Saturday, June 16, 2012

If you thought movie admission was expensive now

Imagine having to pay a 20% excise tax on the price of your movie ticket. In fact, there was just such a tax at one time, and the MPAA unsurprisingly didn't like it, lobbying Congress to get rid of it by producing the short with the logical title, The Case Against the 20% Federal Admissions Tax on Motion Picture Theatres, which TCM is showing just after 5:30 AM tomorrow morning.

Back in the day (before the late 1940s), the studios were, or tried to be, what's known as vertically integrated, meaning that they not only produced the films and had long-term contracts on the stars to use them as mix-and-match assets; they owned many of the theaters in which the films were shown, meaning they could more or less book movies as they saw fit. Studio ownership of movie theaters was finally nixed by the Supreme Court in 1948 in the case United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc.. This along with the advent of television was seriously eating into the studios' profits, and artificially raising the price of movie tickets surely wouldn't have helped.

As for the short, it's fun to see it just for how dated and almost heavy-handed it is. The folks who own the movie theaters are portrayed as a vital part of American society, showing wholesome entertainment, contributing to local charity, and (like the case for sports building trying to get government subsidies) providing jobs for neighboring businesses such as restaurants where people would go as part of an entire night out. Nowadays, almost none of this is true. Most of the picture palaces have closed: the old Community Theater in my hometown, where my grandfather worked as a projectionist, is now a stage theater that I have no idea how it makes a profit. One of my uncles followed in Grandpa's footsteps, and by the 1980s became the manager of the "Cinema 1-2-3", a theater which actually had three screens! I remember when another the local theaters, the Mayfair, went from one screen to two; the theater has long since closed down and the location is I think now a tire store in the middle of a largish shopping district. The "Cinema 1-2-3" is also long since closed; I'm not certain what's in that building or if it's even standing. Instead, like most places, there's one of those sixtyplexes in the local mall owned by one of the conglomerates. I think it's Regal that owns them, and to be honest I have no idea how any screens they actually have.

I doubt it was the 20% tax that was responsible for any of this. Television played a big role, as did the desire of Americans after World War II to escape the cities and the tenement housing, which led ot the rise of the suburb and America becoming a much more car-dependent country. It just wasn't as convenient any more to go to the old downtown picture palace. On the other hand, TV probably also brought wide-screen and stereo sound as the studios had to compete with the small squarish black-and-white pictures that TV brought into people's homes. (Unfortunately, the era also brought us 3D.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Question, when did that tax first go in to effect?