There’s always a time and a place for cinema

Torsten Hägerstrand, professor in the Department of Social and Economic Geography developed the following constraints:

    • Capability: can I get there?
    • Coupling: can I get there at the right time?
    • Authority: am I allowed to be there?

Unrelated to film, and more human movement, these constraints conceptualise a space-time path “to illustrate how a person navigates his or her way through the spatial-temporal environment.” A term that looks fancy, but simply translates to space and time. 

Basically, what are the limitations on space and time on the cinema that we know? These notions are infinitely intertwined and ever-present. As John Corbett (2001) states, “Hägerstrand used the space-time path to demonstrate how human spatial activity is often governed by limitations, and not by independent decisions by spatially or temporally autonomous individuals.” If you think about

If you think about modern viewing of film, and TV mostly, there are very few limitations based on Hagerstand’s conceptual framework.

This ominous UK anti-piracy ad, commissioned in 2011, paints a haunting picture of a decaying cinema – a warning about the perils that piracy inflicts upon your “moment of cinematic joy“, dubbing a trip to the cinema “an experience shared“. This public information film is the perfect example, choice of words especially, of Hägerstand’s spatiotemporal constraints.

These terms convey a number of things that I believe to be true about the cinema.

A moment of cinematic joy is exactly that, a moment. While we think of a fleeting moment, maybe just a few seconds, what this term wants to convey about cinema is that it’s an event. A rather simple activity, sure. However, when film-watching is incorporated with the ‘extrafilmic practices’ (Acland, 2016) that we all know and love (among other fun stuff like arm-rests and choc-tops) it becomes more complex.

I would say that from personal experience, watching film has now become more of a marathon event rather than a sprint. We want to watch film and television in the comfort of our own homes AND have a plethora of suitable options at our fingertips. Not because we dislike going out more (which could actually be true, for other reasons) but because with the advent and increased saturation of video on demand streaming services like Netflix and Foxtel we have gradually but dramatically shifted our viewing behaviours.


You may even call this activity a habit for me. Image by


The behaviours evidentially can’t be the same, or as ‘eventful’, because if they were, we would find ourselves getting sick of watching Netflix and/or running out of money from paying for it – Digital distribution has lowered barriers to entry for filmmakers and distributors, thereby making it cheaper for the consumer. So we don’t have this problem. Netflix is cheap.

That’s why I define the consumption of VOD streaming and others like it, as a convenient activity that we see as kind of a necessity nowadays. Think about if you were to go to your favourite restaurant to eat, every night.  You would most likely get sick of it and would probably run out of money too. To cover operating overheads and to just generally remain profitable, everything at the cinema is expensive, making it a ‘sometimes’ thing for the most of us. It’s just the way it is.

Think about if you were to go to your favourite restaurant to eat, every night.

You would most likely get sick of it and would probably run out of money too. That’s why in order cover operating overheads and, to just generally remain profitable, everything at the cinema is expensive; making it a ‘sometimes’ thing for the most of us. It’s just the way it is.

Consumer advocate Choice even revealed that Australian cinema-goers pay more for their silver screen experience than anyone else in the Western world. Then you hit us hard with geoblocking? We just want a little bit of a break. Bloody hell.

Academy Cinemas – Auckland NZ

Back in the day, uttering the phrase “I’m going to the movies” would raise the reply, “what are you going to see?”. Pretty standard. Going to the movies was still so exciting and eventful, but it was also way more of a regular occurrence. Just look at the fact that since 1999, Australia’s population has increased by 22 per cent but cinema admissions have fallen by 7 per cent. (Screen Aus, 2016)

Now I feel like the “what movie?” question is the least poignant if someone was to drop into conversation that they’re going to the Cinema. It’s more like “oh my god, really?” or, “where?” or my personal favourite, “ugh, the movies are so expensive, do you want to take my first born child to pay with?”

The idea of connecting with strangers over a film is a unique to Cinema, unrivaled by any other way of watching films relative to the ‘space’ constraint. – One can’t get the same experience with Netflix because the physicality will always be missing.

If I tell someone that “I’m watching Netflix” the response is almost never the same as if I said, “I’m going to the movies”. It’s simply “what are you going to watch” (to be polite) or none at all because the act itself is common practice these days. I.e. it’s usually my go-to activity if I need background noise or just to kill time.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I could really be missing the mark on this one but I see this in play all the time when I try and tell my friends about a new or existing movie that I’m clearly obsessed with, trying to explain how amazing it was. Their responses usually make me feel like saying ‘don’t worry, you had to be there’.

I see cinema in a similar light – to experience a film for the first time will always be different to the rest, sharing it with people is even better because then you have comparative perspectives and ideas which enrich the experience and then perhaps your view of it. Take parts of Asia, where they have been trialling 4D systems. Audiences are bombarded with mist (to simulate being at sea or in rain) and various odours while having their chair jerked around to replicate on-screen movement (Quinn, 2016). As with any innovation or event-based experience, offer consumers something they can’t get at home will be exhibitors best hope of remaining relevant.

Even VR technology has tried to replicate the unique experience of going to a cinema – I’ve watched a few of these videos online, and wow. The irony. Don’t get me wrong, I see the appeal behind the idea but, the irony…

The appeal of socialising as an aspect of film/television is just another layer to its complexity. See, when I often wait for my boyfriend to watch Stranger Things – I get excited. It creates this time/space effect where it’s not just an act anymore but an event. Sure. I could secretly watch it at any time before I see him. Even though we would eventually see the same thing, the act of planning to watch, setting aside the time, and cooking(burning) the popcorn makes it much more enjoyable. It’s an event I would plan my day around, unlike every other un-eventful instance when I consume Netflix.

The social aspect of going to the cinema is more valuable than the cinema’s ability to, say acquire the biggest collection of newest films or show them the most frequently. Cinema positioned itself as an event. It may have been the only way to view films at one point in time, but it has always been The Cinema. Our shifting viewing patterns have long threatened its sustainability, however, capitalising and innovating upon its own ability to provide a wide range of experiences, this will ensure that people continue to visit (when they can afford it)


Charles Acland, Screen Traffic: movies, multiplexes and global culture, 2003

Evans, N 2016, ‘Cinemas: Strangers in Public’, lecture, University of Wollongong

Hӓgerstrand T, 2001, ‘Time Geography’, CSISS Classics, viewed online

Quinn, K 2014, ‘A cinema ticket in Australia can cost up to $40. Here’s why’, The Sydney Morning Herald, July 10, accessed online

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