On saturday night I attended a technically troubled screening of Sleepless Night - a sticks-like-glue thriller from french director Frédéric Jardin - at the Melbourne International Film Festival.MIFF’s screening of Sleepless Night at the Greater Union marks the seventh occasion in less than twelve months that I have attended a film that was compromised by exhibition issues.
The film follows a questionable cop as he attempts extract himself, his kidnapped son, and a bag bursting with contraband from a cavernous nightclub. As the climactic fight scene played out before a genuinely captivated audience the magic of cinema began to waver. The sound malfunctioned and we were left with score and subtitles but none of the french dialogue. After several unsuccessful attempts to fix the problem it was announced that the screening was cancelled. Refunds were offered but after the crowd showed reluctance to leave the film picked up where it had left off - albeit with an incomplete soundtrack and now tinny dialogue. There have been reports of other difficulties at MIFF including one session where they exhibited the wrong film altogether.
When I attended Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World at a Palace cinema the house lights were not dimmed until well into the first act. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was out of focus when I saw it at a Hoyts cinema, and at the same complex James Bobin’s The Muppets was incorrectly framed leading to the loss of the top and bottom of the picture - including some subtitles. I saw Steven Spielberg’s Tintin at a Village cinema and the sound was mixed incorrectly seriously detracting from the audiences engagement with the film. Michel Hazanavicius’ score-heavy film The Artist was similarly compromised by sound issues at a Palace cinema (insert silent movie joke here I guess). And - although possibly a sign - when I attended Tom Cruise vehicle Rock of Ages [The worst film I have ever seen] at a Village cinema the film didn’t even start [I wish I never fetched that usher].
Whether or not this troubling trend is related to the rise of automated digital projection and the decline of professional projectionists I am personally unsure. But I’m struggling to come up with another answer. As cinemas rapidly move away from involving skilled humans with reasonable quality standards in the exhibition of their films they stand to further alienate the cinema lovers who attend them.
I know it’s too much to ask for Stanley Kubrick quality but as it stands the cinema experience in Melbourne is not good enough - and it appears to be getting worse.