The Art House As A Luxury Good

Continuing on the theme of highbrow movies and the box office, Steve Sailer has an interesting post about differential pricing and art-house flicks:

... movie tickets are more or less fixed in price. So, every filmmaker is competing in the same game. Julian Schnabel and Wong Kar-Wai are going head to head against Michael Bay, and they're all being measured by tickets sold ...

Is the single priced movie ticket eroding slowly? When I started writing this post, I figured there would be evidence that we are headed toward more stratified pricing. Yet, the more I think about it, the less evidence I see for it.

For example, for about five years now, the weekend evening movies at the Arclight on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood (the old Cinerama Dome location) have been $14. It sells reserved seats, which is a pretty stupid idea because you can stand in line to buy tickets for a half hour while the couples ahead of you debate over whether they'd prefer to sit on the left or right sides. Yet, the films shown at the Arclight are only vaguely more upscale than average. The movies it plays make it seem like more of a mass market Date Night destination than a place where the elite meet to seat themselves.

And, in general, "arthouse" tends to be a synonym for worn-down theatre on its last legs before it becomes a revivalist church for an ambitious preacher. The Laemmle arthouse chain in LA charges between $8.50 and $10 per ticket for prime times, which isn't above average for their expensive neighborhoods ... Anyway, it's kind of neat that movies remain a democratic institution with a simple-minded pricing scheme in an otherwise increasingly tiered and marketing-modeled America.

It's my impression that the new breed of art-house theaters (here are two local examples) are rather more posh than the run-down art houses of the past, and that they do cater deliberately to a more elite, Bobo crowd - in their ambience and decor, in the movies they choose to run, and in the concessions they serve. Indeed, I suspect that to the extent that differential pricing shows up in American cinemas, it runs through concessions rather than through ticket prices - which makes sense, given that the concessions are where theaters make most of their money anyway. So a ticket to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is no pricier than a ticket to Hancock, but whereas the masses buy their popcorn and soda and candy, the elites at the E Street Cinema end up shelling out for microbrews and Whole Foods-style snacks and gourmet coffees.