Don't Be Afraid of the Dark & Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it make a quantifiable impact on its market demographic?


The best way to build product loyalty? Alienate your core audience!
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Reported on 16th of October, 2011

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was only playing at one cinema in Sussex – the Brighton Cineworld – and I gave myself 15 minutes to get to there, about 3 miles from the center of town. The Brighton Cineworld, besides being stinky (this is not a metaphorical odor, theater 3 is like a tenderloin porn house. You’re too young: people used to go to theaters to watch pornography for sexual gratification. Now they just have healthy sex with partners they really want to be with and are happy all the time), is located in a bizarre netherworld of dead stores and 5 italian restaurants, with an onramp, and I’m not kidding, that requires you to take a U-turn in the middle of a busy street. This was not an oversight, or something that they were supposed to fix and just haven’t got to yet. A massive series of concrete roads and tunnels was built and designed at the time of its construction, specifically for people who drive. They just forgot to make accessible to cars. To its credit, there’s a lot of parking.

Commercials...the Director's Cut


re: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark & Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
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So when I ride my bike, it's not for the environment; it's for the pleasure. The pleasure it gives me in judging how stupid you are.

I had not (or rather my GPS system, which is convinced that the speed limit through a busy urban center planned by people who put U-turns in front of onramps averages 20 mph, had not) anticipated the Saturday traffic jam in front of Churchill Square. Ah, right. Not from Brighton. Churchill Square is a mall, also built in the 1980s, but this time in the middle of the city so that’s easy to get to if you don’t have a car. People naturally take this as their cue to drive there, making the line to get into the parking lot on a weekend about 30-60 minutes long. This means that any form of transportation, inclusive of, but not restricted to walkers, amputee carts and scorpion chariots, would mean less time and expense than driving. To its credit, the ramp actually does lead into the parking lot. So when I tell you I usually take my bike (it was in the shop), it’s not me waving the green flag, or planting it in your chest. I hate the environment. All the environment has ever done is provide life support for people who want to destroy it. So when I ride my bike, it’s not for the environment; it’s for the pleasure. The pleasure it gives me in judging how stupid you are.

Past the line, and through the onramp (it’s faster if you make a left on Arundel Road), I was about 15 minutes late. This is risky, even for the UK. They have commercials and trailers here, but there’s a limit. As it turned out, no there isn’t. Sitting down at 11:27, it was another 9 minutes before the trailers even started. From showtime to actual film starting (and I’m not even counting the egregious company logos that every idiot who put six bucks into the film has to slap on, with CGI boys jumping into water that turns into the city of the future on the moon. Has anyone considered that branding hurts? Just ask the cow). For a 90 minute film, there was 38 minutes of that-which-is-not-film.

I was confused. Confused isn’t quite the word. Enraged. What can I say, my rage was confusing me. What, I was wondering, was the point of all these commercials and trailers? We’re told they’re meant to sell some product, but I’m not convinced. I had recently seen Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which merited about a paragraph that I wrote last month, a paragraph which I will cut and paste here:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

16 September 2011 @ The Duke of York's


$7.50 or, if one must be quotidian, and one must... 
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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I’m a narrative junky, and the film doesn’t satisfy there. On the other hand, it is without doubt the best production design I’ve seen in many years, and the film succeeds in retrospect. As the characters are sketched cleverly but incompletely – in hasty but honest details – it took me until the next day that it had resolved the Dick Wolf dilemma: that when anyone could have done it, we as an audience don’t really care who did.  The solution: the film doesn’t care either, and the villain is revealed unassumedly. This is meant as the highest praise. This is a film that I didn’t like, but that I recommend highly.

Buying the ticket online means you won't get to wait in the pleasurable, pleasurable line. I miss being impatient!

Buying the ticket online means you won’t get to wait in the pleasurable, pleasurable line. I miss being impatient!

What I had left out of the preceding, or repressed, was the actual experience of watching a movie in a theater. Having been spoiled by the Duke of York’s policy of few if any commercials, I had arrived on time, and was ambushed by the 20 minutes of ads. By the end, I was boiling over with…confusion. Was the movie I didn’t like, or had the residual – confusion – blinded me to the first half of the film, which I’m fairly sure did not happen as I remember. Unless Mr. Benicio Del Toro was trying to steal a surfboard so he could turn into a piano player in a 1970s spy thriller. It all blurs together.

In a normal cinema, I simply arrive late. My experience at the Duke of Yorks, like expositional dialog, onramps built on the other side of the street or the French revolution, may just a question of frustrated expectation. People used to pay good money to see a train head towards a camera, and now some people have such unrealistically high expectations of narrative perfection that they can’t even enjoy a good series of well sketched characters and set design. What’s the matter with…that person?

