Of Hegemony: Bush, Bond, and the Big Screen

Jakarta, 22 November 2006

Written under Miss Sassy (16)

Many went berserk last weekend over Bush’s impending 6-hour visit, with protests ranging from the billions allegedly spent on the new helipad in Bogor presidential palace to the fear over Indonesia again being ‘dictated’ by the hegemony that the USA seemed to be. I shared the sentiment over the IDR 6 billions for building a cushion so that Mr. Bush’s helicopter could touch down more comfortably, because, will all due respect to both Mr. Presidents, I think the same amount can be better used for building more schools and clinics, or, hey, cleaning up the stinking Ciliwung River. Perhaps next time a dignitary arrives, s/he should request making an entrance via Java Sea and sailing down the river up to Jakarta’s Merdeka palace, so Ciliwung will get its much-needed upgrade. Ha.


As for the hegemony, as much as I resent any, I admit that with the current economic map of multilateral international trade, USA is still the ultimate superpower with strong political strings, and no sane countries can bow out of globalization if they want to survive these days. So, tough luck, guys. As long as Pak SBY keeps steel determination and nerve to stand his ground for our nation’s most important issues during the talk, I’d be content.

I actually was lucky to be away from the rally-jammed Jakarta streets last weekend, as I was getting a chance to see another form of hegemony being challenged in Bandung. I’m quite a movie buff, and nothing has irked me about cinema more than the monopoly gripped by the 21 Group since the ‘90s. They indeed provided the first modern cinemaplex in Indonesia, but along with it they jacked up prices, and controlled what we got to see and how long we could see it.

Instead of building various size theater cineplexes, so both new and not-so new movies can be screened at the same period, the 21 Group decided to flock down all the new ones in big theaters downtown and charge higher rates, and after an average of 2 weeks would send the not-so new to smaller and cheaper theatres in the suburbs so they could screen a fresh batch of newer ones. I’m sorry; as a busy professional I can’t always leave the office by 5pm and fight the hellish rush hour to catch a new movie at 7pm (which means that I’ll need to start queuing by 6pm). On weekends, I simply just can’t hang around the mall for hours to make sure I win this or the next queue battle against the frenzied weekend crowd, as I, well, still have other aspects of life like yoga, bellydancing, pedicures, or catching up with friends.

And don’t get me started on the selection of movies they let staying for more than 2 weeks, or let to be screened at all. True, 21 would sometimes entertain the unpopular high-calibers —JFK and The Hours came to mind— but they lean towards instant populism that often includes bad teenager and horror flicks. I remember how I had to rushing drive from out of town to the last screening of Mira Nair’s enlightened Vanity Fair, which I could’ve sworn had only been up for a week. Or how I deserted girlfriends to catch the last day of religion-laden Kingdom of Heaven. Meanwhile, the likes of Scream sequels and questionable action films were constantly on the roll. And though Chicago enjoyed multi theaters for weeks, the same Oscar-bestowed but politically charged Ray, or poignant Walk the Line, were never allowed to grace 21 screens by far. Now, I wasn’t surprised that 21 pushed forward the–surprisingly good– opulence-worshipping The Devil Wears Prada, but I’m still waiting if they’d ever let us to see Sophia Coppola directing Kirsten Dunst as the bratty decadent Marie Antoinette. And no, I wouldn’t dare to expect Helen Mirren’s regal portrayal of the other Queen.

True, I could always turn to the cheap, copyright-violating DVD copies. However, besides having certain standing on copyrights, I simply want to watch movies on large silver screen inside a theater. It’s not just the flick; it’s the whole movie-going experience. And it’s not just for colossal production like Braveheart or outstanding cinematography seen in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon that you need the large screen. I want it for Wedding Planner and Cat’s Meow, too, coz I wanna see those chicks and their colorful dresses!

A few years ago 21 got competition from a hi-tech cinema in Pasaraya Grande. But the bigger theatres and nicer ambience came with higher ticket prices. Words on the streets say that 21 Group owns the distribution arm that secures monopoly rights from major studios, and other cinemas are at their mercy in terms of prices and availability of film rolls. As a result, MPX Grande never really took off, and although managed to occasionally show some Hollywood box-office they’d mostly screen Bollywood movies these days. I still applauded them for their gutsy attempt, though.

Now another brave, hopefully smarter, group of people is giving 21 yet another challenge. Blitz Megaplex officially opened their first doors in Bandung last weekend, with promise to present not just movies, but also a full-blown entertainment center. They did feature a velvety-floored pool hall and digital music download station, so I’ll let them to run that claim for now. The cineplex houses nine theatres in various sizes, and I heard promises that not just they’d run movies longer, they’d also give room for critically-acclaimed yet not very commercially-viable movies. Suddenly, I had a vision of watching indie projects or artsy European movies, other than Life is Beautiful or Amelie, in other times than just during the annual JIFFest. Don’t get me wrong, JIFFest is awesome, but sometimes you can’t just take a week off work to race through the shows.

Time will tell if Blitz can deliver its promises or not. As a paying customer, I’m thrilled to be served more options. But as a marketing aficionado I’m really curious to see how they’d manage the much-rumored 21’s monopoly distribution rights, because not having independent access to the raw material can seriously hamper your production line and basic competitiveness. During the opening, I noticed that although it’s clear the lure was the premiere of Casino Royale, Blitz couldn’t even as much as printing those words in any of their promotional kits because apparently 21 holds tight grip on promotions and merchandises rights. Quite an uphill battle for Blitz, I bet, but as I savored every inch of the new Bond splashed on the mega screen with 600-plus other people, I crossed my fingers that they’d somehow survive and flourish, because frankly, I’m fed up with the movie monopoly. Just because I can’t be spoiled anymore by 30-theatre AMCs like the good ol’ days in the US, it doesn’t mean I can’t have some choices, no? Now, better they let me pay less, or they bring me more varieties. I’m not asking for Sundance selections, just wider genres and more features on longer run than the standard 2-week Top 10 mainstream ones. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be any different and I’d probably be forced to write another fuming piece. Aiyaaa.

To close my column in a lighter note, let me dish out about the premiered movie. The new Mr. Bond is steely, gritty, and rough, you’d forget the much-debated blond hair and blue eyes after 5 minutes. His rugged good looks and no-nonsense air felt stinging fresh after years of über-suave Brosnan. When he emerged from the ocean wearing that cropped, wet, blue swimming trunk looking that tantalizing, I swear I stopped breathing for three seconds. Finally, a serious contender to the Bond hegemony, which at least to me, is still pretty much owned by the initial and much revered Mr. Sean Connery. While I put Connery under the ‘you can take me anytime’ label, Daniel Craig belongs to the ‘take me, take me right now’ box. Bring your fan, girls, it’s gonna be hot in there…………   

As published: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2006/11/26/hegemony-bush-bond-and-big-screen.html

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