(Trailer for Synecdoche, New York. I want to see this NOW)
First some nostalgia: I’ve been a Birmingham cinema-goer for a long time. Get me drunk enough and I’ll bore you to within an inch of your life by listing the films I’ve seen in cinemas now long gone. From The Towering Inferno in the upper circle of the ABC New Street to queuing round the block for Jaws at the Beaufort in Washwood Heath and watching Godzilla double-bills with my Mom at Ward End’s Capitol.
At some point in the mid-1980s I discovered ‘arthouse’ cinema. Or rather my brother did and I picked up his interest. The Triangle was our cinema of choice and it did that repertory thing of combining new leftfield film releases with retrospectives and cult movie double bills (I recall a packed 11pm screening of Taxi Driver and Hardcore).
One of the things I discovered as I combined a love of the mainstream with world/independent cinema is that the former would arrive in Brum on the week of release but the latter always tailed behind. I’d be getting excited by reviews of Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice only to realise that it wouldn’t be showing anywhere near here for a week or two or three after its initial release.
The reasons why were partly about the scarcity of prints and the whims of distributors but also to do with the pattern of regional film theatres established by the British Film Institute in the 1960s which effectively overlooked Birmingham as a regional centre for non-mainstream film viewing (see Terry Grimley’s excellent article in The Birmingham Post last year for more context).
This week I note that nothing’s changed. The list of non-London cities showing Charlie Kaufman’s highly-rated new film Synecdoche, New York in the week of its release include: Sheffield, Nottingham, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle, Norwich, Edinburgh, Glasgow. Birmingham’s not up there. Oh we’ll get it okay – as soon as next week at the superb Electric. But that’s not good enough. I’ve been waiting until next week since the mid-1980s and I’m sick to death of it. It may be just lack of venues and when the MAC is back on stream it’ll all be fine. Or maybe we don’t have the punters, maybe they’re a more eager, cultured lot over in Norwich. If so then let’s get some audience development initiatives underway.
I doubt it somehow – we’ve been seen as a second-run city for cinema for as long as I can remember and I’m really not sure how we can change that perception. Not even publicly subsidised digital distribution has helped. Ideas anyone?