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy

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Profits!
If was was post-mid-century-modern-neo-brutalist inclined, and I am, you could watch the production design and sets with the sound turned off.
$5.00
The close up on the sweat of one character, rather than the character’s actual situation shows a bit of confidence.
$4.00
The film is true to itself.
$4.00
Total Profits
$13.00
Losses!
While it completely succeeds as a mood piece, a bit inert on the story front.
$1.00
Oh Christ, I almost forgot. The Virgin Short. This is where they showcase the future of cinema, which is, appropriately enough, an extrapolation of what we already know. That is, three writers turning one minute into an hour a screaming tedium. Thanks for ruining the film, jerks.
$5.00
Total Losses
$6.00

$7.00

But that wasn’t the whole story. The commercials this time around were especially repellent, featuring three separate, yet identical beer ads, at once both forgettable and penetratingly noisome. They each star an somewhat smug and blandly handsome man doing cool magical stuff, like high-wire kung-fu and mustache stealing, and then looking at the camera with a wink as if to say ‘It’s true: I am that great’. This, naturally enough, causes girls to like him. Gone is the light self parody of the Axe commercial; what we have is a character without flaws or weaknesses, making him impossible to identify with. Not even the people who are actually like this think they are like this.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

8 October 2011 @ The Cineworld Brighton


$1.50 or, if one must be quotidian, and one must... 
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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Now Hollywood is happy to populate a film called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark with people who go out of their way to to be alone and turn off the lights, and give birth to an affectless little girl who finds nice people scary and screeching demons who say ‘come into the deep dark hole of death. It’s totally nice here’ adorable. But it still, up to this point anyway, isn’t stupid enough to put an Adonis character in a film as a hero. As a villain, perfectly valid. The people in the café next to me described the talented Mr. Ryan Gosling, in a trope you may have heard before, as the kind of man men want to be, and women be with. For these smug hate-magnets, can we say that they are the kind of guy that men want to be (killing), and women want to be with (the men killing him). If people identify with the wounded or threatened, we’d be identifying with the audience suffering through the ad, and I’m not clear as to what we’re selling. Ad time maybe?

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

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Profits!
I always give Mr. Guy Pierce credit for picking his films with a dartboard attached to a stockbroker. He will do anything and is, therefore, the future Bruce Willis.
$2.00
A documentary on the very serious subject of Alopentalenysasalia: a mental disturbance that causes the afflicted to be curious when they should be afraid.
$3.00
Total Profits
$5.00
Losses!
I get that characters have to be stupid so that when they die we don’t feel bad. But there’s a limit.
$3.50
Total Losses
$3.50

$1.50

Better title, courtesy of the ticket title truncating randomizer.

Better title, courtesy of the ticket title truncating randomizer.

Remember also that we were in an arthouse cinema with a film featuring middle-aged men in the 1970s talking a lot. It was furthermore rated 15, meaning every single ad that I was seeing was for an audience that was walking around outside, skateboarding, texting, sexting, and waiting to be older – basically anywhere that wasn’t that cinema, and anything that wasn’t watching that film. This absurd mismatch culminated in an ad for Clearasil. Now, I’m all for acne cream; I still get acne. But there’s no way I’m going to pay £5 for a product that everyone knows doesn’t work. What I will do is pay £50 at an exclusive skin care store three tube changes from London Victoria for something that we don’t realize doesn’t work yet.

There’s a further problem with the advertisements in front of a movie: they’re long, usually 60-90 seconds. If we get back to our Lumière brothers train comin’ atcha from the screen, the sixty second spot was fine in the 1950s, when all you needed to sell something was some guy saying, ‘You should buy this’, and then standing there awkwardly for the next 59 seconds. Maybe he’s smoking, or making pancakes or something. I’m don’t remember. As we got used to this format, and trains rushing towards us, the 30 second (and then the 15 second) ad become the norm. The dumping ground that is the space before the trailers has not heard this news, and so we get the long version of ads that were just fine/horrible enough at half, or one-third the length.

I already hate director’s cuts (mostly because I know the voice-over narration of Blade Runner by heart, and I don’t want anything else taking up that valuable memory space), but despite what the people who make them think, advertisements do not offer any great insight into character, narrative or tension as a director’s cut. It’s as if Mr. Shawn Levy got final cut on Herbie Unplugged 2.0: the Penultimate Beginning and it came out with his director’s stamp of approval at 4 and a half hours long. Okay, that’s a great idea. Why, oh why must my cautionary tales turn into movies that I wish I could see? Why, oh why can’t my cautionary tales turn into movies that I would see? But this does not answer the question: if you’re showing 90 second beer ads with young people romping around and actin’ all sociopathic to an audience almost old enough to be an Academy Award voting pool, what exactly are you doing? Besides filling me with murderous…confusion, all we can surmise is what you’re not doing, you’re not selling the product.

My theory? At this point, the purpose of the commercial is to keep people who make commercials employed. They’re like the investment advisors for the image of a giant corporation (or the people who get paid to invent the idea that a corporation might have an ‘image’ in the first place). It’s the perfect job, since it doesn’t matter if they make money or lose it, you’re going to pay them their 1%. You don’t have to prove whether or not ads actually work, just imply that they might work for the other guy. I have no doubt that ad agencies have studies and focus groups and Q ratings showing how well ads ‘track’ or ‘plank’ or ‘volly’. But how reliable could this be? I mean, that would be like drug companies being in charge of what drugs could and couldn’t be tested, and whether or not the test results could be published.

What’s that now?

But the onramp on the other side of the street eventually gets us there, and the movie eventually starts, and the people waiting for an hour for a mall parking lot, okay, they’re just fucking morons. The point is, ads do actually serve a purpose: they make great television possible. Series like Justified, Archer, The Venture Bros. Peep Show, Seasons 5-6 of The Simpsons, Parks and Recreation, Arrested Development and NYPD Blue, and I could certainly go on, show that there is commercial paid TV out there better than anything you can see in a movie theater, certainly in today’s cinema. And none of then could exist without the fundamental lie that ads sell products, even if they probably don’t. And we will continue to have great television, as long as no one writes an article exposing their true nature.

And no one, of any consequence, ever did.

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