You Are a Cinema, I Could Watch You Forever

Action, thriller, you’re my Hollywood treasure: The social and spatial behaviour behind a so called ‘dying industry’

Let’s talk bad movie experiences. According to Phil Hubbard, of Loughborough University (2010) you’ve got to consider the experience of travelling there, the use of attendant facilities, and the space around you.

Here we go.

It was December 2005, I was in the Philippines, and in tradition of watching every Harry Potter movie upon cinema release, I was on a mission to watch the fourth installment. So I got in the side cart of a worn down Pedi-Trike driven by an old man just as worn down.  He dropped me off at the corner of the main street. There, peeling, hand painted movie posters plastered the exterior of what I imagined was an abandoned building, but in fact was the local cinema.

The type of hand painted movie posters you would find in the Philippines,

The type of hand painted movie posters you would find in the Philippines,

Not to judge a book by its cover, I payed a mere P60 for a movie ticket, which was less than $2. But boy, that cover should have been judged. The cinema was dark, but uncomfortable to the point I was relying on my sense of touch to find a seat – which was ripped, torn and made me incredibly itchy. The movie itself had ‘dodgy’ written all over it, they were literally showing a pirated version, one that was recorded in another cinema with a hand held camera. It was horrible.

Pleased to say that cinema no longer exists and is now a karaoke bar. Not pleased to say that experience ruined the fourth Harry Potter movie for me.

Calbayog City, Philippines

Calbayog City, Philippines

So where did they go wrong?

Hubbard (2010) brings forth the idea of ‘body space’ – the importance of comfort and cleanliness during your cinematic experience – and it became clear there was no ‘relaxed decor’ or no ‘clean, warm and comfortable seats’.  He also notes the idea of ‘space of the body’ – maintaining social distance – the only spacial distance I had to worry about was that of the cockroaches, so I figured I’d relate this to a more recent experience.

But first, I want to talk about the cinema industry.

From mid-1980s until 2000, national cinema chains were expanding aggressively with the rise of multi-screen complexes, alongside the confectionery, spacious seating, and amusement arcades that came along with them. Hubbard (2010) refers to this as the ‘fast-blurring distinction’ between different forms of urban leisure. It was during this period, cinema frequency rates were at their highest, peaking at an average 11.3 times a year in 1996 (Screen Australia, 2014).

But since then, there has been a consistent drop in frequency year-on-year, much of it attributed to the age of home video, DVD, and now online distribution. It’s all about convenience, really. With online distribution you can pretty much watch what you want, when, where, and with whoever you want – without paying five dollars for a measly bottle of water when a popcorn kernel gets stuck in your throat.

So is a decline  due to inconvenience?

In 1960, urban planner Torsten Hagerstrand identified three human constraints of social planning.

  1. Capability
  2. Coupling
  3. Authority

In other words, he’s asking, ‘Can I get there?’ ‘Can I get there at the right time (agreed upon by your companions),’ and ‘Am I allowed to be there?’

My friends and I put the constraints to the test to see just how easy it was to organise a movie date. We needed a time, place, and movie we all agreed on seeing. The local cinema was chosen and we all wanted to watch The Inbetweeners Movie 2. Easy. The ‘when’ was not so easy; those with cars (and therefore authority in decision making) decided on Thursday night, conflicting with a number of other commitments (sorry Kailee, I know you had to work).

Thus we went from three cars full to only one, all due to the constraints of Hagerstrand’s ‘time geography’. According to Allan Pred of the University of California (1977), Hagerstrand’s constraints must be overcome for any activity to occur; I could only get there because someone was willing to give me a lift, I could make it at 9:00pm because I was willing to put aside my homework, and yes, I was allowed to go.

Back to spatial behaviour…

It’s interesting to note the way strangers manage their proximity to one another in public space. Cinemas in particular are very socially complex; forcing us to rub shoulders with strangers, fight over arm rests, and smell other people’s feet.

It was a quiet night, so my personal space was well intact, but I noticed everyone was sitting in the middle of the theatre, second half back. A cultural preference? Aussies are known to sit at the back for most things (bus, lectures).

There was however a young couple sitting  front and centre (to get privacy, I assume?), and a row of four friends who all moved one seat to the right because the guy on the left didn’t want to sit behind anyone. It’s clear spatial behaviour is influenced by our proximity to other people. Just as Hubbard (2010) notes, there is a rarity for visitors to interact socially with others beyond the individuals they arrived with, as well the tendency to sit away.

Or maybe it has something to with finding the best seat visually and acoustically.

What about my spatial experience? In a cinema filled with less than 20 people, some tall guy decides to sit in front of me. I’m five foot one, and did not want a neck cramp.

That aside, I got to hang out with a cool group of people (even if one did leave half way through the movie – cue Hagerstrand’s ‘Time Geography’) and I got a choc top, so I’m not complaining.

What about the future of cinema attendance?

Hubbard (2010) argues that cinema going must be considered as a ‘consumption of place’  whereby they have the ability to appeal to particular audiences. Researches at Swinburne University (2013) support this argument, suggesting the industry’s future lies in audience relationships. Audience segments are now targeted with combinations of scheduling, film genres, cinema styles and branding – such as ‘Mums and Bubs’, ‘Gold Class’ and Drive In theatres.

But the real driver, according to IBIS World’s Cinemas market research report (2014), lies in 3D developments, based on what the report identified as the two main motivations for cinema attendance; the actual movie-going experience and demand for seeing a particular film.

That said, with the average release date for movies in Australia being 20 days behind the US, the industry certainly needs to be ahead of the release chain (The Guardian, 2014) if it wants to compete (something Village Road Show learned the hard way).

And what about movie piracy? They’ve got Arnie and Jackie to take care of that.


AUDIOVISUAL MARKETS: CINEMA. (2014). [Blog] Screen Australia. Available at: [Accessed 30 Aug. 2014].

Evershed, N. (2014). Australian film industry claims delayed release is rare but data shows otherwise. The Guardian. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Aug. 2014].

Hubbard, P. (2003). A good night out? Multiplex cinemas as sites of embodied leisure. Leisure Studies, [online] 22(3), pp.255-272. Available at: [Accessed 30 Sep. 2014].

IBIS World, (2014). Cinemas in Australia: Market Research Report. IBIS World.

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