Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Not So Gran Via

Another cinema closed at the end of last week in Madrid’s Gran Via. The Palacio de la Musica, one of the emblematic cinemas of the Gran Via, had its last picture show and is now closed for redevelopment. The significance of this news is not just because of this cinema itself, one of the few remaining where you could experience the rare thrill of watching a film with a proper sized screen. In the year 2000 the Gran Via had 13 cinemas, now it has just 3. It is a street which always seems to have crowds and life, even in the early hours of the morning, and a major part of that life comes from the cinemas and theatres which attract people into the centre of the city.

Now that is changing, a relaxation of the change of use regulations in Madrid mean that the cinemas are rapidly closing, to be replaced in the main part by (more) shops. This sort of attitude is more or less routine for a city administration which regards culture as meaning an extension of shopping hours and little more. They say the Palacio de la Musica will become a concert hall, we’ll have to wait and see what that really means. The old Estación del Norte in Principe Pio was supposed to become a “cultural centre”, but what we got instead was a shopping centre with a multi-screen popcorn shop as its only cultural reference point.

Even if they allow the shops to stay open 24 hours a day, the atmosphere of the Gran Via will change once the final cinema or theatre has closed down. The argument will be that market forces are having their way, if people want to shop then close down the cinemas and put more shops in their place. Unfortunately, the result of that process is less diversity and less choice, with a once lively avenue reduced to a commercial dead zone once the shops pull their shutters down.


Midnight Golfer said...

The big motion picture studios would have us put the blame on internet and guys selling cheap knock-offs on a blanket.
I never used to believe this excuse.
I am beginning to understand what they mean, though.
There really, really are less people actually going to see movies, and there really are so many more people selling DVDs on the streets, and obviously the internet, coupled with a decent sized screen, makes it very easy to pirate a movie.
Too bad. But, even worse, the overall quality of movies seems to have gotten much worse.
Either that, or I grew up.

Tom said...

olfer - it is much easier to pirate movies these days but to be fair, piracy has been around for a hell of a long time.

I am in no doubt whatsoever that there aren't as many good movies released any more. This is because of the way the 'free market' has destroyed any vestige of quality or competition in the movie-making business. Even the most warmly-welcomed 'indie' dramas and comedies these days are pathetic compared to what we used to get in the 80s and 90s.

It's just like the record industry: around the mid-90s, the corporations decided to stop just hiring popular, up and coming bands doing different things and opted instead for picking memes and signing four acts each year which ticked the right boxes. Of course, this had happened to a certain degree before, but the streamlining of A&R departments and the sacking of successful label bosses for people with MBAs who could 'manage' the industry despite knowing nothing about it - this was the time when capitalism finally destroyed western pop culture.

And they blame it on the kids.