates a strong conceptual framework for understanding the particular constraints on human activity in space and time (Miller, 2005)

Time has a critical importance when it comes to fitting people and things together for functioning in socio-economic systems – Hägerstrand

Using his ‘space-time path‘, Hägerstrand demonstrates how the time geography activity of individuals can experience three main constraints: capability, coupling and authority. Capability constraints consist of the physical or biological restrictions of human movement, coupling constraints refers to the issues of having to be at a particular place for a particular time in conjunction with other people, and authority contraints apply to problems with particular areas of control and regulation (Corbett, 2011)
Each of these constraints can now be applied in relation my personal decision not to attend the cinema. Due to the fact that we cannot instantaneously travel from one place to another, we face a trade-off between space and time (Corbett, 2011). This capability constraint can usually be reduced with the convenience of cars, but despite the fact I’m lucky enough to own a car, I am also faced with the problem that cars require fuel and parking requires money. Not to forget the endless stream of traffic. The ever so inconvenient timing of sickness is another example of a capability constraint as I could barely get myself out of bed let alone brave any exposure to the outside elements.
The coupling constraint faced include the fact that alot of the time it is impossible to find enough time in a day when everyone is available. Our ages may have doubled from our childhood days, but so have our responsibilities! A lot of us are juggling university attendance, assessments, work, sport, etc. and so finding a time that is convenient for everyone is the equivalent of finding wally.
Lastly, the most influential constraint in my opinion is the authority constraint. It seems these days that when planning your next trip to the big screen, you want to be packing a cold hard $50 note. Surprisingly enough, Steven Spielberg shares the same opinion.  Despite the emerging efforts of concessions, gone are the days of 40 cent tickets. Not only is the ticket price itself a challenge to my financial authority, let’s not forget the traditional extras of popcorn, choc-tops and soft drink – that is AFTER you pay for parking and fuel. This shortage of money restricts my authority to enter the cinema establishment and use its facilities.

I adore this photo. The empty spaces and mix of ages suggest an art house film. These people are watching a good movie.:

As a result of cinema attendance rapidly declining, it seems most of the public are experiencing these same constraints. Chris Dorr compares the physical space of cinema as a battle where distributors fight to get large box-office grosses for their films in order to become the “winner” (Dorr, 2014). But it seems today as if the whole industry is losing. According to the statistics of ‘Screen Australia’, despite the 14-25 year old age bracket illustrating the most frequent use of cinemas, the overall trend of attendance is decreasing. In addition, 1996 cinema attendance was recorded at it’s peak with 72% and an average frequency of 11.3. Comparing this data 18 years later, 2014 statistics indicate a mere 68% attendance percentage at an average frequency of 6.8 times.
I believe these diminishing figures however, are not a reflection on the quality of films or a lack of interest in them, but of the now inconvenience of the cinematic experience. Now more than ever, movies are not being confined by cinema walls. They are becoming easier and more favorable to access. The rise of Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and internet streaming on portable devices in Australia allows not only movie purchases of $10 and under, but also the added benefit of not having to leave the comfort of your own home. You can: stay in your sweats or pajamas, pause to go to the bathroom not having missed a thing, control the volume and temperature, and most of all you can choose who you want to share the space with you – if anyone. With all of these advantages, it is not unbelievable to predict that cinema attendance will continue to decline in the next 5-10 years if the industry remains as it is.

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